After my first semester as an online distance learner at Earlham School of Religion, I wrote a post called, “Eleven Lessons for the Distance Learner.” With my first year of in-person seminary under my belt and my second year about to begin, I read my post again. I discovered that most of the lessons still apply–oh how I wish I had read it last August! I’ve adapted it here for all those courageous women who bravely choose to be a mom in seminary.
Ten Tips for the Mom in Seminary
It’s your turn to go back to school. You slogged through the late night trenches of parenting three young children. You steered the family ship through the choppy waters of your spouse’s educational and professional advancement. You kept your passion in check, biding your time. An opening occurred.
You walk across the seminary lawn, hiding a smile, in awe that you are finally here. The moms and dads at school drop-off don’t know your mind is on the weekly reading assignment instead of the weekly grocery run. The deadlines and appointments of a busy household still need your attention. But a glimmer is in your eye. You are a mom in seminary.
Your brain percolates with new ideas. Paper-writing flexes unused muscles. You hope you can make this seminary-learning-thing work. Here are some tips to guide your way:
Tip #1: Buy school supplies. Go! Go to Target, Walmart, or your favorite five and dime. Inhale the starchy goodness of new notebooks. Run your fingers over the svelte lines of wooden pencils. Hear the satisfying thwack of a 3-ring binder closing. Ogle your favorite folder colors. Buy them. Haul out your favorite backpack from undergrad, or buy something new. Lug those books proudly during the daily carpool.
Tip #2: Binge now. Netflix and Hulu fans, you watch more TV than you think. You can’t keep it up. Have that Empire or Game of Thrones marathon now because you won’t for months. If you just can’t peel yourself away, exercise while you watch, because you won’t get much of that either.
Tip #3: Believe it–you CAN’T do it all. You made adjustments to your schedule. You prepped your family for the increased work load. You believe this is enough to carry on your old life and integrate it with coursework. You squeeze in a blog post, you attend a monthly social outing, you give your volunteer commitment your all. But quality slips, attention lags, focus blurs. The adjustments and prep you made are not enough to sustain the family/work/school balance. It’s okay to let something go.
Tip #4: Be intentional. Talk to fellow students’ between classes, attend chapel when you can. Read the weekly seminary email blasts. You will see others skip class and squander time. You don’t have to. You may not be involved or on campus as much as your younger peers, but you can still be fully present and engaged when you are.
Tip # 5: Learn the vocabulary of self-preservation. “No. I don’t think so.” “No, that doesn’t work for me.” Work within the hours of your job, even when you could do more, even when you would be good at that extra thing. You have given, given, given for the benefit of others. It is okay now to turn inward and draw a line around you. Guard this line like a warrior.
Tip #6: Value every minute. Yes, all three kids are in school and it’s so much easier to run that errand now, even though you have reading and papers to write. It seems you need the support coffee with a friend provides. Beware. Sleep deprivation and stress hormones lurk. Protect each minute like a three year old protecting her favorite toy.
Tip #7: Change your priorities. At Costco you try to nonchalantly slip the thousand-pack of Ziplocs into your cart so no one sees you no longer use reusable containers in kids’ lunches. It’s only a matter of time before that $2 hot lunch at your kids’ school becomes your idol, worshipped every morning for the twenty+ minutes of time it saves you, because as you’ve learned, every minute is valuable.
Tip #8: Lower your standards. In your past life you were that top student who read every book and devoted your all to studying. Life has changed you. Parenthood has changed you. Now you, too, will experience the thrill of writing a paper without having read the whole book, or maybe even having read it at all. And you’ll do it all with kids running amok around you. Make a donation to the PBS gods now. They charge less than babysitters.
Tip #9: Be patient. You feel like you have something to prove. For so long, you defined yourself through others. But as you make your way towards your own identity, let the flames you feel you walk through do their work. Don’t rush. Yes, seminary challenges you. It changes you. It surprises you in ways you don’t see coming. Your own identity awaits, but it is different than you think. Be patient with yourself, and with God.
Tip #10: Accept grace. This is your journey. You have wanted it for so long. You want to show you can do it on your own, with perfection. You envy those younger students unfettered by children and life. There will be moments it seems the only one struggling is you. But every seminarian struggles, because we are all burdened by divine call warped by human pressures. Seminary doesn’t have to be the warping tool. There is wisdom around you in your peers and professors. Lean into it. Accept the grace that comes, one imperfect moment at a time.
At the end of the semester you are exhausted. You collapse into your family’s embrace. Caffeine and adrenaline blur your eyes, but a glimmer remains. You are a mom in seminary.