Parenting Column 101:The Fragile Balancing Act of Being a College Student and Parent

Lisa Erickson | Columnist


Life as a parent and student is challenging, but possible!

Life as a parent and student is challenging, but possible!

I hadn’t been feeling well for weeks. I felt like I had some sort of stomach flu. I was nauseated; tired all the time, and my body ached—something was very wrong. After pressure from my family, I finally made an appointment to see the doctor.

I sat in the waiting room with my feet up on the edge of the chair, my arms wrapped around my legs, trying not to fall asleep. I was afraid; I kept thinking that I had cancer. Just a few months earlier, my friend was diagnosed with leukemia. She’d had some of the same symptoms. By the time the nurse called my name, I had convinced myself that I, too, had a terrible disease. I followed the nurse to the scale where she weighed me. I had lost 7 pounds in two weeks. Next, she took me to the patient room where I waited for the doctor. When the doctor came in, I told her about my symptoms and how long I had been sick. She told me that they would like to run some tests. I agreed—I just wanted to know what I was dying from.

Family time is important too!

Family time is important too!

After the tests were finished the doctor came back into the room. She pulled a chair over and sat down directly across from me. She looked at me for a second too long, and that spoke volumes. I knew it was bad news. I braced myself for the scary word “cancer” but instead, she said, “You’re pregnant.” The room started spinning as I sat there, stupefied. I was relieved; I’m not going to die, but…a baby? I started to cry.  She put her hand on my knee and said, “I assume this wasn’t planned.” I replied in broken sentences, baby…me…but…NO…I’m in college…I was going to…NOOO!

We all have those moments in life where we get unexpected news, but for a college student, “You’re pregnant” can seem like the end of the world. Maybe your story is completely different from mine. Maybe you finished high school and started working, then started a family and now you decided to go back to school. There are many different reasons as to how you ended up as parent, but now that you are one, how is it possible to attend college, be a great parent and possibly work too? The balancing act parents have to do is difficult, but not impossible. There are many things you can do to help yourself succeed in school and be a wonderful parent as well!

Century College is full of students who are parents. Just knowing that there are many other parents here, too, can be encouraging. The average age of students attending Century College is between 25 and 27. In fact, some statistics show that 25% of students are parents. The good news is that the college is aware of this, and they have many resources in place to help you have a better chance at success.  There are many resources located on both the east and west campus. On the East campus there is a Student Parent Center. There, you will find all kinds of parenting help that goes beyond college life. In addition to that, they have a daycare center, Buzzy Bees, which offers emergency day care for a fee. They also have a small space for parents to go on campus with their children. This room is set up with computers that are available for parents who have young children and no sitter, but they need a computer to complete their homework. Next to the computers is a small play area for kids to play while mom or dad work on homework. Kids can play freely without the risk of bothering other students who are trying to do school work.

Mixing play time and studying keeps everyone happy!

Mixing play time and studying keeps everyone happy!

The Parent Center also offers “Lunch ‘n Learn” workshops once a week that are designed to help parents with a variety of topics for both parents and kids. Also, they have free cooking lessons once a month where you can learn how to cook healthy family friendly meals. Additionally the Center has an emergency food shelf for those moments when you need help for the family, not just yourself. Plus, the friendly staff are able to answer just about any question you may have in regards to extra help students with kids may need or they have the resources to direct you to them if they can’t help. For more information call Ann Turnbull, 651-773-1785 or Katie Vadnais, 651-779-3274

Also on the east campus are the Student Health Services. This is the place you can get all kinds of help with health related issues like education, pregnancy testing, contraceptives, and stress management. You can also see the doctor on certain days if you need too. Mental health is a huge part of “being” healthy and sometimes parents need extra help when we feel like we are going crazy and talking to a counselor about difficult or stressful issues can relieve undue pressure we parents can put on ourselves. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help! Success can mean different things to different people, but our health is the most important thing we have; without it, we can’t accomplish anything.

On the west campus, there are more resources that student parents may need. There is another food shelf separate from the Parenting Center on the east campus that focuses more on individuals. There are also lactation rooms on both the west and the east campus for moms.

Another way to get some insight into balancing parenting and college success is to take an introductory psychology class. Understanding how different kinds of people think can be very helpful. Recently, I had a chance to sit down with our own professor of psychology, Bruce Hinricks, and ask him some questions about what he thought would bring about “college success” for parents and what would help improve their chances of succeeding. Anyone who knows Bruce knows he is a very funny and entertaining person to talk to. After sharing some fun and silly parenting stories, pausing to make some comparisons between now and 25 years ago, he settled down into a very serious demeanor and shared some very important advice that has either been researched or tested or that he has experienced himself.

Both Bruce and I agreed that parents these days are under a lot of extra stress and that it may be the number one issue to get a handle on in order to be successful at school. Stress can cause a whole host of other problems for students such as physical and mental illness, memory problems, and a short temper—which never works well with children. We talked about how too often people get involved in to many things and have a hard time balancing school and raising children. Bruce made sure to empathize that, “Children always need to come first.” We both agreed that kids grow up way too fast and they will be gone before you know it.

During our talk, the topic of study habits came up, along with relaxation techniques and getting enough sleep. We also dove into the topic of organization and talked at length about how this can make or break a college student- or a professor, for that matter! Bruce motioned me over to his desk and showed me his to do list. There, in the middle of the page, was my name amidst a long list of things to accomplish for that day. He reminded me that there is so much power in creating a list and being able to cross things off it as you complete them. I fully agreed and told him about my own to do list tucked in the book bag sitting at my feet. Finding a balance seems to be key to living a peaceful and productive college experience.

When I found out I was pregnant during college it wasn’t the end of the world, but my grades did plummet. I couldn’t do it; I decided to drop out. That was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I ended up trying to attend college again when I was in my mid-twenties with two very little kids, but for many reasons it just wasn’t possible. Over the years, I took a class here and there when time allowed, but I never gave up on my dream of attending college. Now, here I am back in college finally after 25 years with four kids, ages 24, 21, 16, and 13.

As a student parent, take time every day to make a to-do list. Prepare for the unexpected and allow extra time with young kids for things like dirty diapers, spilt milk and scraped knees. Get help when you need it. Many people and organizations want to see you succeed and are willing to help, but you need to seek them out. Think about things you can give up to make your life easier. Maybe instead of working out a couple days a week, you can take your child to the park and run around with them. Another option is to reduce your class load, taking one or two online classes until your child is old enough to attend school or they can somewhat care for themselves. Maybe it will take you a little longer to finish school than students who don’t have kids, but you will be rewarded by your sacrifice with happy, healthy, well-adjusted kids. Try to slow down and enjoy those precious moments with your child before they slip through your fingers and they are no longer children.