Higher education is every mother's best friend...

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Higher education is every mother's best friend; what other pastime gives you a perfect excuse to have some guilt-free time alone?

Roll up, roll up! Ladies, I have the solution to all your mothering worries. Tired? Stressed out? Need some time to yourself? Don't worry, because the more children you have, the better. The less time you have, the better. It may seem unorthodox, even crazy, but my advice is that if you need a bit of a breather from the rigours of motherhood, get a prospectus and start an MA.

Now don't laugh. Don't stop reading. I am not advocating that we all turn into superwomen, because regular readers will be aware that I am the antithesis of such beings. But it really does make sense. Have your children and then embark on a course in higher education. It will save your life. I wasn't much good at being at home with my baby. It didn't help that I was blessed with an angel who lay on his playmat and gurgled all day. I felt redundant, and found myself filling my days with an unhealthy diet of watching too much satellite telly and writing letters of complaint to hapless companies and local government bodies who, according to my unoccupied and increasingly addled brain, were involved in a conspiracy to make my life as difficult as possible.

It was only to stop the flow of useless kitchen gadgets arriving in the post from American shopping channels that my husband suggested I sign up for a course. I chose a part-time education masters, and started going to a class every Thursday night. At the end of the day, with baby tucked up in bed, I would catch up on some reading and, with a good few shifts of babysitting from my parents and in-laws, I was able to get my essays in on time, although sleep deprivation meant that they weren't exactly academically groundbreaking. Admittedly it became much harder during the term that I returned to teaching between babies, but I struggled through, and now, at the start of a new academic term and as my life with a new baby begins, I am looking forward to my next module. Hopefully no one will mind that my notes will be smeared with breast milk, and my contribution to seminars may not be coherent, and I can honestly say to my tutor, "my toddler ate my essay" with a straight face and hope that she's understanding.

In short, doing my masters has given me an opportunity to get out of the house, and engage in enjoyable and intellectual conversation with like-minded professionals. On the occasions when my husband looks after the babies, I sit contentedly in the library for the day, not even reading, just enjoying the silence and the company of other adults. Higher education is every mother's best friend; what other pastime gives you a perfect excuse to have some guilt-free time alone? Saying to your partner "I'm taking the afternoon off to go shopping" doesn't have the same ring as "I'm taking the afternoon off to study in the library".

I'm trying not to think too hard about the fact that I have to complete a dissertation this year, return to work, and try to bring up two toddlers.

Obviously every plan has its drawbacks, and not having enough hours in the day is perhaps one good reason for deferring completion of my MA for another year, but I'm going to give it my best shot. Think about it, ladies: if you can study, work, and bring up your kids, there's nothing in the world you can't achieve.

Gemma Warren is on maternity leave from her post as head of inclusion at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail.com

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