Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
First I have to say that I am excited that the single parents who volunteered to talk about their parenting experiences while going to college themselves have children of all different ages! I couldn’t have asked for better if I had planned it – and I didn’t! Jodi has a “tween”ager; Amy has a toddler; and I have a teenager and a young adult. I hope this will cover all the current situations – if not in the present, then by memory – of our single parents. Which brings me to my college experience…
I have been attending college of a part-time basis since 2000. I take one or two courses a semester, including summer, while I work full-time. I am very fortunate that the University where I work offers its staff and faculty one free course per semester. It is an excellent incentive towards furthering your education.
When I decided to go back to school, my daughters were 10 and 14. I had only recently changed career paths, as my position at the bank was demanding more and more time away from home. I felt that both my children and my parenting skills were suffering. The girls were very excited about me being home on the weekends and having dinner with them every night. I was available to help with homework, talk about their day, and just spend time with them. I believe that time is an issue for all parents; however, for single parents, it is a crucial issue as all of the responsibilities fall on one person – and responsibilities take time. Sometimes, despite the fact that we work hard to insure time for the children, it seems that they are where we cut corners the most. My daughters had grown tired of me cutting corners when I worked at the bank, so when I mentioned school, they were both skeptical.
We talked about my department allowing me to take one course during office hours, but that additional courses would have to be taken in the evening. They were adamant that I limit the nights each week that I would be late coming home. In addition, I have to admit that I was very nervous about going back to school, so the first semester I limited my courses to one. And it was a very successful semester!
After dinner each evening, the girls and I would gather at the dining room table to do homework. They really got a kick out of my own efforts at “cracking the books.” I was available to assist them when they had problems with their own homework and they would offer to quiz me when I had an upcoming exam. We had a lot of fun – but we also got a lot of studying done. They took my lead and if I was diligent, so were they. But if I was lazy, they wanted to know why they couldn’t be, also. We held each other accountable and it was a good situation.
Until that first semester when I decided to take an evening course in addition to my “office hours” course…
The reaction was instant resentment! I had scheduled my class for Tuesday and Thursday nights so that I would only be late getting home two nights per week. I either cooked something in the crock pot or had dinner that could be heated in the microwave so that the girls would not have to wait on me to eat. And I made sure that when I came home, my first priority was the girls. It didn’t matter – they were not happy. We went through various cycles of rebellion during that semester including refusal to do homework until I arrived home, the silent treatment, and temper tantrums. At this time, we had a rule that there was no television on Monday through Thursday nights. This gave me the assurance that the girls were not racing through homework to get to the television without care of the quality of the work. On several nights I pulled into the drive way to see the television shining through my front windows, but found that it had been switched quickly off and the girls were at the table with open books by the time I got in the door. It was very frustrating!
We talked about how they had been supportive towards my goals, understood my desire to go back to school, and how we had all been working together for success up until this point. Our conversations had no bearing on their attitudes. The bottom line was that they resented my absence in the evenings, even two nights a week. While it may sound like I allowed them the upper hand, the truth is that I realized that the battle was detrimental to all of us. Until they got a little older (another two years) I did not take any more evening classes. The battle caused us all too much stress and none of us did our best in our classes.
Once the girls were a little older, they were looking at college possibilities for themselves and they began to more fully realize my own desire for a college education. They resentment that they had earlier when I was away from home dissolved completely and now they both are very supportive. I get offers to quiz me for exam, proof my papers, and discuss current topics of study. In return, they expect the same from me. Since we are all setting our own goals for our futures, they find it easier to give me support for mine as I give them support towards their own. In fact, we are looking forward to the year the my oldest and I graduate at the same time, while my youngest begins her college journey!