Transitioning to student family life can be stressful. Whether you’re a new student parent or are (re-)entering post-secondary studies while caring for a family, undoubtedly you will be juggling multiple hats, duties, and deadlines.
The Family Care Office is here to help! We’ve compiled some tips to help you and your family transition smoothly into this new stage of life.
- Talk to a Family Care Office Advisor in advance of starting your studies. Find discussion points and contact information on the FCO website.
- Sign up for a peer mentor from the Family Care Office! Our mentors are students with family responsibilities just like you. They can meet you on your schedule and provide invaluable advice and support. Check out our mentorship sign-up page for more details.
- Make a calendar of all your application deadlines and your family’s important dates prior to classes starting. This could include UTSU’s health insurance opt-out period or UTGSU’s health insurance opt-out period, your course drop dates, your kids’ PD days, tentative exam schedule postings from the Faculty of Arts & Science or the School of Graduate Studies, and OSAP deadlines.
- Look into on-campus family housing or housing as close to school as is possible. This’ll help to eliminate transportation costs and commuting time. Both UTM and U of T’s St. George campus have on-campus student family housing options. Many units are, with short notice, available, so call and ask about waitlists!
- Research and secure reliable child care options prior to starting your first week of classes. You should also ensure that you know what child care grants are available to you as well as any subsidies that your family could be eligible for.
- Evaluate whether or not holding a job is necessary for you while in school. The Career Learning Network is an online database that compiles on- and off-campus job postings across U of T’s three campuses.
- Have your finances in order and plan your budget for the year as best you can. Keep in mind that your U of T student card will get you discounts on both GO Transit (head to a TCard office with your valid TCard to receive your GO Student ID) and the TTC (Metropasses are available for purchase at the UTSU office). As a U of T student you have access to financial counsellors through your faculty, college, or at Enrolment Services, so take advantage of this service!
- As your semester begins, assess your time management skills, timeliness, and ability to attend classes. Make sure to rectify any issues that you find! Because of your family responsibilities, it is even more essential that you become a master at multi-tasking. Scheduling applications are a fantastic way to stay on top of assignment due dates and to log your class schedules and family responsibilities. Always have your classes’ syllabi somewhere handy, as they’re your hub for important course-related info!
- Speak with your professors about their attendance and submission policies if you’re comfortable doing so. Some instructors are more willing to discuss deadline revisions if they know ahead of time about your family care responsibilities. Also, find out your professors’ rules for taking kids to class – some may permit this, so if you’re ever stuck for childcare, bringing Junior to class may be a possibility!
- As soon as you arrive, begin to develop an on-campus support network. Some great resources on campus include your registrar or faculty, counselling services, the writing centres, the Academic Success Centre, Chaplains, as well as Elders and academic supports at First Nation House, UTM, and UTSC. And, of course, us at the FCO!
- Find a spot on campus where you’re able to do good, concentrated work. Because of your family and school responsibilities you’ll really have to make use of the limited time that you have. This means utilizing any breaks that you may have between classes, the time while your children are napping, your commute, and quiet time after everyone has gone to bed.
- It’s inevitable that you’ll miss a few classes each term. Make a buddy in each of your courses who’ll share notes with you for classes you’ve missed. If you’re too shy, you can always send a mass email to the class asking if anyone is willing to supply their notes for the lessons you were away for. Many times a Facebook page is created for classes, so do investigate to see if your courses have any. Recording your lectures is a great idea, though you must always ask for your professor’s permission. You can record with any smart phone, enabling on-the-go, portable listening.
It’s always worth challenging yourself so long as it’s within reason; make sure you don’t over-extend yourself! Only accept what it is that you can handle, even if it means reducing your course load or taking an online class.
Also, do your best to schedule a bit of ‘me time’ each week. Self-care is essential. Taking time to yourself each week will make you feel more human and grounded, qualities that help you better care for yourself and your family!
Check out former Family Care Office blogger Malinda Gray’s recounting of her transition to student family life at the University of Toronto! With candid wit she shares her trials and tribulations in four chunks:
- First semester first 3 weeks
- First semester weeks 4-6
- First semester weeks 7-9
- First semester completion weeks 10-12
Written by Gabriele Simmons and updated by Kathryn Haworth.