How Does a Parent Going Back to School Affect the Family?

John Howard/Digital Vision/Getty Images

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the increase in the number of college students over the age of 25 has grown much faster than the rate of younger students in recent years. Taking into account that many people over 25 are married and have children, this statistic implies that over the years, more and more parents are deciding to go back to school. Similar to most other life-changing ventures, a parent going back to school can have both negative and positive effects on family life.

Changes in Household Dynamics

With the time demands that college classes put on students, a parent going back to school may not be able to manage the same duties at home than she used to. In two-parent families, this means the other partner and even the kids will have to take on more household duties. According to Emily Driscoll, author of the “Fox Business” article “What Moms Need to Know About Going Back to School,” it's important for partners to maintain open communication and be responsive to each other's needs. However, with planning and effort, the change in home dynamics can be used to make the family unit a stronger team. Dr. Lisa Kincaid, psychology professor at Strayer University, says that kids often enjoy being helpful to their parents and having a sense of responsibility.

Tightening the Family Budget

Though a parent going back to school will hopefully lead to a better occupation and increased income, the cost of attending college will definitely affect family life. For single parents, going back to school often means having to pay for childcare. While there are various options that can help parents pay for college - - grants, loans and tuition reimbursement programs, for example - - families may still have to agree to live less frivolously while the parent is in school. In all family models, it's important to explain the importance of the parent going back to school and why it's worth tightening the budget to kids to help them understand the importance of education and how it can help the family in the long term.

Spending Time Together

It can be easy for a parent who is back in school to spend all of their extra time studying alone. But families are stronger when they spend time together. Since money will likely be tight, families can schedule simple activities to do together, like having a movie night or playing board games at home. Another solution to a parent missing out on family time is to plan for joint study-time with the kids. Allowing the kids to see how Mom or Dad takes school work seriously can make a positive impact on how they view their own education.

A New Social Circle

Part of being in college is interacting with other students, whether intentionally or not. In the Fragile Families Journal article “Unmarried Parents in College,” authors Sara Goldrick-Rab and Kia Sorensen note that single parents have increased changes to meet potential romantic partners when going back to school. Undoubtedly, a new girlfriend will affect family life for the kids of a parent in school. In two-parent families, it's unlikely that Dad will find a new wife at college, but he may begin to form friendships with classmates and spend time at study groups or social events. With either situation, the parent in school should remember his reasons for going back, and be sensitive to the needs and feelings of his family to make sure that he is working to balance his time and priorities properly.