Student parents struggle to find balance
As soon as the pregnancy test turned positive, Alexis Major started crying and panicking.
“The first person I wanted to call was my mom. I was crying hysterically and I thought my life was over,” she said. “I was like, I want to finish school.”
During her pregnancy, Major experienced complications that resulted in bed rest. Her teachers for her online classes advised her to withdraw, she recalled with tears in her eyes. Suddenly the fear Major had about not finishing school seemed to be coming true.
“I had to have faith in myself,” she said.
Being able to care for her 4-month-old son, Jeremih, and stay on top of schoolwork takes organization and support from family and friends.
On a typical Monday, Wednesday or Friday, Major will go to class at noon while her roommate watches Jeremih. Then when class is over, her roommate picks her up, they switch cars and go back to the apartment. They switch again for Major’s 2:00 p.m. class. That’s what Major calls “an easy day.”
The longer class schedule of Tuesdays and Thursdays makes it harder to go home and watch Jeremih. Pumping is a hassle, she said, and if he’s sick she has to leave class and go home. Major also has to coordinate with Jeremih’s grandmother, who comes from Fishers to babysit. If the drive from Fishers takes longer than normal, then Major is late for class. Days with appointments and meetings are even more chaotic.
She gets her homework done when Jeremih’s asleep or while he sits in her lap trying to play with the computer.
Student parents experience greater challenges to remain enrolled and graduate college, including balancing school, job and family obligations, greater financial difficulties and limited access to affordable childcare, according to the National Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Nearly 25 percent of American undergraduate students have children, according to the Institute.
Time is precious for student parents, said Jennifer Young, infant and toddler education coordinator for the Child Study Center. The center is the only daycare available through Ball State and is sponsored by the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. Young said the center serves about 60 families per semester. Semester rates depend on what session the child is enrolled in, but it costs about $200 per week along with a nonrefundable $75.00 registration fee.
“I think the biggest thing they need is support,” Young said. “Yes, you’re doing a good job. Yes, it’s really hard right now, but it will be easier.”
For junior Sam Schwartz, the hardest part is transitioning between being a parent and being a student. She balances everything by asking for help from her loved ones and planning ahead.
While it’s difficult to balance everything, becoming a mother to now 4-year-old Carson also helped Schwartz determine her career.
Schwartz got really sick with pancreatitis while she was pregnant in high school. After being hospitalized for a week, she had to be on bed rest for the remaining three months of her pregnancy.
“That illness is what made me want to become a nurse because it was very critical. He was almost born three months early and we almost died,” Schwartz said. “The staff was wonderful and took really good care of us and then we were fine. So it made me want to go into healthcare.”
Since then, Schwartz finished high school and is now studying nursing, with plans to later earn her Ph.D. and work in a nonprofit clinic.
Schwartz’ past success motivates her to keep working hard. Seeing her son say and spell his name is awesome, she says, as is passing her nursing courses and going onto the next clinical round.
Despite hectic schedules, parents with children are more likely to have higher GPAs than non-parents, according to the Institute.
Major, who will be the first to graduate from college in her family, hopes her son will follow in her footsteps academically, despite any obstacles.
“He’s my motivation now. He has a really cute face. Every morning when I try not going to class, he’s up already, smiling. He’s a morning person and I’m like, ‘alright, I’ll go,’” said the junior social work and counseling psychology major.
It’s hard to skip class when you have someone else dependent on you earning an education to provide needed support. Working toward a degree to better both their lives keeps her focused on the future.
“When I wake up to him every morning, it’s just like I’m doing it for him. I’m doing it to better my future and his,” Major said.
Moments like snuggling together while watching Saturday morning cartoons make it all worth it for Schwartz.
Even though it’s going to get rough, Schwartz says as a student parent, it’s important to reach out and find a support system because it’s absolutely necessary to have people that can help, like family and friends.
For non student parents out there, Schwartz says to be patient with student parents because of the extra responsibility they have on top of coursework.
“Kiddos get sick or sometimes we forget appointments or we forget things just because we’re going a hundred miles per hour,” she said. “It’s hard to balance it all, all the time.”