Juggling school, kids, spouse and house
By Sarah Fader
Bree Myers is a mother of three and a graduate student at Penn State University in the project management program. She took the time to answer some questions about what it’s like to raise three kids and be a full-time graduate student. In my humble opinion, she’s a rock star.
1. What is project management?
Technically speaking, project management is planning, organizing, leading, and controlling resources to achieve a specific goal. Each project is temporary, with a specific due date, budget and plan.
Many people don’t understand exactly what project management is, so this is what I always tell them. Even though project management exists in every industry, think of a construction site. I’m the gal with the hardhat and clipboard, keeping people on task, on schedule and within budget. It’s my responsibility to make sure that the project gets completed on time, within the scope of the requirements and within budget.
2. What inspired you to pursue a M.S. in project management?
While it is a M.S. degree, it commonly referred to as a M.P.M., or master’s of project management.
When it became apparent that my lack of musical talent and my appearance in leather pants was not going to fulfill my dream of being a rock star, I decided to take a more practical approach. I was pregnant with my second child, recently earned my bachelor’s degree, and knew that I wasn’t going back to work for awhile. My husband works at Penn State University and spouses can go back to school for a 75% discount. I discussed it with my husband and decided to continue my education in graduate school, since it was one of my life goals. (Well, I actually plan on getting my Ph.D., but I need a break. I’ve been taking classes straight for 5 years and will wait for another opportunity in life to pursue that.)
I’m a business kind of girl, but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to focus on. I completed a SWOT analysis on myself to determine my personal strengths and weaknesses and compared them to the opportunities and threats in the current workplace. So as you can see from the last sentence, its pretty obvious why I chose project management. My life consists of budgets, schedules and goals. I am very structured, extremely organized and I’m always working on something whether it’s my task today of organizing the filing cabinet, planning a party, whatever… So, the field of project management really has only taken off within the last 20 to 30 years. Many companies are just adopting its philosophies and there are many opportunities out there.
3. How old are your kids and who takes care of them when you're in class?
My kids are: Brodie (4), Judah (2), and Ainsley (7 months).
I actually go to Penn State’s World Campus so I take all of my graduate classes online. However, there is a family joke that my grandparents are going to write their names in on my diploma because they help out so much. I truly have an amazing support system, because my family and my in-laws all live so close. My grandparents usually take the boys (and the baby at times too) for a day or two during the week so that I can get homework done, take tests, etc. My parents, my sister and my in-laws all spend a lot of time with the kids on the weekends. I usually use those times wisely to make sure that I work ahead of the syllabus to make it easier at times where I don’t get work done due to travel, sickness, whatever.
I struggled with this at first because I felt like other people where raising my children. But I quickly got over myself and started to appreciate the relationships they were developing with their family. Not many kids can say that they got to run around and play tag with their great-grandparents, spent the afternoon at the park with their “Aunt Tido,” or spent their Friday nights getting spoiled from their grandparents. We are all really blessed.
4. What are the challenges of being a mother in graduate school? How do you balance it all?
Sleep is a major challenge. I’m lucky if I get four to five hours a night. It’s one of the biggest sacrifices that I have made to go back to school. I’ve adopted the motto: I can sleep when I’m dead.
Not having a work area to myself is another issue. My kids’ stuff has completely taken over my house. I do my schoolwork at the dinning room table where I can keep an eye on what my children are doing (because they are always doing something). Having my books and papers everywhere means that little fingers are always rearranging it, scribbling on it, etc. Another problem is that I get a lot of work done in the later part of the afternoon, and then I have to cook supper and remove it all so that we can sit at the table. Then I have to spend time re-organizing my thoughts when I move to the bedroom to work.
Finally, I’ve let myself go a bit. I don’t eat properly, don’t have time for exercise, rarely shave my legs, etc. It’s almost like a fair trade though. By focusing on one part of my life, I have to let some other things go by the wayside. This includes the house. I try to keep it safe and sanitary, but it’s definitely never “clean.”
5. What does your husband think of you pursuing higher education while raising your kids?
I seriously have the best husband ever. He’s so understanding and patient with me. He has supported me through this journey from the start. He’s really stepped up his game and has become an awesome Dad. After we eat dinner and clean up, I tend to go to my bedroom and work on homework for an hour until its time to start getting kids ready for bed. Then we tag-team baths, books and snuggles to get the kids asleep. When it’s all done, we hang out and watch TV together while I do school work and he does his work. He has enrolled in school for the spring, so soon our roles will be reversed. Working together is the secret to our success so far!
6. What do your children think about you pursuing your graduate degree?
My kids are still too young to have an opinion about me pursuing a grad degree. There are times when the boys get frustrated that I’m sitting at the computer and not paying attention to their every need. They do understand the concept of homework though. My middle child, Judah, refers to all stacks of paper as “Mommy’s homework!”
I hope someday they look back at this as a positive experience. I hope that my actions show them the importance of education and that anything is possible if you work hard and have a goal.
7. What advice would you give to mothers interested in pursuing a graduate degree?
Sometimes you have to think about what you want for your future. I think as parents we get so focused on what we want for our kids that we don’t think about what we want for ourselves. I think that if getting a masters degree will put you in a position to achieve the things you want for your life, then you should go for it.
I finally decided that there would be a point in my children’s lives when they won’t need me as much and will have lives of their own. Whatever life I had created for myself up until that point was the life that I was going to be stuck with. So I make a conscience decision to put emphasis on my future while raising my children.
It’s hard balancing school, kids, spouse, and house, but when there is a will you will find a way.
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Sarah Fader holds a bachelor’s degree from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration in ancient theater and philosophy. She is currently raising two children while applying to graduate school.