The Big Return: Mothers and Grandmothers Re-entering Academia
Leaving the familiar takes chutzpah. Showing the world their courage and confidence, mothers and grandmothers are returning to school to pursue higher education. While the journey to earning a degree has payoffs, there are many struggles along the way.
Millicent Thomas, Ph.D., author of the womens’ studies book, Move Mountain, says financial obligations will be an issue; however, the greatest struggles mothers and grandmothers face in earning their degree are the emotional and social changes that take place.
“Attending higher education is a sacrifice, not only for the student but also for every member of her family,” says Thomas.
With children, grandchildren and husbands in the mix, when a mother or grandmother gives her attention to studies, family members do not always appreciate the shift in attention. “In my book, I cite an interview with a single parent whose child’s behavior took a negative turn when the working mother returned to school,” says Thomas. “In contrast, married women may find that the husband is extremely supportive of his wife’s desire to return to school—until she starts attending classes.”
As many women are socialized to value relationships and their ability to build strong bonds with family and friends, the pursuit of education feels to some women like being a maverick. “Among many single mothers, associations dwindle as these women move from being in a comfort zone with friends and venture into academia without past friendships,” says Thomas. “Some women easily adapt, others do not.”
While the social challenges may be difficult, Thomas says there are several solutions in making an affable transition from regular life into academia.
- A committed family: “The decision to return to higher education requires open and honest communication with all family members prior to making the decision to attend school,” says Thomas. This preventative measure addresses future situations such as coursework strains. In these situations, the mother can rally her family for the agreed-upon support to get through the hard times.
- Weekly face-to-face: “Establish a set time for weekly family meetings,” says Thomas. This will create a time for sharing, communicating upcoming academic deadlines and a time to plan for fun and work.
- Study time: With children in the household, the mother or grandmother can share in the joys of learning together. Thomas says, “Whenever possible, study with your children.”
- Organized timeline: Create a guide for “start and completion dates for household chores and completing your course assignments,” says Thomas.
- Establish boundaries: Guard your time for school. When last-minute opportunities come up with friends, learn to decline.
- Just ask: Many returning students feel intimidated about asking questions. Thomas says, “Do not be ashamed or afraid to ask for help.”
With companies currently downsizing, Thomas says the time couldn’t be better to research future job trends. “An economic downturn is not a permanent situation,” says Thomas.
She says as a woman plans to change or build upon her career, the task of researching potential future positions will assist her in deciding what course of study to pursue.
“Due diligence in seeking out quality information on economic trends is necessary to make informed decisions,” says Thomas. “When the economy improves, that person will be in place to step into (hopefully) a dream career.”