Balancing a school schedule is hard work and takes a lot of discipline and drive. But for a percentage of college students, their education becomes a full time juggling act. Students who are also parents work overtime to find a successful balance between completing homework and studying, working part or full time jobs, maintaining their duties at home and raising children.
Not only are they responsible for the success of their own lives, but parents hold the wellbeing and progress of their children in their hands. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), 4.8 million college students are raising children; 71 percent of which are women.
Sheila Bullock, a biomedical major at ASU is a single mother, raising three young children, while independently providing for her family by working full time. She decided to return to school for one simple reason: to provide a better life for her family. “Right now it’s really hard to survive in the real world without a degree.
My decision was, if I was going to go back to school and spend time and money, I was going to go for something that was going to make me a lot of money,” said Bullock. Committing to education sometimes means spending an extended amount of time away from your children, which can cause the student to drop out of school.
“Students with children are especially unlikely to complete a certificate or degree within six years of enrollment. They face significant time demands, with 56 percent of single parents devoting more than 30 hours per week to dependent care, and often have significant financial challenges,” according to the IWPR.
That statistic, however, appears to be drastically lower at MCC. “Eighty-five percent of our student parents continue on from one semester to the next and the majority of them–60 percent–graduate or transfer to a 4-year institution,” said Kris Bliss, manager of MCC’s Children’s Center. “My parents watch my children for me, so I’m blessed,” Bullock said.
“The Children’s Center provide(s) high quality early childhood education to student parents for children between three and 12 years of age,” Bliss said. “We are fortunate to be able to offer a variety of scholarships or grants to help families to be able to afford child care. Student parents can enroll their child in the preschool program during the time they are in class and/or working on campus.” In addition to all of the responsibilities an adult has, a parent is in charge of maintaining a schedule that provides stability for their child.
Bullock spends approximately 10-to-15 hours per week on campus, followed by a full time work schedule and isn’t always home to help her oldest son with his own homework. “I’ve hired a tutor who comes to the house when he gets off of school, so by the time I get home, he’s done,” said Bullock.
Although she misses out on helping her son with homework, she makes sure her children know they are her first priority. “I don’t sleep. I take care of my children first and then I take care of my school work until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore,” Bullock said. “I go to bed late and I wake up early.”
Bullock’s schedule is about to get even busier. Her son just made the swim team, is part of the Boy Scouts and is rejoining a gymnastics team. “I think anecdotally we all know or can put ourselves in the shoes of people who are parents and acknowledge that it must be difficult to balance all these things,” said Bliss. “Sometimes there are issues that are out of our control all together; overall financial issues, personal issues, etc.” The demands placed on student parents are high and the sacrifices made will — hopefully — pay off.
Staying motivated and surrounding yourself by positive and supportive people are the keys to reaching your educational and personal goals. “As a former student parent, I first tell them keep on keepin’ on. They are setting an excellent example for their children,” said Bliss. “The second thing I say is to make sure they schedule things–homework, taking kiddos to classes, spending time with family–to help make things easier to manage. This is critical.”
“They also need to find an excellent support system; either family or friends who can be there when something unexpected comes up,” Bliss said.
Ultimately, though, nobody is perfect., according to Bliss.
“You will never find the perfect balance. Ever. There will be times when you need to focus on school and there will be times when your family needs your attention,” she said. “That’s okay. Just do the best you can with what you have and communicate to your children about how much you love them every darn day.”
“For me, my children are my motivation. I have to work twice as hard to be a mother and a father and go to school so they can live a nice life,” said Bullock. “A mom is going to naturally do whatever she can for her children. I think having children makes you stronger.”
For MCC student parents who need childcare assistance, the Children’s Center is located on the southwest corner of campus and the staff is available to help answer questions and concerns.
“There is a $25 registration fee and the full fee is $4 per hour, but with our grants and scholarships, many of our families attend for free or around $10 per week,” Bliss said. The Children’s Center currently serves about 90 families per semester.