Stay-at-home moms & online education: Why it works

For many moms, the decision to leave the workforce to stay home and raise a family is an easy one, but that is not to say it comes without sacrifice. Taking a break from your career can put financial strain on your household and wreck havoc on your resume, not to mention your self esteem. A study presented by the American Sociological Association notes that a mom's choice to stay home can make her feel as if her life is on hold, inciting feelings of guilt and depression.


"I know I'm lucky to stay home with my kids, but I envy my working friends sometimes," says Michelle Brown, a stay-at-home mom in Virginia. "I know I chose to quit my job, but stir craziness and spit up can get to you after a while."

According to the U.S. Census, stay-at-home-moms, or SAHMs in Web-lingo, also tend to be less educated than working moms, a trend that can backfire if they want (or need) to return to the workforce. The New York Times reports that in 2009, economic strife forced many such women back into the job market. Those without the right education often found themselves competing against college graduates laid off from other positions.

Fear of this scenario is forcing many moms to measure their career aspirations against their commitment to staying home with their children. Fortunately for some determined moms, online education presents a welcome compromise.

Online schools: New technology, new options

From iPhone apps that track newborn sleeping patterns to wildly active online mommy groups, today's mothers are decidedly plugged in. This technology provides not just a means for managing life as a stay-at-home parent, but also for investing in the future. Returning to school provides some moms with a new sense of purpose, a snazzier resume and a safety net should financial disaster strike. It also provides these women with new options, no matter how chaotic their lives become.

"Online education benefited me as a mom because it allowed me to work on classes on my own time. I was able to read lecture notes when the kids went to bed or napped," says Amy Reinagel, a SAHM pursuing an online master's degree in public health. "It also didn't require me to find childcare for my kids."

Kevin Silva, former associate director of instruction technology for Chapman University, agrees. "(Online education) eliminates travel to and from campus, which saves and enormous amount of time," says Silva. "(It also allows students) to participate in the course and perform coursework when time is available, instead of being on a specific schedule."

Online education may be a convenient alternative to traditional classroom instruction, but it has its challenges. Experts say that online students must be organized, motivated and prepared to work just as hard as they would in the classroom. Being a stay-at-home parent juggling mommy and household tasks can make overcoming time and motivation hurdles difficult, but it can also nurture the skills (and patience) necessary to tackle them.

Put your mom skills to work in the (virtual) classroom

Being a parent can feel like a disadvantage in a classroom filled with recent high school graduates, but the skills that are gained by managing family life can actually benefit you in an online learning environment. For instance, a knack for organization, time management and problem solving can help you overcome the challenges of managing both school and family obligations.

"Our day-to-day responsibilities can often be a distraction from any educational activity," explains Silva. "To manage online learning, a student has to try to allocate some amount of time each day to course activities like reading, class participation, lectures and coursework."

Student and SAHM Reinagel agrees: "I needed to be an expert time manager, otherwise I would have been so overwhelmed," she says. "Being able to multi-task was a very important skill that has helped me to be successful in the program."

Moms also tend to be driven, especially when it comes to tasks that will benefit their families down the road. This determination is a major plus among online students who must step away from the daily grind to study, no matter how rough their days have been.

"I am very self-motivated," says Reinagel. "I keep reminding myself that I am doing this for my kids."

How to stay the course without losing your marbles

Being a parent may benefit you as an online student, but managing school and family life can still be challenging, even with the convenience of online schools. In a world where being a SAHM often means having very little time to yourself, the thought of taking on more work can seem daunting. That doesn't mean it's an impossible feat; you just have to know how to set yourself up for success.

"Pursuing an online education is totally doable with children, but requires a great deal of… support from family," says Reinagel. "I would also ask my professors to look at some of my work ahead of time, or give me an assignment ahead of time if I had a lot going on that week. They were all willing to help because they all wanted to see me succeed."

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