By Paulina Gozdalik
Being a mother, a working professional and a student may seem impossible to some. I am often asked “How do you manage to do all these things?” by my friends and family. To be honest, I’ve never given it a thought. Nevertheless, I think women should be encouraged to pursue their careers and education even if they have children.
I often hear that women should stay at home with their babies, cook, clean and be perfect wives. These are certainly double-standards, aren’t they? Has anyone ever heard this kind of stuff being said to a man? Well, I don’t think so! So why aren’t women, who are mothers, seen as people who can actually have dreams, plans? It seems that some of us have forgotten that having a child doesn’t mean that our career has ended.
After a few months on maternity leave, after hours of thinking what I will be doing in the future, I realised that in the long run I’d like to do what I’ve always been good at – teaching English. So during one November evening, while sitting with my family and sipping drinks, I made a decision that it’s high time I enrolled in an English teacher-training programme.
My parents were glad, as they’ve always encouraged me to study while I’m still young. My husband wasn’t so sure about this idea because he thought that studying nowadays doesn’t matter anymore, and that so-called “paper” won’t give me a better job in the future. To be honest, I wasn’t discouraged; I felt even more motivated just so I could show him that he’s wrong. I felt excited to start this journey and literally couldn’t wait for the classes. Since I was a child, studying was so natural for me; I loved learning new things and it hasn’t changed since.
During the first year of the programme, those weekends away at school were great – I finally felt that I am a person again. Not just a mother, but a separate human being. My husband took care of our son (who was just 5 months old) during those weekends, even though he was a bit skeptical at first. For me, it was a chance to do something for myself. When exams came, I studied during my son’s naps and actually finished the year with a scholarship. Thus, I encourage all young mothers to do what they really wish if they have an opportunity.
After a year on maternity leave, I got back to work. The first month was tough; it was really hard to organise time to cook, to spend time with my family, etc. After a month, I got used to this new situation and started managing it quite well. When you have a child, you have to prioritise what is more important and what’s less. I stopped having this opportunity to do whatever I want, whenever I want, but honestly, having a child is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. The love you feel every day is enormous; you would literally do everything for your child. I have free evenings (well, not always – some children don’t like going to sleep early) so I exercise, cook, and read books, thus even in that situation I can organise some time just for myself. Remember, you don’t have to give 100% of yourself to your child every day; it’s okay to be tired and exhausted. Sometimes I just sit on the couch and watch my son play. Does it make me a bad mother? Of course not! I’m just a human being after all.
I had this amazing opportunity that I was able to leave my son with my mother-in-law. Then the second year started at university and I actually stopped having free time at all. Every weekday getting up at 6:30 a.m., then 5 a.m. during the weekends. Seems harsh, doesn’t it? I was tired at first, wishing about having a lie-in, but then I just got used to it. People asked what grades I was getting, in a tone suggesting the grades must be low because of all the responsibilities I had. Well, to their surprise I got solid 5s from all the subjects at uni. When I know I have a test next weekend, I study every evening, even if it means it’s just 30 minutes. I know I have to use every single minute of my free time, so every second counts. Would I rather read a good book? Well, of course, but as I said I learnt how to prioritise my decisions.
I live far away from my university, and having classes at 8 a.m. means that I need to leave my house 2 hours earlier. So I put my almost 2-year-old son to sleep on Friday evening and won’t see him again until Monday morning. Is it hard? Do I miss him? Of course I do. I miss him every hour when I’m at uni, but I have no regrets. I have an amazing friend in my group who offered to let me stay at her home every Saturday night when we have our weekend classes. If it wasn’t for Magda, it would mean that on Saturday I would get back home at 10 p.m. and have to leave my house at 6 a.m. the next morning – just 8 hours apart. It would be incredibly difficult if I had to cook, eat, bathe, study, prepare for the next day, and sleep in that short period of time.
I know that not everyone is so lucky, but maybe consider staying in a hostel if you need to travel a lot. When I get home on Sunday evening, I feel so exhausted that I just have a shower and go straight to bed. When I wake up Monday morning and see my son beside me (yes, he sleeps with us and it’s great), I feel so lucky to have him. When he wakes up, and welcomes me with his loving smile, it just melts my heart and makes me the happiest person on earth. The bond between a mother and a child is indescribable.
Being a mother and a student means that other parents will understand you way better as you always have some common topics to talk about. When I hear young students who are not parents bemoan they are so tired and can barely stay awake in class, I always laugh. They don’t realise the vast amount of freedom they have and they will understand what tiredness means if they become a parent in the future. Now, when I’m a mother, I can plan my time so much better than I used to!
For mothers sitting at home right now: If you have ever wondered whether you will manage, then you have the answer. You have to try! I heard mothers say they feel guilty because they leave their children with other family members, with husbands, etc. Why would you feel guilty? It’s your future you’re fighting for, and certainly with a higher education you may have a better job, better money and it will benefit your child as well. Moreover, you will expand your vision of the world.
Don’t worry if your family initially doesn’t support the idea of you going back to school. Just enroll in a course and go for it. Your partner, the father of your child, has the same responsibility to take care of your child as you do. Go and show them what you are capable of as no one can live your life for you, and you have just one, so don’t waste it.