When I started law school over twenty years ago I was newly divorced and the mother of a one year old son. If I’d known then what it was going to be like, I might not have gone, but I’m glad I did. It was an invigorating, challenging, frustrating and stressful time and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Here’s how I did it.
I reduced stress by lowering expectations of myself. I had a scholarship that paid about half my tuition and in order to keep it, I had to maintain a particular GPA. All I heard during my first few weeks of law school was that everyone gets C’s and D’s, if they are lucky. At my school, 100% of your grade came from a single exam at the end of the semester, so there was no way to really know how you were doing until it was all over. I developed horrible stress headaches. The headaches went away when I stopped worrying about keeping the scholarship. I knew I would graduate one way or the other, and if it meant that I had to take out more loans, then so be it. Once the pressure was off, my grades improved and I kept the scholarship all three years.
No TV. Classmates asked “how are you able to do all the work and raise a child?” My answer: I don’t have a TV. It was challenging to go without a TV, particularly when it would have been nice to park my son in front of it for a few minutes while I studied, but I knew that any advantage gained would be offset by my own tendency to spend too much time with my TV friends.
Creative Study Time. My son loved to play in the bathtub. I’d put him in the tub and sit on the floor next to it with my casebook. I was probably the only one in my class to have water stained books, but it worked. The library had small study rooms with TVs and VCRs. I’d put my son in one of the rooms watching a video while I sat at a table outside the door studying. People did a double take when they walked by and saw a cartoon playing in the study room.
I chose the right school for me. My law school was in a small town and we lived very close to campus. If I needed to make a quick stop at the law library, we’d walk or my son would ride his tricycle and we’d make the trip together. He liked parking his bike in the rack in front of the school next to all the big bikes. If I needed a bit more time, I could usually find a classmate to entertain him for a few minutes in the student lounge while I went into the library to copy a case.
Lots of help from family. I couldn’t have done it without my parents and my brother. My son was usually with them at least a couple days each week and that gave me the time to catch up on my work (and sleep) and even have a tiny social life.
There are some advantages to being a parent and a student. You need to keep a schedule and you usually can’t sleep in. Being a parent gives you perspective. You take school seriously because you’ve got a child relying on you to provide for them. Having a young child gave me a good balance. Dinner, bath and bedtime were our time together. Once he was asleep, I was ready to hit the books.
I certainly wasn’t superhuman. Mostly I was just young enough and foolish enough to think that I could do it. If I can do it, so can you. Don’t let being a single parent keep you from your dream of an education.
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