How to Manage Your Family and Still Study

The fine art of convincing the kids it’s all under control.

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You're in your 30s or 40s with a decent-paying job, a spouse, and kids, and you get an overwhelming urge to go back to school. What will your spouse think about this? Here are two possibilities: You'll quit your job or go part time (result: Your income will drop), or you'll keep working (result: You'll never be around to watch little Amanda).

"You've got to get the buy-in and support of your family. If you don't have that, it's very hard to be successful," says Gabe DeGabriele, a consultant with the Association for Non-Traditional Students in Higher Education. "I've seen marriages dissolve, and I've seen marriages get stronger" when a spouse goes to grad school.

Duty roster. At Middle Tennessee State, Richard Denney (story, left) and his wife, Monique, a full-time pre-med student, share responsibilities. They have five kids: He does days, she has night duty, and they share the cooking and cleaning.

Keeping chores straight is one thing, but remembering to be there when family members need you is crucial. DeGabriele says talking about expectations is a good start; so is scheduling time for your spouse and each child. "I know a couple who made date nights out of grocery shopping," DeGabriele says. It's also important for family members to support the returning student, which raises some wonderful opportunities for role reversal—asking the parental student how school was that day or taking kids to class occasionally.

Be careful about letting tests or papers interfere with family time. "As soon as you've taken that away, you've lost their support," DeGabriele says.