College is arguably one of the last stretches of time in a person’s life when it’s okay—even encouraged—to focus on you. You do what you want to do, within reason, when you want to do it, without needing to pass anything by your parents.
But what of the experience of those who are both parent and student—who are here not to find themselves (or escape) but who are responsible for the welfare of another human being? Tackling a job that inherently requires you not to put yourself first, while earning your college degree, seems not only challenging but a mite counterintuitive.
However, Kegan Allee, who works as an advocate for “nontraditional students” at UCSB, said parents she has observed typically take on both roles successfully. “It’s very comparable to having any sort of job,” Allee said. “You can be a parent and work, and you can see schoolwork as a job. [Student parents] are coming in with vastly different experiences, being so tied to another person. They feel like, by securing their education, they are securing their child’s future.”
Although UCSB student parents receive extra help from the school in the form of access to family student housing, child-care grants, the five private lactation rooms on campus, and early registration for classes, Allee is working on intensifying these parents’ mutual support network. “I would like to get a childcare network—to help them co-coordinate their schedules,” she said. “My goal is to build a better sense of community,” Allee said.
Heather Gardner, a third-year double major at UCSB in environmental studies and business economics, and mom to a five-year-old child, said the work she does at school is something she does for her son. “The great thing about being a student and a parent is that my son gets to see how hard I’m working for success,” Gardner said. “I want him to understand that nothing comes for free and we manage to have good things in our lives because we make them happen for ourselves.”
Of course, such striving is not without its challenges.
“Other student parents often talk about how difficult it is to manage a job while studying and taking care of a child,” Gardner said. “With a full course load, a student who is trying to earn straight As will be studying about eight to 10 hours a day outside of class, so to do this and then to have to get up early to get kids ready for school, make sure dinner is made at night, and kids are bathed, among other parental duties, is a killer! So imagine having to work more than 20 hours a week at a job, plus 45 to 50 hours of studying and pretty much no sleep!”
However, as the Non-Traditional Student Intern at the Women’s Center at UCSB, Gardner is afforded the chance to connect with other UCSB parents whose schedules are similarly rough. “Next week we are having an open house in the Non-Traditional Student Lounge at the Student Resource Building, so I’m hoping that I can get a group of student parents together at this event to start a babysitting co-op for the rough study times,” Gardner said.
Gardner went on to note that, while she loves being a parent, sometimes her busy school schedule doesn’t leave her with much time to socialize with others, to share challenges and lessons learned.
“Of course parenting for all of us takes top priority, so in this time of personal development, for me personally, parenting is factored into every part of my day while studying,” Gardner said. “I make my schedule based on when I need to be home for my son; I reflect on what his future will be like based on what I will do with my education once I’ve graduated, and I try and teach him from what I learn each day.”