Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Being a single parent to a younger child has its advantages and disadvantages when deciding to return to college. Amy’s daughter, Sara, is four years old. She attends preschool in the mornings and stays with her grandmother in the afternoons. Amy works a part-time job from 8am to 1pm and schedules her classes from 2:00 pm to 8:00 pm (and sometimes later). It is a difficult schedule and it is fraught with opportunities for guilt. Deciding to stick to her academic program in light of her divorce was a touch decision to make, but Amy believes it will be the best one for both her and her daughter.
When Amy’s ex-husband announced that their marriage was over, Amy was in her second year of graduate school. Sara was three and both parents felt that time spent with her was the most important aspect of parenting. Amy’s ex-husband moved out of the house and agreed to child support and alimony, but suggested that Amy reconsider continuing to work on her degree. Amy, being overwhelmed with emotion and the new challenges presented to her, was a step ahead of him, already sure that she would need to postpone her academic career after the end of the semester, and possibly withdraw before semester’s end.
When her mother heard of Amy’s plans, she sent her granddaughter off with granddad so that she could have a talk with Amy. “I remember Mom sitting me down and saying, ‘Amy, how long will you have to postpone your degree if you quit now?’ Before I could answer, she said, ‘I can tell you how long it will be – it will probably be until Sara is in high school. There will always be some reason why you cannot go back at any particular time. NOW is the time that Sara will miss you the least. You need to finish now.’” Amy says that she isn’t really sure how the conversation went from there, but it was lavishly punctuated with tears and her mother’s sage advice. By the time Sara and Amy’s father returned, Amy and her mother had worked out a plan for Amy to finish school without feelings as if Sara was being neglected.
In one of the hardest moves she had ever made, Amy sold her house and moved in with her parents. This allowed Amy to concentrate on her academics, her job, or on Sara – whichever needed her most at the time – without worrying that Sara was neglected or being “babysat by the television.” Additionally, since Sara is in the house when Amy studies, any time she takes a break, she can seek out Sara and spend some quality time with her daughter. She puts her to bed almost every night, unless she has a late class and she rarely misses breakfast or dinner with her daughter.
Are there drawbacks to the arrangement? “Of course”, Amy declares. “Any time a child moves back home, there are adjustments to be made. But let’s face it – my life had already been turned topsy-turvy – adjustments were going to be the norm for me. And what my mother said to me made good sense. If I get my degree out of the way now, then I can be there for my daughter during her own school years. I will graduate when my daughter is in first grade. I will find a good job and be able to rebuild our lives, while also being there are she grows up. As for now, she has my parents and I have the opportunity to do what I need to do for both of us, while also having time for her.”
Amy does have some guilt – but most of it has to do with the responsibility that she feels she has placed on her parents. Despite the fact that her parent’s volunteered to help her through this difficult time in her life, Amy often feels that she has placed an undue burden on them. Additionally, she has great difficulty in dealing with her anger towards her ex-husband. While he has not married the woman with whom he was having an affair, they do now have a child together. Amy works hard not to let this anger affect the way she handles interactions with him when he picks up Sara for visitation. She sometimes feels that Sara’s father is able to give Sara advantages that she cannot afford at the moment, but when these feelings invade, she reminds herself of her goals and how achieving them will benefit not only her, but also Sara. Knowing this truth makes her smile and appreciate her time with her daughter all the more.
After her parents, the most important aspect of coping for Amy has been a single parents group that meets at an area church. While they use the space at the church for their meetings, not all of the members are members of the church. Amy gets many different perspectives on situations that single parents face from the members of this group. Sometimes they validate her feelings, sometimes they give her new perspective on a situation and sometimes they simply agree to disagree. For certain, every time she leaves the single parents’ group, Amy knows that she is not alone and that there are many other single parents who face the same daily challenges that she faces. This support group has been her lifeline more than once when she has questioned her decision and to them she will always be grateful.
When asked for the best advice she could give a single parent wanting to finish their academic career in order to better their children’s lives, Amy had this to say: “Do it! Yes, it is hard! Yes, the kids might make you feel guilty at times. But you are the one that will lay most of the guilt on yourself. Keep your goal in front of your eyes at all times. Remember that you are doing this to make life better not just for yourself but also for your children. Ask for help when you need it – from family, from friends, from a single parents’ support group. But most of all…never, never, NEVER give up!”