Column: Juggling being a student and a single mother

In Columns, Opinion
girl holding a baby while sitting at a desk writing a paper with a computer and a book
Danielle Evangelista / Daily Titan

I was never a firm believer in love at first sight – until my daughter was placed on my chest for the first time after nine months of eagerly waiting to meet her. That moment I understood the true meaning of love. It felt like the world fell away and created an overwhelming sense of calmness and completeness.

But then came time to leave the hospital with my daughter and to enter the reality of motherhood. My allotted recovery and bonding time came to an end, pushing life into full speed, welcoming work and school into my new routine.

Like many single parents attending college, I am fighting several time demands. Almost 56 percent of single parents may devote upwards of 30 hours per week to watching their children, according to a 2014 study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

It’s a juggling act: rotating work, school and mommy duties.

Pumping in three-hour increments each day ensures my four-month-old daughter’s food supply maintains production. In between pumpings, I squeeze in all of my school responsibilities as well.

My mornings are full of laundry folding, washing and preparing bottles, and tending to my daughter’s needs. School work is done while she is content in her rocker or asleep in bed.

I constantly receive suggestions to sleep when the baby sleeps, but I feel if I follow that advice, nothing would ever get done. Most of the time, I wish I had a few extra limbs to help finish everything.

With so much to do before leaving for class, I usually only have a few minutes to focus on myself. Therefore, I sport the messy mom bun. It keeps my hair out of the strong grip of my daughter as I kiss her goodbye, and hides the tangles I have no time to brush out.

My mom and aunt help watch her so I don’t have the extra worry of leaving my daughter with a stranger. At first, I was hesitant to accept help from family because I wanted to prove to myself, and them, that I can do everything. Now, I see it as a blessing because without their help and support I don’t know how I would make it through this semester.

I considered taking this semester off by doing a stop-out to adjust to my motherly duties and ensure that my daughter was being taken care of.

For many Cal State Fullerton students, a stop-out during spring or fall semester is an option that requires no form to fill out. For one semester, a student may be unenrolled, but they must enroll in classes the following semester. It is also possible to use the stop-out policy more than once, just not for consecutive semesters according to registration and records.

Instead of choosing that route, I was able to feel safe in the decision to return to school for my last semester with some of my family’s guidance. It’s only for a few hours a day, which allows me to return home and spend my nights with my daughter.

In the evenings I return home tired, but eager to sweep my daughter into my arms and witness for myself her new habits and abilities. She amazes me with her tenacity and dedication to her development. After a night of feedings, bathings and readings, I fall asleep knowing that I must wake up the next day and repeat it all again.

The number of single mothers finishing school and receiving their degrees is low. In 2015, only 31 percent of single mother students attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

There are days where I want to collapse in bed with my daughter safe in my arms, forgetting the world and the responsibilities it comes with. But, in this role as a working and studying mother, I am learning that I must be flexible, versatile and patient.

The odds of achieving an education aren’t in a single mother’s favor, it is important to fight against them. Completing mine is a key factor in providing my daughter with the secure life she deserves. I want her to have a mommy she can look up to for care and direction throughout her life journey.

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