Can Advancing Your Nursing Education Make You a Better Parent?

What inspires nurses to go back to school? A new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) attempts to answer this question by identifying the motivational factors as well as the barriers that come into play when nurses contemplate advancing their education. The researchers found that RNs working to attain a higher nursing degree seem to be inspired by personal growth as well as professional development, even as they acknowledge how challenging it can be to strike a satisfying work-life balance. In this series, we’ll take a look at the powerful motivators that inspire nurses to get a BSN or MSN – some of them obvious and some a bit more surprising.

Inspirational Factor #4: Being a Positive Role Model for Your Children

One of the more surprising pieces of information that turned up in the RWJF report was that nurses returning to school for a BSN believe that their quest for higher education sets  a positive example for their children. They hope their children will value education as a means to obtain a fulfilling career. In particular, the report cites a 2001 study based on focus group interviews with RN-to-BSN students, some of whom expressed this point of view. Here’s an excerpt:

The RNs saw intrinsic value in the degree and saw the BSN as personal accomplishment. Some had always wanted to graduate from college. The RNs hoped that their children will appreciate the effort that they have put into obtaining the degree and that they will perceive their mothers as role models. “I think it originally started as the personal goal of setting an example for my children some day and being able to say, ‘yes, I graduated from college’.”

While the nurses seem to have sensed intuitively that their education level might have an impact on their children, research supports this idea. A study available on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website examined the long-term effects of parental education levels on their children and found a positive correlation even 40 years later, when those children had reached middle-age. That’s a powerful impact! According to the researchers:

A child exposed to parents who model achievement-oriented behavior (e.g., obtaining advanced degrees; reading frequently; encouraging a strong work ethic) and provide achievement-oriented opportunities (e.g., library and museum trips; after-school enrichment programs; educational books and videos) should develop the guiding belief that achievement is to be valued, pursued, and anticipated. This belief should then in turn promote successful outcomes across development, including high school graduation, the pursuit of higher learning, and the acquisition of high-prestige occupations.

Researchers at the University of Michigan concluded that parents who want to help their children succeed in school may need to go back to school themselves. They believe the effects of parental education go beyond merely providing an example. For example, they speculate that more education may mean that parents are more likely to read to their children, or that parents who are in school need to be more organized, so they may create a more structured home environment with family mealtimes and regular bedtimes. Additionally, a U.S. Department of Education report states that minority children with more educated parents scored higher than average in reading and mathematics on the national standardized test.

An online nursing degree program in particular may help you provide valuable life lessons for your kids. For one thing, it allows you to be at home and to set your own schedule so you can be there at important moments in your children’s lives. It also gives your children the opportunity to see the computer as a valuable learning tool, rather than just as an entertainment vehicle. They can learn a lot by seeing you conduct research in a virtual library, participate in online classroom discussions, and complete homework assignments – rather than playing video games or browsing websites. An article on titled Surviving Nursing School suggests that the time you devote to your coursework can actually become a family-centered activity:

A great way for parents of school-aged kids to be a positive role model and to spend time with their kids is to have study sessions together at the kitchen table. Some argue that this doesn’t provide social interaction, but the same is true when families watch TV together or when kids are playing computer games while mom or dad does another activity—the difference is, studying with your kids is excellent modeling for them and allows them to see how important your goal of becoming a nurse really is to you, and to them.


Some nurses have said they feel hesitant about going back to school for fear it will take them away from their families and have a negative impact on their kids. So it’s good to know that your commitment to education and self-improvement can provide a powerful example for children in many different ways.

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