College students with children face a unique set of challenges that childless students do not have to worry about. And, when those students are single parents, the additional obstacles can be so burdensome that it becomes difficult to attend school.
I have experienced both being a married and a single student parent. Each situation has its own set of challenges, but I have found that being a single student parent has been the best situation for my two children and myself.
Fear of the unknown kept me in an unhealthy marriage, but once I made that leap into the unknown, I was surprised at the resources available to me as a single mother.
I got married when I was 18, and never experienced living on my own and financially supporting myself. I was very afraid to set out on my own because I didn’t know how I could pay for college and have enough money to support my two children and myself. Once I decided I had to face that fear, I found there were many resources such as scholarships, financial aid, and other programs. My little family has enough. Finances are significantly tighter since breaking up with my ex-husband, but I have been incredibly fortunate.
I know everyone has their individual struggles. But there are resources available to single student parents and contacting the financial aid and scholarship office at Eastern is the first step to figuring out how to finance our educations.
Finding the right childcare can be a burden for parents with very young children who are not yet attending school. USU Eastern has a program called Care About Childcare. The website provides information and resources for parents. Parents can talk to childcare specialists for more information. eastern.usu.edu/childcare/
One of the greatest challenges for single parents is knowing how to strike a balance between work and life. Monica Vasquez is a single mother of three who earned her bachelor’s degree from USU Eastern in 2017 and is now working towards her master’s degree. “The work/life balance is the biggest challenge for me because I need to pay my bills, tuition, and fees on top of trying to support my kids. I also have no help with my kids and I’m doing everything on my own. There’s no time for friends or fun, but I am hopeful it will eventually pay off,” she says.
I have found that having strict time boundaries allow me to do what I need to do and still spend quality time with my children. I work and study from the time my children are dropped off at school until a set time in the evenings. After that end time, I put everything away unless there is a pressing due date. Boundaries on how I spend my time are the only way I can balance work, school, and family time.
For single student parents who are dedicated to their studies, a big frustration can be academic awards and recognition. At the university I transferred from, Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, I was considered for Sophomore Woman of the Year in 2020. A professor interviewing me asked about my extracurricular activities. I didn’t have any because I didn’t have the time. She told me I couldn’t receive awards because the awards committees expect extracurricular activities.
I have managed to get involved a little more in my junior and senior years, but still, I get passed up for academic awards because of the time constraints of a single mother. It stings a little, being indirectly told that my time spent caring for my children is not as valuable as the volunteer and academic work of a childless peer. My children are the most important part of my life and supporting them in the ways they need are my priority, even if it comes at the cost of losing out on recognition.
Time is a scarce and precious resource for single student parents. It is challenging to find time to spend with family and friends. Having someone to lean on and talk to makes an enormous difference.
We are not meant to go it alone. Many people do not have supportive family and friends. Something I think is lacking at Eastern since COVID-19 restrictions are support groups. I wish there was a support group for single student parents.
In addition to having a supportive family nearby, I have found that Facebook groups offer valuable support. Just knowing other single parents who relate to each other has been wonderful for my mental health.
All parents want what’s best for their children and to set them up to succeed in their futures. Attending college is a sacrifice, but most student parents find it is worth the effort. Carol Daniels was a single mother of five while she attended college. “The six years of college while earning B.S. and M.S. degrees was one of the best experiences of my life,” she says.
Going to college means greater earning potential and landing meaningful work. It also sets an example for our children.
“Going to school shows my girls how important education is,” Vasquez says.
Like Vasquez, my children are my motivation behind attending higher education. I come from a family where most of the men have graduate degrees and satisfying careers. Very few women in my family have completed degrees or careers. I want to change that; I want to set an example for my children — especially my daughter. I want her to have the life she wants. If I pursue a life-long dream of my own, I hope that she will feel supported to do the same.
Whatever that may be.