It is a huge transition for a family when a spouse decides to go back to school, whether it be for a first time in college, a return to college to finish a bachelors degree, or maybe even for post-graduate work. In our sixteen years of marriage, at least one of us has been in college for eleven of those years.
For my seven years in college, I was primarily a student (and a mother for three of those seven) with a part time job. It is has been a vastly different thing with Eric going to school for the last five years and working full time, as you can well imagine. I know that we are not alone in having one spouse that is already busy with a full time job who is also attending college.
Here are some of the things that I think have helped (I hope) to be supportive and helpful while Eric has busily been working and going to school.
1. Help them get their needed supplies. Since it’s possible that you might have more free time than they do, you might consider going shopping for any supplies they need as well as maybe even shopping (online or at a local bookstore) for their needed textbooks.
Wait…I have to disgress to tell a funny story.
So, way back when we were newlyweds, I had done both of our shopping for textbooks for the semester. (We were both in college at the time.) When Eric went to class, a flirty girl chatted him up in the hallway about his textbook. She asked him where he found it, as she hadn’t been able to find a copy yet. When he said, “My wife found the last used copy,” she trailed off their conversation and was pretty much done with him. He only realized after the fact that it was the wife part that probably stopped their chit chatting.
Okay, back to the list.
2. If you have kids, take them out on an excursion when big assignments are due. It has been helpful to Eric when he has a lot of work to do if the kids and I go on a few errands to give him some quiet. I actually suspect, however, that he gets more quiet from me not talking to him than the kids.
3. Save little interesting tidbits for later. I really do think that last sentence in the second one is accurate. I just can’t help myself sometimes when he’s around and want to tell him things. When he’s working and I interrupt, I know that it is harder for him to get back to work. Very few of the reasons I interrupt for are things that I couldn’t just wait and tell him later.
4. Help them find a quiet place in the house. Our house is smaller and an open concept. So, this is a tough one in our house. But, during one particularly busy school time, I figured out that we could have Eric in my teeny tiny craft room to help him get some quiet. (I made a rule that we couldn’t talk to him when he was in there.)
5. Visit their college with them. They’re working hard in school, and it can be encouraging if you (and your children, if you have them) will go visit it with them. I’m not suggesting going to a class with them, of course, but let them show you around. It can be a great chance for them to show pride in the work they’re doing.
6. Ask about their classes and assignments. Do this, of course, in a genuine way. If you don’t really care to hear the answer, then don’t ask. I try to ask Eric about his assignments and what he’s learning. I don’t ask about every single assignment or class, but I do know all about cyclical unemployment due to talking with him about his classes. (Okay, and it’s usually more interesting than that.)
7. Give words of encouragement. Although I’ve put this pretty far down the list, this can be one of the most important. It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel (or degree at the end of the classes), especially if your spouse is only able to take part time classes and is working on a four year degree. Words of encouragement can be very needed.
8. Nag at them. (But only with their permission.) Okay, this one is unconventional, I know. But in our house, I have been given free reign to nag Eric to get assignments done. (Really – he has told me to do it, even if he doesn’t like it.) It is something he sometimes puts off too long, and needs to be reminded that he needs to get to work. He also pretty much has free reign to get annoyed when I do it, and I try not to take it personally. In the end, the work gets done and that’s what he cares about.
9. Help with paperwork. Eric takes care of most of his own paperwork for school, but each year, I take care of the FAFSA for him. Since I’m the one that does our taxes each year, it lends itself to me doing the FAFSA for him at around the same time. (I’m not, of course, suggesting you do any of their work or paperwork that they really should do on their own. Just those extra administrative things, if it is applicable in your situation.)
10. Ask them what you can do to help. Sometimes, your spouse may need something that would have never occurred to you. Just ask them if there is anything you can do to help them out, especially during busy times.