When it comes to balancing kids and college, many parents may find it quite challenging to juggle devoting quality time to both their children and academics. However, many proud moms and dads have proven that this balancing act is absolutely doable.

We recently asked several Saint Leo University current students and alumni how they have succeeded in their journeys toward one or more degrees while continuing to fulfill their parental duties. Here are some highlights of what they had to say.

Jen Patronas, MBA alumna and current Doctor of Business Administration student at Saint Leo University

“Technology opened a door that allowed me to attend graduate school and embark on a doctorate program, all while raising my children in Alaska. Yes, I am busy. Yes, my life is sometimes chaotic, but there is no good time to start something new and challenging.

Balancing the responsibilities of being a parent, having a career, and going to college can be a challenge, but it can be done without letting any of your important roles suffer. As the mother of three young boys, a doctoral student, and a career woman, here is my advice:

  • Choose a school that is community-minded and prioritizes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).  What does that mean? Research the school’s core values. Do they line up with your personal core values? Do they mention community and inclusion?
  • Sign up for online classes. Then let your advisor and professors know a little about you. Your advisor and professors want to see you succeed and are on your team. Did you stay up all night nursing a sick child? Communicate this to your team. Most likely they will understand and work with you.
  • Schedule time for schoolwork each day. For me, the best time to study is when my children are doing their homework and after they go to bed for the night.
  • Let your children see that you are in school like them. They are always watching and are easily influenced. Show them that you are committed to your education.
  • Network and socialize with other ambitious parents. Joining like-minded people can provide the energy boost needed to take you to the next level.

Most importantly, give yourself grace. Emergencies happen. Things come up. Breathe. It doesn’t have to be a sprint to the finish line. Pace yourself. Stay positive and know that you can do it!”

Kyle Bowman, bachelor’s in business administration alumnus and current master’s in criminal justice degree student at Saint Leo University

“Returning to school was not as hard of a decision as most believe. The difficult part was finding the correct balance of work, school, and most importantly, family. Having a strong, supportive family makes all the difference. The strongest person in my life is my wife. While my job has me working mostly nights, she is running the household and caring for our two daughters, 18 and 12.

After some medical issues, I decided to return to Saint Leo University to obtain my master’s degree as a backup plan. I knew returning to school after 18 years would take up a majority of my concentration and valuable family time. However, there were two goals I wanted to achieve:

  1. graduate with straight A’s
  2. Show my daughters that it can be done at my age.

I wanted to prove to them that in life, there are setbacks, but you make every effort to work through them, excel, and place yourself in the best possible position. I think through the actions of my wife and I, our youngest daughter developed a never-quit attitude, and our oldest daughter realized balancing college, work, and family is not as hard as she originally thought.

My advice to any parent considering going back to school is to do it! Make it a family event. There have been several times I’ve asked my wife to proofread my papers. I have spoken to our daughters about research topics to get their young perspectives. Nevertheless, the most important advice? Stay ahead of the coursework. Schedule certain days or a block of hours within a day to hammer out papers. Take advantage of starting your assignments early. It gives you that extra cushion if life gets in the way.”

Christina Joseph, MBA in social media marketing alumna from Saint Leo University

A photo of Christina Joseph, an alumna of Saint Leo University’s MBA in social media marketing degree program, with her youngest daughter, Chloe

“As a parent in college, I had to take an honest look at what my family and I needed for the utility of family life to continue while I was divided with my time. For example, while older kids like teenagers are helpful, it may take a little bit for them to be consistent with new chores they may need to take on. I shopped in bulk, ate at the family-owned Mexican restaurant around the corner, used grocery delivery services and DoorDash regularly to free up my time to get the coursework completed.

I was also very aware of how clutter and/or levels of messiness of my home and self impacted my ability to focus. Sometimes putting in the effort for self-care and to make my work environment clean made all the difference. I think there is a subconscious directive that says my top priority is to provide for my family. Honoring that intrinsic need helped to free up the mental space. Finding the balance for the household chores, my internal drive to address them, and my physical/mental energy levels was key. It took time and a lot of personal transparency about myself and my family to accomplish this. It is possible, but it may take a bit of time to get there and that is okay.”

Carrie Jones, alumna of the master’s in human services administration program at Saint Leo University

“I will never forget the day I decided to go to college. I was home with my husband doing our normal weekend chores and dusting the multiple degrees that hung on our wall with his name on them. I laughed and said, ‘Give me some white-out. I am putting my name on one of these degrees.’ We laughed and at dinner that night, my husband decided to put off his doctorate degree. We sat down together at the computer to begin the process of my college enrollment.

Our oldest son was in high school, another son in middle school, and our youngest son was at home with me.

In my first semester, I started with two classes on campus. I was older than every student and 90 percent of my instructors. I never felt out of place because we all shared one thing in common: learning. I took each class and semester at my own pace. I was not in a rush to graduate and kept the mindset that I was there to learn and grow. I was already grown up, so wondering what I was going to be never crossed my mind, and yet even at my age, I felt the opportunities were endless.

