The last paper is turned in. Final grades have arrived. A 3.9 GPA the rewards of hard work. Only 12 hours away from graduation and I question my own sanity and ask myself if a masters degree was worth the sacrifice. As a father and husband I strive to be fully present in the lives of my children and spouse. When free of distractions we are able to love and be loved, listen and be listened to, find and share joy, and experience each other. As a student my focus shifted to studying and classes. Relationships formed with classmates and professors. And the family patiently waited. Learning how to manage a healthy family life in the midst of work and school came in unexpected forms and mostly through my own mistakes. A few random lessons I learned along the way:
1. Make it a family decision. Everyone makes a sacrifice when a parent/spouse heads off to school. Get some buy in from the kids and full commitment from the spouse. Whenever Shelby or I are taking classes its tough on everyone.
2. Love your spouse. Your spouse is making a deeper commitment to your success as a student than even you! Saving a plate of dinner, dropping off food, tucking the kids in for the night, and taking over everything else you should be doing when focused on your new school life. Shelby and I try to avoid being students at the exact same time. Supporting each other is critical to completing papers and other assignments while at the same time eating healthy and getting enough rest. And yes, grumpiness, frustration and the occasional sense of despair do creep in. If not for my wife I would never been able to complete my education.
3. Love your children. Already do right? Humans of any age know that we spend the most time with the things and people we love the most. They may never complain or give easily noticeable evidence they miss and need you. The older kiddos will need to participate in household activities in new ways from additional chores to resolving differences without your help. Remind your children that you love them and are thankful for their help. We are very blessed to have children who are willing to participate in family life.
4. Choose a school that fits who you are. I discovered a school that shared my own mission of striving to be intensely personal and belief in experiential learning. I moved my family 5,000 miles so that I could work and learn in this environment. Understanding my own learning style and discovering the right place transformed the experience allowing for deep connections to the learning.
5. Connect school and work. I selected a degree that provided enhancement and increased professional opportunities. Whenever school work can coincide with real work everyone wins. At times my school work directly supported my professional work. Other opportunities allowed my professional experiences to support my class work.
6. Establish family time. Take time to focus on family. I’d love to say to make time everyday, but this may become difficult with schedules. Make the time work the best you can. When schedules became the most difficult I started my day earlier and began making breakfast for the kids each morning. This simple act made a difference for both the kids and my wife.
7. Be strong and courageous. The highest cost of higher education was the impact on family life. I missed out on teaching my youngest daughter to ride a bike and taking my oldest daughter for her first time driving a car. I lost three years of these special moments and will never get them back. We have all sacrificed and through this high cost we have come to bond more deeply as a family and learned what it means to make a decision to truly love, serve and support each other. I am thankful for the experiences and look forward to our renewed life together with increased sensitivity to the profound moments that occur everyday.