Student parents: The quiet struggle

Photo: Anna Ashcraft
Many students balance study time and time caring for their children.
Learn to balance your time

By Anna Ashcraft
Staff Writer/Spectator

Between the cost of daycare, the balance of finding full time employment to pair with studies and even something as simple as finding time for homework after putting a child to bed, pursuing academic dreams while being a parent can be a quiet struggle.

And while the non-traditional college student is now widely accepted, with these students in their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond, the push to accommodate and assist these students in that pursuit is still ongoing, both in the personal and university realm.

“My kids are both older, 23 and 16. I believe it’s easier for me to find a balance between parenting and school now than it would have been 10 years ago,” said Edinboro University student and motherof-two, Brenda Mucha. “However, I am like most parents: my kids come first.  Thus, I still find myself questioning my balancing act. Am I there enough physically and especially emotionally for my daughter, who is now a sophomore at Villa Maria?”

This emotional quandary was common among student parents, the questioning of how exactly one spends their time during a child’s formative years. But that responsibility can also prove to be motivation. 

“They are the motivating factor behind chasing my dreams and gaining a degree,” said Mucha. “Especially my son, who graduated this year from the university. Without his push I would not have enrolled.”

According to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research, around 25 percent of college students have dependent children, while about 34 percent of women become pregnant before the age of 20 in the U.S. and 1 in 4 teen moms have a second child within 2 years of having their first child.

A 2009 study from that same institute also concluded that after 6 years of school, only 32.5 percent of parents actually received a degree, while 53.2 percent of nonparents received a degree. More so, parents are more likely to leave school in debt than non-parents. Nevertheless, even with these statistics, most parents have higher GPAs than non-parents.

According to several university parents, homework is one of the hardest things to finish with children around. It often takes full concentration and time to finish papers and tests. Setting a schedule for your child, like a naptime, TV time and play time factors into whether or not there is time available for homework. Fitting in studying or competing homework during these times is a great way to stay productive.

Sophomore, Sharai Riggins, 24, raises a three-year-old daughter, Demi, while attending Edinboro University to study social work. 

“Most of the time, I’m not able to do my homework until after she goes to bed,” Riggins said. “I always designate my weekends to my daughter. Sometimes it gets me down because I feel like I’m not spending enough time with her. That’s when I start to improvise.  When having to clean up, I make it a competition of who can clean up their area first, or I allow her to cook with me as much as possible.”

Sometimes planning time to spend with your child is the easiest way to ensure there is actual time to spend. Children, especially newborns and toddlers, demand full attention, and it is easy to get swept away in everyday life, forgetting to take time for simple things, like taking your child to the park or the zoo.

“I have no major complaints about raising them [her children], one is old enough to make his own choices now,” Mucha said.  “As far as Brooke goes, I regret the times when I can’t take off class to make it to a school function and am torn when I have a night class that prevents me from attending a track meet, yet they are both proud of me.”

Single parents are becoming more and more widespread these days, especially younger ones. Only about 1 in 3 teen moms graduate high school, and single parents are also more likely to be low-income, states the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Day care bills are another huge issue for those with children. If the child is younger than school age, for just part-time rates it can be from $100 to a few hundred dollars per week, depending on the specific childcare organization. Dr. Kahan Sablo, vice president for student affairs, explained that Edinboro University has a partnership with the YMCA Early Learning Center for easy access for students. “Although a University-owned child care center was no longer fiscally feasible, out of concern for our student parents, an intentional partnership was established with the YMCA Early Learning Center so that students would maintain convenient access to day care services,” said Sablo. 

There are also many federal programs that offer help with childcare to those who need it, such as Childcare Information Services (CCIS). But these programs do have their issues and can only provide so much.

Riggins explained that in this program she must have a job after a year, but with classes and a child she hasn’t been able to find one.

“I’m unable to get a job as of yet. I’ve been trying since I’ve got up here and the program that I am on only allows me to be unemployed for a year. So if I cannot find a job by next fall, I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to return,” she said.

Riggins suggested that the university offer babysitting services to its students.

Sablo explained that Edinboro University is also concerned with being able to help student parents as much as possible. They currently have plans in motion to add a parents’ area to McNerney Hall and to have free car seat donations. “Although grant funding is being solicited to make this vision a reality, I have already ear-marked some funds to support this initiative,” said Sablo.

“It is our hope that this resource room will provide a venue for parents to attend to the needs of their children (i.e. breastfeeding, changing stations, locker storage, etc.) while garnering the support of other student parents.”

Sablo would go on to explain that the needs of student parents are not only a concern of his, but of the university as a whole, as evident by a recent study being conducted by the nursing and communication departments. “The current study that is being result of a genuine concern that was expressed by President Wollman (Sablo’s office and the Ghering Health and Wellness Center are also partners in this study),” he said.  

Sablo would continue, stating, “The information garnered from this research will allow the university to aggressively identify and respond to the needs of parenting students. 

This investigative inquiry has been an absolutely wonderful university-wide collaboration in support of the success of student parents.”

“I do think the university could help us single mothers out a whole lot more. I feel like they should allow us to have free babysitting while we’re in class. I mean that would help me greatly, because as of now I have to use CCIS and it only allows me to do this for a year,” Riggins said. “Even all of the single mothers could just start a group, so we can help each other out. I understand how hard it is to be by yourself and to try and do everything on your own...but it’s something we have to get through.”

The previously mentioned study being put on by the nursing and the communication studies departments at Edinboro is also asking for volunteers of mothers and fathers who are pregnant or have children under 2.

“We are looking for participants to be a part of a focus group that will look at issues related to pregnancy and parenting here at EU. Hopefully we will be able to gather significant data from the focus group participants and identify ways to address their specific needs and ways to address their concerns,” said Terri Astorino, assistant chair of the nursing department.

Anna Ashcraft is a staff writer for the Spectator. She can be reached by