I was a wife and a mother and lost in those roles for many years. As a student on campus and in online courses, I was Carrie, and that was liberating. My children enjoyed homework time because I was at the table struggling along with them. We encouraged one another, celebrated our accomplishments, and supported one another when we occasionally received poor marks.

We had to make some sacrifices with our time.  We meal planned and prepped on weekends. Our schedule was planned down to the hour some weeks to ensure everyone was studying, sleeping, and taking some time for themselves. We used our course subjects as topics of conversation which made it more interesting and less like learning. Each of us always had a study partner, and the walls of our home were frequently covered in flashcards. When taking sign language, my sons learned with me. When they took Spanish, I learned with them.

Finally, on Mother’s Day in 2016, my oldest son and I graduated together with our associate Degrees. I remember feeling how ironic it was that I was celebrating such a huge personal accomplishment on my favorite day of the year. I went on to complete my bachelor’s degree in 2018 and graduated with my master’s from Saint Leo University in 2021. My youngest is now a high school senior and plans to apply to Saint Leo.

In educating myself, I set an example for our children. They have a greater respect for me as their mother because they saw my commitment, struggles, and shared in my success.”

Joanne Loubriel, current MBA in project management student at Saint Leo University

“Time management skills and prioritization are essential to being successful in working, raising a young family, and being in college. My husband and I share equally in household chores, including dishes, laundry, bath time, and cooking! Some days, one of us has to do the heavy lifting because of an important work project or family commitment.

At the beginning of each term, we carefully review each course syllabus to see what we need to plan for. For live Zoom calls and presentations, we have been fortunate to have family step in to help so that we can participate. We recognize that it also takes planning, so we ask well in advance and ensure everything is taken care of–dinner, pajamas, entertainment–so the kids and grandparents can have fun. At the same time, we get the opportunity to fully participate in class.

We also plan our weeks ahead of time, following timelines for projects and assignments so we don't fall behind or feel added and unnecessary pressure. We have a shared family calendar with medical appointments, upcoming work events, our children's events, and projects due, which gives us visibility into what is going on in any given week.”

Tisha Doohen, M.Ed. in educational leadership and Doctor of Education alumna from Saint Leo University

A photo of Tisha Doohen, an alumna of the M.Ed. in educational leadership and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree programs at Saint Leo University

“Going back to school as a parent was one of the most rewarding and strenuous things I have ever done. Balancing home, work, and school took time management and the willingness to forgo some things for the benefit of the overall goal. I have always kept a spiral calendar for work. Adding important due dates to my calendar helped me stay on top of schoolwork, as well as manage my work duties. If I had a big paper coming up, I planned around it so that I could concentrate only on the paper. It is important to stay focused on the end. Each class brings you closer to your goal.”

Adri Colina, alumna with a bachelor’s in human resource management from Saint Leo University

“My college journey was nontraditional and inconsistent. It began, part time, immediately after high school. I worked full time and attended school in the evenings. I met my future husband and college wasn’t my primary focus. A year later, I got pregnant with our first child.

When our daughter was two, I returned to school. Two years later, I became pregnant with our second daughter. Again, I took some time off and, when she was two, I returned. This time, however, I was focused and knew that for us to be able to provide for our girls, a college degree was necessary.

My husband was so very supportive of me and assured me that he would take care of the girls while I went to school in the evenings. We set our parameters: I would work full time and attend school two evenings a week, taking three courses per semester. It was slow, steady, and focused.

Being a full-time wife, mother of two, employee, and student was not easy. But for me, there were no other options. The time spent away from my family was hard. I made a commitment that I’d be fully present during the time spent with them. In the classroom, I was extremely attentive, asked questions and did homework during my lunch hour at work. Rarely would I study or do homework at home; this was family time. I respected that boundary and cherished that time. I made a choice to be okay with not earning straight A’s because making memories with my husband and girls was more important.  Ironically, my extreme concentration in the classroom allowed me to earn straight A’s, and I was on the Dean’s List for most semesters. Sacrificing ‘perfect’ grades in exchange for family time allowed me to balance and manage the many competing demands and roles I played in life. My priority was the degree.

Saint Leo University was the perfect fit for non-traditional learning. The shorter semesters allowed for me to complete my program more quickly, and the rapid progression kept my momentum going and allowed the ‘finish line’ to become clearer and clearer. The pride that I felt crossing the stage during the commencement ceremonies is indescribable. The journey was hard but worthwhile.  My sacrifice wasn’t for me alone because I knew it would change my family’s future.

Don’t be so hard on yourself and recognize that progress over perfection is key. Be willing to make concessions and lean on your support group. Lastly, understand that the time it takes doesn’t matter. It is what you accomplish at the end of the time that matters.”