Students enjoy new stage of life as parents


Jonah Barnes isn’t your average BYU student. He doesn’t use Facebook, Twitter or a smartphone, and he never does homework at home. Sometimes he has to leave study groups early so he can get home in time for dinner.

The reason for these differences is Barnes’ family. He is the father of three boys, ages 3, 2 and 6 months and is working to get his MBA in supply chain management. Time is valuable to students like Barnes who are going to school while raising a family.

Jonah Barnes and his wife, Charlotte, take a walk on BYU campus with their three children. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

“If you don’t control your schedule, your schedule will control you,” Barnes said. “I spend tons of time with my kids. I spend over 30 hours a week at home with my kids, not including sleep.”

Barnes said the secret to thriving is that he segments his time rather than integrating, meaning he separates his time at school from his time at home.

“When I’m home, I’m home,” he said. “When I’m at school, I’m at school. I think it’s better to keep the two separate. I have cute kids and a gorgeous wife. That encourages me to segment.”

Though he generally likes to keep school and family separate, Barnes said he likes when his wife will surprise him by bringing his kids to campus. In order to spend time at home with his family, Barnes can’t afford to spend time as he did before having kids.

“I am much clearer about what I have to do,” Barnes said. “My focus and goals are clearer. Guys without kids can chat on Facebook, and two hours will go by with getting nothing done. It made me be more effective because I have to be there for my kids.”

Laurel Dorff, a senior studying finance, has a five-month-old son named Lincoln. She said it makes a big difference that her husband graduated. When he comes home, she can do homework.

Dorff said communicating the reality of her life and managing expectations are key. She said that from the start she tells all of her study groups she has a son. They have been understanding, and so have her teachers.

“I make friends (in the study group) and try to overcontribute,” Dorff said. “On nights when they meet too late, I call in so I can be at home and make sure I have everything ready.”

Dorff said her priorities have changed now that she is a parent.

“I was an almost straight-A student,” she said. “I adjusted to not be able to put 100 percent into school. Some things have to do.”

Dorff kept attending school during and after her pregnancy. She said she encourages others in her position to keep going with school.

“My best advice is to power through,” she said. “It’s harder to start again. Take one or two classes online. This is my life, and I’m happy. The hardest thing is when others can’t relate. You just have to know your limits and explain — be very transparent.”

Kelly Matsunaga and her husband are both students and have a baby daughter named Annie. They have classes at different times and can trade off watching Annie. Though Matsunaga said they are busy, they have also gained much joy from their daughter.

“When people find out that I am going to school with such a young baby they always ask, ‘How do you do it?'” Matsunaga said. “Honestly, we have found that when we put our relationships with God and each other first, everything else really takes care of itself. Even though we are busier than ever and have less time to do schoolwork, everything works out. It really is a miracle.”

Steve Duncan, a professor of family life, said having children is a transition to a different stage of life that “changes everything about our realities.”

“When you’re a couple and then baby makes three, there are challenges and then blessings that occur during that time,” Duncan said. “For example, when children enter, the couple gets less sleep. They have to carve out their time that they have as a couple and keep that relationship strong. What makes it really work well is when couples already are one in terms of focusing on the needs of the child.”

Jonah Barnes, a BYU student, spends time with his family on campus. (photo by Elliott Miller)
Jonah Barnes, a BYU student, spends time with his family on campus. (Photo by Elliott Miller)

Duncan said understanding the Plan of Salvation and knowing the role of parents helps husbands and wives to have a shared vision.

“We’re not as child-friendly as we used to be as a culture, but as Latter-day Saints, who are having children and seeking to become parents, we have the Proclamation to the World so woven into our doctrine,” he said.

Matsunaga said having Annie “brought a new level of happiness” to her life.

“Is it hard? Yes, absolutely,” Matsunaga said. “Do I have to make sacrifices? Definitely. But having Annie, even while I’m in school, has brought more success, joy and peace than I ever imagined.”

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