I admire her work through the McCusker Foundation enormously, so was really excited to have the opportunity to ask her some questions about her life and experiences. I am sure you will enjoy reading this. I laughed out loud at the image of the wet shirt in the oven - what an amazing woman...Thank you so much Tonya for your contribution.
My name is Tonya McCusker, I believe in life long learning and I have 3 children – a 20 year old son at university, a 15 year old son in high school and a 7 year old daughter in primary school. I have a law degree from the University of WA and a post graduate diploma in management from Henley Management College in the UK, which I undertook by distance learning whilst working in Hong Kong, and raising my baby son. I have also undertaken various fundraising qualifications part time. It has always been a challenge juggling parenting with study but, the highlights certainly outweigh the tough moments, and I have found that the mental stimulation, from my studies, has been very good for me.
What motivates you? Many women reading might be struggling with motivation or staying on track, what advice do you have for women to persist with their dreams?
Set short term and long term goals. Short term goals are there to get you through each day: clean school uniforms, lunches packed, what’s for dinner... But each day, set aside some time to think long-term, about what you need to do to achieve your dreams. I like to set aside time from 8-10pm for personal study. The family is fed, homework done and the little one in bed. That 2 hour time period is mine and I use it effectively. Try downloading some motivational quotes that might inspire you, if you feel short term priorities are getting the better of you. Blue tack them to the wall above your computer, and when you are feeling unmotivated, read them. Find a mentor/friend who you can meet with for coffee once a month, exchanging stories.
Can you tell us what were some of trickiest bits of being a mum who studies?
It is always hard around exam time, when deadlines loom large, not to take out your frustration out on the children, who seem to pick up on the fact that you are extra tense, and want more of your time during those crucial times. Bite your tongue and try to keep calm. For me, family is the first priority, and if the children need me to read them a story, that takes priority over my study.
Do you ever struggle with 'mother guilt' and if so, what tips or advice do you have for other mums?
I used to struggle and feel guilty trying to juggle everything. Now I use a ‘priorities’ strategy to make me feel better. Based on Stephen Covey’s book “First Things First” (highly recommend it), when things get super busy, I go back to my priorities: family first, work second, house cleaning and washing third ... But it doesn’t always work. I remember not washing son no 2’s sport shirt for sports carnival day until the morning it was needed. It was raining and I had no dryer. After trying to dry it in the oven and then in the microwave (doesn’t work but the shirt does get a nice smell of roast beef on it) and then getting no 2 son to hang it out of the car window, all the way to school – in the end, he went to school with a soaking wet sports shirt. BUT he survived. So don’t sweat the small stuff.
What advice to you have for mothers trying to balance their passions and career with motherhood?
Lists, lists and more lists. Sometimes, I make a list and don’t even look at it again. But the process of making the list created clarity for me and was beneficial.
Exercise – I try to get to an aerobics class once a week. During that time, I plan my week, month and future, and find things fall into place really easily –also takes my mind off the pain of exercising!
Final point: Choose your course carefully. Obviously an area that you are interested in, but if you can choose a course where there is no exam worth 100% at the end, I find there is less pressure because the assessments are spread out throughout the term.