• What in the world was I thinking? Can full-time parents also study?

    by Jess Morton. Last modified: 04/07/14



    So, I have decided that I must have indeed been mad or suffering from post-natal delusions when I decided to apply for uni and start on my long journey to becoming a paramedic.

    You know when something major happens in your life and it forces you to question everything and re-evaluate what it is you want in life and how it is you can achieve that? That is what happened to me. And there began the start of my insanely busy last 3 years.

    My boys were eight months & two-and-a-half years old when I began. I decided to start with 3 subjects and reassess after that. I did not do science subjects in year 11 or 12 (Senior high school years in Australia) and so I struggled through 1st semester chemistry.

    It often starts well…..

    My boys would go to daycare two days a week which is when I would race home & by 8.45am I was sitting at my desk and did not move except to pee and occasionally eat until 5.00pm when I picked them up again. When the boys were in bed or I was on night shift I would once again pull out the textbooks or do research for my assignments

    In spite of my incessant whinging about equilibrium equations, I still managed to claim a credit for Chemistry and distinctions or higher distinctions for my other subjects.

    In the two years since, getting through uni has become near impossible at times. I have limited time on my own, I have no set study days and come the kids bedtime, I am exhausted, disinterested and bordering on unintelligent. They are hardly the qualities I need to effectively learn about complex medicine and write a 3000 word academic essay.

    So, if you began reading this with the hope that I could tell you that going back to uni whilst also being a full-time parent is quite simple and all you need is good time management and anyone could do it…you are wrong!

    Uni is hard work for even the young, straight out of school, casual checkout chicks. It is however, incredibly hard, frustrating and exhausting trying to get through with kids.

    My marks have gone from all high distinctions when I was fortunate enough to have 20 hours a week to study and complete my work to now where I am lucky to have 5-10 hours and I sometimes just scrape through a subject.

    Each semester is different, the workload is different, your lecturer will have different expectations and your life constantly changes. Over winter, your kids may get sick and you will go a week without sleep. During summer, all your weekends may be tied up taking the kids to sport practice.

    Desperate Measures

    Last semester I had to write a mammoth psych essay. It was due at 6.30pm. The TV was put on early that day and DVDs were steadily rotated through as well as snacks and water bottles filled to the brim to minimize having to stop & get up. The last two hours were intense, the boys were bored, climbing all over me, wanting my attention and then wanting dinner. The sun had gone down & the lights hadn’t been turned on. I was solely focused on my mac screen as I read through those three last times to make sure it flowed properly. The moment I clicked submit it was like 2000 lbs was lifted off me. Without even bothering to turn the lights on, I put the kids in the car and took them to McDonald’s.

    Whilst they were living their ultimate dream, I explained why Mummy was doing what I was. I thanked them for their patience despite my lack of return to them that day.

    I wish I could give you some gold standard advice on how to do it, but I am still figuring that out. But here are my ideas on making it less of a struggle and to allow you to learn as much as you can whilst at uni.

    Be prepared to sacrifice!

    You will sacrifice a social life, holidays, the time to relax after the kids go to bed and money. Uni is expensive! Textbooks can soar into the hundreds of dollars each term. I have gone without for about two years now. This makes it much harder, but I still get by.

    Wait until your youngest is at least two years old. Don’t miss those precious years where they grow & develop more than they will in any other years of their life. You may well regret spending your time in textbooks instead of playing Peek-A-Boo. Uni will still be there later, your little baby won’t.

    Cut yourself some slack!

    I don’t normally let my kids watch more than one hour of TV a day. It is never on for background noise or entertainment. However, when you are days away from major exams or you have that essay to finish, get out a new DVD, put on the family videos or put on the best kids channel to babysit.

    If you study with your kids around, spend a good solid half hour playing, reading together. Give them your undivided attention and tell them you then need to do some work. Set them up with other activities.

    Set a routine for younger kids. If they are in bed at a certain time each night you can budget your study time for those hours after.

    Grow extra arms???*

    I have done many assignments whilst cuddling a sick little one. He just wants to be close and need to reach a little further around his body to get to my keyboard. (* Editors note: this may not actually be possible. :))



    If you can afford to send them to preschool or daycare, do it! Even if you have one solitary day that you drop them off early and pick them up at the latest time, it gives you one really good day to get through your notes etc.

    Your time will be much more productive than short pockets of the half hour here or there. It won’t only benefit you, the kids will love it!

    Let them go wild.

    The day before my last exams I splurged & took my youngest to an indoor play centre whilst his brother was at preschool. It was the best money I had spent all term as I did not see Mr 2 for almost five hours and I got four-and-a-half solid hours of study and revision done. Buy a multi visit pack & get a discount. The kids will be so exhausted they will go straight to bed without complaints that night..

    Study the smart way..

    Don’t get solely caught up in textbooks and lecture notes. If you are not absorbing what you read or listen to, look elsewhere! There is a wonderful world of clinical information out there. Before you go any further, open up another window & type in “FOAMed”. As Ben Collins said in his blog piece “Don’t study hard, study smart!”


    In the era of advanced technology, we are so fortunate to have blogs and open-access journals to read, podcasts to listen to, YouTube for others to post their work, smart phone apps, twitter conversations & more. Use everything you have at your disposal but be smart about analysing any non-peer reviewed material you come across. I have learnt far more from the resources that uni don’t formally recommend than those they do.

    Apply for an extension.

    I felt like a hypochondriac the first time I applied for an extension. Seeking an extension doesn’t mean you are lazy or not committed to the work. It means life is busy and sometimes uncontrollable.

    Don’t overdo it!

    I have seen so many parents start the program who think they will be ok and take on a fulltime load. They soon realize they can’t. It is not a personal failure to go slowly. I understand! It can be horribly disheartening as those who started at the same time as you are now getting jobs with the ambulance services and you are still stuck back in 1st or 2nd year. Taking on too many subjects at once can lead to early burn out and your relationships and grades suffering. In Australia, if you fail your subject and need to repeat you also pay the fee again. Don’t risk it!

    Be Patient.

    I do not know a single studying parent who has not considered quitting. I think about it at least once a week…but I remember my goal. I visualise the future when I have finished, qualified and being that skilled and knowledgeable paramedic caring for my community.

    I remember why I started and look at how far I have come. You WILL and CAN get there. Keep your head up, drop a subject if you need to, take a semester off.

    There are many more little tips I could give you. I am keen in hearing what you find helpful in getting through?

    Be realistic, it is not to get us down but so we can enjoy our journey and still come out the other end excited and motivated.

    Until next time.


    Same baby, but this time whilst I’m attempting to write this article!



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    Jess Morton

    Jess Morton

    Student Paramedic.
    I am an Australian undergraduate Student Paramedic. I study part-time as I am also Mum to 2 beautiful boys. I am passionate about Friendship, Family & #FOAMed. I am keen to get more experienced as well as student Paramedics into the FOAM world to enable better access to education to result in better patient care. My interests include photography, thick shakes and sleeping in past 6am.

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