Mommy goes to school

Going on maternity leave can be extremely daunting, what with a new little creature suddenly under your care 24/7.


So too can improving your education, thanks to the pressure that comes with the assignments, tests and other commitments.


Tackling both at the same time? Crazy, right?


Well, not so fast. For local moms who’ve gone through the gauntlet and come out the other side unscathed, the sacrifice was well worth it. Despite the many challenges that come with juggling early parenthood and higher education at the same time, they don’t hesitate when asked if they’d recommend trying it.


“I would never, ever say not to go forward with your education,” explains Stephanie Bourrie, who used not one but two mat leaves as an opportunity to improve her job prospects.


Bourrie, 36, started the process of getting her Bachelor of Arts by taking some courses while she was off with her first child. She hit pause on that education to work as an early childhood educator after the initial mat leave, during which time the principal of her school really encouraged her keep working at becoming a teacher. When her second mat leave rolled around, she decided it was time to go to school full time and complete her degree. She accomplished that and, now that both her kids are in school, she’s finishing her second year of teacher’s college.


Not that it was ever easy. Bourrie said that one of the biggest challenges she faced was “mom guilt” – that feeling that she should have been 100 percent focused on her home life instead of pursuing something for herself.


“I don’t know if that’s like a societal pressure of being a new mom, but that was super challenging,” she says. “The lack of sleep, too, obviously. With a newborn, you’re up every few hours, and you’re trying to do assignments and still take care of your child.”


She also had to accept that, with those two, huge undertakings monopolizing her time, other things had to go.


“Getting stuff done around the house… I just had to learn to let all that stuff go,” she says. “I’m like, ‘OK, my two main focuses are my children and my school work, and the house can be dirty … if the laundry isn’t done, whatever. If the dishes aren’t done, whatever. Just focus on your education and your family and your children, and that’s all that should matter at that time.”


Although there were some days that she wanted to quit, the moral support her husband provided – as well as his willingness to take the lead at times as the main caregiver – helped push her through.


“Trying to find a support network as well, whether that be a husband or parents or friends and family, to be able to help you out when you need to get assignments done and stuff like that, that’s super important,” Bourrie says.


Sheridan Hunt agrees. The 30-year-old mother of three is currently on her third mat leave, and she’s done courses during all three of them.


She’d already finished her Bachelor of Education by the time she went on the first one, but at the time it was hard to get work as a teacher. She decided to use some of her time at home to add extra credentials that would make her more attractive as a potential employee.


“Right after I finished the course, I was successful in an interview, so it really was probably the reason why I’m a teacher right now,” she says.


Not only was economically beneficial for her, it was also personally fulfilling.


“I also really enjoyed it because it’s that time that you’re not just in babyland, you’re not just taking care of another child – it’s academically stimulating.”


After she had her second child, her plan was to focus solely on parenting. She found, however, that she missed the challenge of learning something new and doing something for herself. Her husband noticed, and he suggested that she take another online course. It wound up providing a real boost.


“You’re always a mom, but I was able to take time for myself,” she says. “I know other people do that by exercising or running or doing whatever it is. For me, it was taking a course so that I could better myself and better my education for the career that I’m in.”