Mikayla Walton, Contributing Writer
Pictures from Mikayla Walton
Being a college student is rough. Being a parent is rough. But, juggling college course work and being a parent? It’s a walk in the park. Jurassic Park. For those that don’t know me, I am Mikayla Walton, and I am an English Literature and Writing major with a Creative Writing (and possibly Journalism) minor. I am also a mother to an autistic three-year-old boy named Jensen, and yes I am married. That may sound like a lot to take on, and yeah it is. There has not been a day where I haven’t seen another of my peers chugging coffee as if their lives depended on it so they could finish that last page of a paper they desperately need to finish. Hellish right? Well, try being that college student and then having a toddler shove their feet in your face, or shove their sippy cup into your hand begging for another cup of Hawaiian Punch (for the third time) as you try to finish that paper. Even now as I sit here and write this, my son is climbing on me, kissing my cheeks, shoving his favorite stuffed animal (Marty Moose) in my face, and trying to get me to dance around my living room with him. Isn’t it glamorous?
I had the chance to talk to other people who have walked the same path I am on, and it really opened my eyes to the fact that, yeah, it isn’t easy being a parent in college.
The first person I had the pleasure to talk to is Christina Guffey, 32, of Granite City, IL. She took on single parenting, business-owning, and college all at the same time. She was 24 when she began her journey to obtaining her bachelor’s degree, and her four-year-old daughter was along for the ride.
“During my undergrad I was a single mom, business owner, and full time student so I often had to deal with time constraints, as well as emotional struggles,” Christina said. “During my MBA program, I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who is a huge help but still find time management can be difficult.” Christina added that a flexible college schedule was a must.
Christina previously chose a program at Lindenwood University for working adults, because at the time of her undergrad degree, she was a single mother who worked full time, and went to school full time.
“Half of my undergrad was done in a program for working adults that only required classes in the evening 6-10 p.m.,” Christina said. “So, if my daughter was sick, I could typically find a sitter by 6 p.m.”
Time management for any college student can be tricky, but while parenting, it’s like walking a tight-rope and juggling bowling pins that are on fire.
Kevin Fischer, 27, is from Granite City, IL. He is a father who dealt with the struggles of parenting while attending classes for his master’s degree, and he agrees that time management was his biggest struggle because “There simply wasn’t time until K was asleep most days,” he said. Doing homework from home was the biggest issue for him while having a child younger than two. It’s difficult balancing school and parenting no matter the child’s age especially when attendance is a factor.
This can also tie itself to the attendance policies. Most classes here at McKendree only allow you two or three classes to be missed a semester. It sounds reasonable, right? It may be reasonable if you’re one person. It often isn’t if you are a person who is taking care of another human being. You have to deal with twice the amount of sickness.
Kevin struggled with the attendance policy in the ways that I have. When asked if the days allowed to miss for him were adequate he responded that they were definitely not enough days. He hit home with this: “I actually got in trouble for missing once.”
This is not to say that parents deserve extra days to miss, but to explain that this is another obstacle for parents attending school.
Time management is something that we have to be proficient in or flounder during our college career. Christina is a mother who takes her time management very seriously, explaining that “every week on Sunday I sit down with each class syllabus and make a list of all readings and assignments that are due that week. From there I designate what I want to accomplish each day that week and I just stick to that plan.”
It may sound like common sense and that all it takes is a sense of organization, but this is a feat of self discipline. Because if we, parents, don’t adapt, college would eat us alive, or maybe it already is.
Lack of a good night’s sleep is a common factor among parents. Personally, as of late, I, haven’t been pouring myself into bed until 1:30 a.m., asleep by 2 a.m., and back up and at ‘em at 6 a.m. for my work-study job or 8 a.m. classes. Christina also admitted to having a lack-luster sleep schedule. “Regularly I was up until 1 a.m. doing homework and back up for the day at 6 a.m. to get Addy ready for school.” We agreed that often we are both in a constant state of exhaustion.
Kevin had a different experience than Christina and me, “Sleep wasn’t the worst for me. We breastfed so my wife managed most of the nights,” he explained, “but there were definitely mornings where it was just rough.” There you have it folks, whether we were mom or dad, sleeping or not we all struggled with exhaustion or fatigue in some way. Though sleep is a big factor in how we struggle, it is far from the biggest issue we collectively face.
The biggest issue we all have is guilt. Yes, we do feel guilty for leaving our children at home for the pursuit of an education. I hate leaving my son every day, especially the days when I hear him cry as soon as I walk out the front door. I often feel like he doesn’t get as much time with me as he needs which causes me to have extreme guilt because Jensen is also autistic.
Christina stated that guilt is something she often deals with as well because “for me the emotional struggles have been the hardest. Basically, just feeling like I’m not able to give my daughter the attention and time she needs and deserves genuinely hurts my soul.” Kevin, who didn’t have a daily schedule for school, commented that it seemed worse because the schedule wasn’t a daily occurrence. Though his classes didn’t happen every single day he didn’t escape the burn of guilt that similarly Christina and I both faced. Leaving our children isn’t something most parents want to do, At least in my personal case that guilt can sometimes follow me like my own personal rain cloud somedays, which can affect my concentration.
Throughout all of this though and in our conversations together, we have discovered that despite the struggles we face there have been positives: learning how to spend your time wisely is a good skill to have, so is multitasking, and the very fact that it makes us appreciate our time with our children more. The best reward I could ever have for the work I do is seeing Jensen’s face light up as I walk through the door.
Christina has noticed some positives as well, saying that “I find that I try harder to use my free time more purposefully.” She then went on to add that by discussing the positive impact it has had on her daughter, “She’s watched me work hard for my degrees. I think that has translated to her working hard at school too, she knows the importance of it. She’s a straight A student.” Despite the guilt, it has paid off for Christina and her daughter, who at 11 already researches colleges she may want to attend!
Kevin has noted that while time management wasn’t necessarily better, the positive factor was it made him have a schedule and “schedules seem to make life with kids better and it helps with college too!” Meanwhile, as I said it makes me more thankful for the time I have with my own son who is still too young to understand why he can’t crawl on me as I type out my papers. I know someday he will realize that his mother put in some hard work, and hopefully that will inspire him to take on challenges rather than run from them.