There's a million articles going around that tell you how to help your kiddos get back to school. But what about those of us with spouses who are still in school? My sweetheart is beginning his second year of graduate school. While it can't possibly be harder than his first year, it's still sad that summer is coming to a close. After a long talk with him, I have a better understanding of what I can do to make the transition easier. I share that list with you, in the hopes that you can strengthen your spouse as a new school year begins.
I know it sounds trite, but honestly, prayer makes everything better. Besides, school is a big deal and your spouse is the most important person in your life. So, why wouldn't you pray about this? Take the situation to God with a heart set on doing the right thing. That way, you can be at peace about the situation and prepared to help your spouse in whatever way he or she needs. In general, we are more purposeful and less overwhelmed when we take a few minutes to pray together.
Frankly, I'm scared for school to start up again. It's been so wonderful having my husband working from home for the summer - doing things at his own pace and available to help (or just snuggle) as needed. However, when I remember to pray, I feel a little excited, too. Opportunities like formal schooling don't come along every day. Enjoy it while you can.
Talk to your spouse about how he feels about going back to school
For example, my graduate student husband is finally starting to feel like he knows what he's doing, but is starting to feel a bit disenchanted with his field. This requires one kind of response from me. His feelings of overwhelm and panic last year required a very different response. It's important to know where your spouse is coming from as you figure out how to be helpful. You should also be aware of your spouse's strengths and weaknesses so that you can respond accordingly.
Give your spouse opportunities to help around the house
He or she will always be busy, so it will always feel a little like you're taking your spouse away from something important. However, helping at home helps him to feel included. It reminds him why he's doing what he's doing and that he is part of a loving family. Ideally, inviting him to complete small household tasks helps him to break up his day into doable chunks.
That said, be aware of your spouse's study habits. If it takes her an hour to really get immersed in a task, you will just break her concentration with, "Honey, would you...?" Instead, make her aware of something you would like help with and let her decide when to do it. This can actually make his study sessions more effective, because you are providing a reason for him to take a needed break.
My husband and I are finally getting good at this. We keep a whiteboard next to his desk. It's mostly for him to work though exceptionally complicated math problems, but we keep a corner reserved for me. There, I write down keywords for things I wanted to say to him while he was busy, including anything along the lines of "sweetheart, would you mind...?" This list allows us to talk in a more focused way, since he is not distracted and I have a handy reference.
School is hard, plain and simple. That means that it'sÂ OK to assume that September brings a series of stressors with it. Shrug off your expectations. This will help you to also shrug off disappointment or anger when things are less than ideal. Your spouse is not always going to have time for you. Things around the house are going to go undone. But that's OK; you're working as a team to accomplish a goal that wouldn't be possible without each other. Relish the challenge.
This sounds like a direct contradiction to "be realistic," but the two actually work hand-in-hand. Realism means that you don't wait for happiness to come to you. Optimism means you go looking for it. Finding something beautiful and enlightening every day will help you to uplift and strengthen your spouse with your own good cheer.
Student spouses are a special breed. They are brave, ambitious, and adventurous in a way that few people understand. They're also terrified, ready to give up, and want to hide under the bed. As life partners to these intrepid creatures, we have a special responsibility to encourage them. We pray for them, talk to them, make them feel needed and brace them up with our optimism and love. In short, good luck to your spouse as this school year begins ... and good luck to you, too. You're both going to do great.