When I was younger, my mum went back to university to finish her degree while raising me and my sister, and she advised me to get a degree before starting a family. I always got the impression that being a parent and being a student don’t go hand in hand.
Everyone thinks a lot about the financial side of being a student parent, and there is no doubting that there is plenty of financial support for people who want to study while raising a family. Under the ‘student parents’ section of York University’s website, there’s information on student funding, bursaries, scholarships, tuition fees, coping with debt, budgeting advice, employment issues, benefits, tax credits, emergency loans, and hardship funds, as well as a link to The Online Money Guide. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only issues facing student parents are money-related.
Being a parent is a full-time job, and a student with children is never going to have as much spare time as a student without children. But what is the University doing to help student parents with issues of time? And how easy is it for those with children to enage fully with student life? I spoke to one of York’s student parents, Beth Child, about how she juggles raising her children with studying a full-time degree and what the University is doing to help her.
Beth agrees that there is sufficient financial support available for student parents, explaining “I get help from student finance for childcare which means I don’t have to work and there is an extra grant called a hardship fund that I can apply for if I’m financially struggling. They also offer small financial support through the summer too which I don’t know if I’m eligible for yet but it’s good they have it there for low income families.”
However, beyond this, Beth says that “no exceptions are made for students with children.” She goes on to say “I get mild anxiety going to seminars as I don’t feel like I’ve been able to prepare properly and I’m scared of using the ‘I’ve got children card’. Having children is a full time job and I think perhaps there should be exceptions. I struggle with either not being prepared or the guilt that I’ve not had much time for my children during the week and they too have their homework and reading I must do with them. It’s a juggling act that I hope I’ll get better at.”
Having children at university will undoubtedly affect a parent’s social life, and Beth agrees, saying “I hardly ever get to go out for nights out as I have no family here to help with the children.” With children who need to go to bed and wake up early and require constant supervision, how can parents engage with a student population which relies largely on nights out to socialise? I asked Beth if this is true and if she ever feels isolated from the rest of the student population. She says “Having children does make me feel different from other students and a little isolated. It’s hard to make the same bonds with other students as I don’t live on campus and unfortunately I can’t get involved with much outside of University.” There don’t seem to be any opportunities for student parents to socialise with each other, either, as Beth tells me, “I don’t spend time with other student parents. I’ve considered setting up a group for other student parents but for me I like trying to keep the two separate. I do have a friend with children and that’s about the only parent network I have and I like it that way.” She continues “Having children has definitely stopped me from engaging fully in student life. I am so jealous of the students who can get involved in all the amazing extra societies here at the University.”
However, Beth does say that on the whole, the University has been supportive of the fact that she has children, although there have been some exceptions. She says “I did have a bad experience on my foundation year when I told a tutor I was really struggling and all I got back was ‘well I did it as a single parent’. That didn’t help at all and in fact made me very anxious about her subject and lectures.”
I asked Beth what the best thing about being a student parent is, “I don’t think there is a best thing about being a student parent. I would never recommend it, I’m pleased I get the chance to return to education but it would have been much better to have done this at 18 with no children. It is really hard with children. I guess the best thing about being a student parent is the reminder everyday of why I’m doing this. My children keep me going.”
She continues “I struggle massively and friends of mine do too. It’s hard to manage your time when you have children. They can become sick and you lose a couple of days. I had to write one of my first essays with a 2 year old with a chest infection laid across my lap crying the whole time. You just have to get on and do it!”