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Phoenix Forward

5 secrets of a working student mom

Five working student mom’s secrets

The laundry keeps mounting and the floor feels a bit sticky, but that’s OK with Merrilee Sweeney, a small business owner and college student who is also a single parent of four.

“When I first enrolled in school, I was freaking out trying to figure out how to get everything done,” says Sweeney, who is working toward* her Bachelor of Science in Business with a concentration in Management at the University of Phoenix Ontario Learning Center. “But I’ve learned to sit back, take a breather and prioritize what I really need to do to do it all.”

Sweeney readily admits she’s no superhero. Rather, she says she limits the academic and professional chaos by, ironically, allowing some chaos in her housekeeping. Here is how she manages to balance the many aspects of her life and still get in a little time for herself.

1. Create the space you need to get schoolwork done.
Sweeney calls it her “three-stage alert.” For three days each week, Sweeney’s children, who are ages 10 through 17, know mom must get schoolwork done to graduate with good grades. They understand not to interrupt her if her bedroom door is closed and locked — she’s bunkered down in her special office chair meeting school deadlines. “My kids know if the door is open it’s OK to bug me; if the door is closed, but not locked then I’m getting there and I might be able to be interrupted. But if it’s locked: Don’t come in,” she says. House fires and emergencies are exceptions, she says.

2. Prioritize work and school over housework.
As an interior designer, Sweeney respects the home. But successfully juggling her professional, personal and school lives means she sometimes has to ignore trash, laundry and dishes so she can get bills paid, clients helped and homework submitted on time.

3. Get help where you can.
Let laundry teeter or dust settle, says Sweeney, but disseminate some regular age-appropriate chores (i.e., bathroom cleaning) to your kids and don’t helicopter over them while they do it.

4. Pull all nighters when necessary.
If Sweeney spends a night in the emergency room with a sick child or a work relationship monopolized her entire day then she deliberately pulls an all-nighter to ensure she gets her schoolwork completed on time. “I never use my kids or work as an excuse not to meet a school deadline.” Instead, Sweeney chooses to keep herself going with caffeine and promises herself a good night’s sleep the following evening.

5. Use your time thoughtfully.
Sweeney never wastes the precious 20-30 minutes she waits at a dentist’s office, school or the car repair shop. When else can she wind down? Sweeney takes advantage of these invaluable, fleeting moments by reading for leisure, something she otherwise may not get to do. “Steal pockets of time for yourself,” says Sweeney, who also works as a certified life coach. “If we don’t … then we just become victims of every day’s circumstances.”


*Merrilee Sweeney has since completed her degree program at University of Phoenix.