Juggling study and children, mother of four discovers it’s never too late to go back to university.

Writing an internationally acclaimed essay on the feminist themes of the gothic novel Frankenstein is not how most mothers would choose to spend precious evenings after the children have gone to bed.

But for mother of four Helen Peters, immersing herself in the social significance of the story about a mad scientist and his monster was bliss.

It came about because, 14 years after leaving school and having had her children, she decided it was time to return to study.

Although she had already had one false start - she tried university at 18 but realised she wasn't ready for it then - Peters decided to dip her toe back in the water. Living in Australia at the time, she enrolled in one distance paper at Massey University.


"I wanted to study a Bachelor of Arts (BA)," she says. "I chose Massey because it allowed me to study extramurally and I'd heard positive things about their distance programmes from friends."

While the Frankenstein essay and other university requirements have had to be fitted in around the family, Peters says the key to studying with young children is to have a great support network.

"It's essential to have someone who understands the need for time to study and for reflection – that it's not just reading something out of a book and then regurgitating it."

Peters treats the time her kids are at school as her working day and uses it to do as much study as she can. Between 7pm and 9pm her husband Carl helps by cooking dinner, bathing the children and putting them to bed.

"It helps to have a passion for what you're studying," she says. "Even though all I wanted to do at the end of the day was curl up on the couch and watch TV, I would study while they were in bed."

Peters believes that while combining study with motherhood has been demanding, it has also been worthwhile both for her personal fulfilment and the opportunity to be a positive role model for her children.

"When I'm studying I say to them 'you can see mum making a big effort, one day you will go to higher education too'."

Her advice for parents returning to university is to study when it works best for you; if you don't have a partner as support, ask extended family or friends to help with the kids.


"Don't be afraid to ask for help. It's not selfish to want time for study and your friends and family ultimately want you to succeed," she says.

Peters is a keen champion of the BA: "People think a BA is just fluffing around reading books or talking about poetry. What they don't realise is that it teaches you to think critically about people and society."

Now she has completed her degree, Peters plans to continue to follow her passion for history with post-grad study while long-term she has set her sights on becoming a full-time academic engaged in teaching, research and writing.

She believes the study of literature and history - and humanities and social sciences in general - is vital.

"As a historian I think we live in extremely interesting times; there's Trump, North Korea and more and one day I think people will look back on this time and think 'what shall we read to understand what was happening?'"