As I stuff my purse with the essentials: my wallet, cell phone, pens, toys and and a sippy cup, the pitter patter of tiny feet moving across the room catches my attention.
I look down and see my 16-month-old daughter, Natalie, smiling at me.
I smile back and tell her we’re going to school.
By school, I mean classes at Cal State Fullerton for me and daycare for her at the university’s Children’s Center.
I’m approaching the end of my 10-year journey to graduation. During that time, I worked a few jobs, got married and gave birth to my daughter.
For the past year and a half, I have learned how to cope with the struggles of being a student and parent.
During the first months of Natalie’s life, I was enrolled in online classes.
Taking those courses helped me so much since I didn’t have to drive in 45 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic. More importantly, I was able to spend quality bonding time with my new daughter.
However, I knew the inevitable of having to actually attend classes in person would soon happen. Finding a day care would then become my biggest problem.
Ideally, I wanted Natalie to attend the Children’s Center. She would be close to me and I would feel more comfortable knowing I could pick her up within minutes in case of an emergency.
It is now Natalie’s second semester at the Children’s Center. The center has helped her grow into a bright toddler and social butterfly.
From painting to sharing toys, the Children’s Center teaches kids life lessons and allows them to have a good time.
Jenny Taylor, the Children’s Center director since 2011, has an idea of how student parents feel. She has a daughter enrolled in the center as well.
“The only way I’m able to be an effective director is by having my child enrolled in this amazing program,” Taylor said.
The center operates by using part of the fees students pay to attend CSUF. Those fees go to Associated Students Inc., which provides the child care service to students, professors and CSUF employees.
The university’s children center is accredited and only uses trained staff.
“We have quality rating scales that ensure the safety and the educational goals of every single child,” Taylor said.
Many students utilize the Children’s Center and can use the child-free time by studying, going to class or attending an internship.
Taylor acknowledges that many students wouldn’t be able to graduate if the Children’s Center wasn’t developed.
Along with assistance through the Children’s Center, my husband, Anthony, has helped me achieve my goal of graduating by picking up Natalie from the center on the days I have my internship and watching her while I work on assignments.
However, some parents have to take on the responsibilities of being a student and parent all on their own.
Ciara Nay, a CSUF senior sociology major, is a single parent.
But she hasn’t let that stop her from getting a degree. Her 4-year-old daughter is enrolled in the Children’s Center.
Nay is the current vice president of the center’s Parents and Friends Club. She joined the club because she wanted to give back to the center by volunteering.
Nay said she owes much of her success as a student parent to the Children’s Center.
“As a single mom, being able to pursue a better future for my child with the help of the Children’s Center has been an incredible blessing,” Nay said.
One of the most important qualities any parent can utilize is time management. Without scheduling day care pick up times and classes, my life would be a complete mess.
Some of the biggest challenges for Nay have been managing her time and dealing with stress.
“It’s a balancing act,” Nay said.
Julie Siratt, a CSUF senior biology major, works alongside Nay as the president of the Children Center’s Parents and Friends Club. She has two children, one who is currently in the Children’s Center and one who was in the center, but is now in kindergarten.
Between taking care of her family, going to school full-time and working over 35 hours a week, Siratt is the prime example of a modern day working mom.
“I am exhausted all of the time, always,” Siratt said. “I often feel like I am drowning in stress. School is certainly not made for parents.”
As I work on a homework assignment on my computer at home, the sound of a high-pitched scream makes me jump in my chair. When I turn around, I see Natalie crying and walking towards me.
She wants something and I have to guess what it is. By the time I figure out that she wants a cup of milk, I forget what I wanted to finish writing for my assignment.
This scenario plays out almost every night as I try to accomplish my homework.
Ultimately, I get stressed out because I have to put off my homework and turn it in rushed at the last minute.
For some parents, the best way to deal with the stress of tackling classes and homework assignments-while taking care of a child-is to talk it out with other parents.
Student parents can address concerns and daily struggles at group meetings offered by the CSUF Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
Christina Carroll-Pavia, Ph.D., is the CAPS training coordinator and psychologist. She developed the parents group when she noticed students were coming into CAPS to discuss concerns and the demands of being a student parent.
“Groups in general offer opportunities for students to connect with others who may be experiencing similar concerns or struggles,” Carroll-Pavia said. “Finding that others have the same worries, difficulties or problems as you can be quite comforting.”
Parents can share ideas, learn how to deal with situations and get support from others during the group meetings, she said.
“It’s important for student parents to stay focused on the positive aspects of both their roles and talking with others in the same situation can be helpful in that process,” Carroll-Pavia said.
As I reflect on my new life as a student mother, I have learned to be more patient and accepting of the challenges that come my way.
I want to be a role model for my daughter and show her that I was able to accomplish school, while taking care of her.
The best piece of advice I can give to student parents trying to deal with it all is to use the resources CSUF has to offer.
Student parents can sometimes get so caught up in the endless demands of everyday life that they may forget what is truly important.
“Never lose sight of what is important in life: your health and family,” Nay said. “Your educational goals, so long as you’re dedicated, will be achieved in due time.”
Students who are interested in joining the parent group can contact Carroll-Pavia at [email protected] for more information.