Students juggle school, work and parenthood

Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 12, 2002

In an environment where balancing classes, activities, friends, exercise and a budget proves to be disastrous for most students, some manage the above while also caring for other individuals - children.

Paul Wong
Rackham student Marla Gomez takes a study break to laugh with her five-year old daughter, Daniela Pulido. Gomez is one of many students with a child on campus.

Some student-parents at the University said being a full-time parent while also attending classes has advantages as well as disadvantages, with the many programs and services offered on the one hand and unpredictable complications and misunderstandings on the other.

"The benefit of being a parent and being a student is that you have a much more flexible schedule than you would if you worked from 9 to 5," said Maria Tucker, a SNRE graduate student, adding that she is able to form a relationship with her son's teachers because she does not have class on Friday and can go to school with her son.

But the disadvantages, such as balancing her energies between her son, schoolwork and the demands of parenting, prove being a student-parent to be a very challenging combination.

"In addition to your normal things, you also have this whole other person that you are in charge of," Rackham student Marla Gomez said, adding that although it takes a lot of energy, it is definitely "do-able."

Time constraints are one conflict that student-parents must resolve. Tucker and others must design their class schedules so they will be home when their children arrive from school. Since Tucker's son is involved in a range of activities - soccer, music, Boy Scouts and basketball - times vary depending on the day of the week.

But the University offers a range of services to help parents. Family Housing Program Coordinator Patty Griffin said about 80 percent of the apartments in Family Housing are occupied by students with dependents.

Programs offered include a single parent network, a resident-managed support group, outreach services offered by North Campus Family Health Services and daycare programs, like the Family Housing Child Development Center and Pound House. The University Center for the Child and Family offers professional mental health services for families on a sliding scale and a child-care subsidy program.

"The family and child care resources make for a supportive environment," Tucker said.

Both Tucker and Gomez said the Kids Kare at Home program has been especially helpful. These programs provide licensed professionals to the homes of student-parents when a child is sick and consequentially cannot attend school or daycare.

Tucker added that her views on life as a student-parent differ from those of other student parents as her son is now 12 years old and does not require the same type of care and attention that younger children need.

"I think people who have really young kids will find things different because infant care is hard to find and also expensive," she said.

This perspective also applies to her views on the parenting resources offered by the University. "In comparison to my undergraduate institution, I would say that they are a lot better, but that is also because my son is a lot older," Tucker said.

Gomez agreed that the University offers a lot of resources, but feels that they do not publicize them enough to new students. She said that the University gives the impression that student-parents should be more proactive in finding programs and other resources.

Limited room available in programs is also a problem, Tucker said.

"The number of slots for care on campus is very low in comparison to the number of kids that need that care," she said.

Tusker said one of the reasons she feels there is limited room in the daycare programs is because the University staff also use the programs.

But the most difficult challenges that face student parents come from unexpected complications, Gomez said.

"Today she was sick and I stayed home," Gomez said. "I had something to submit to a group project at 3."

"The biggest thing for me is finding your own network of support," Gomez added, stressing the importance of making friends that are able to understand her situation.