Doing it Alone Self-Improvement

Single Parents as Students

A friend and I were having a lively conversation about college the other day – and who has it harder. His arguments make sense – it’s hard for young people to want to go to college in this climate, despite the economic growth, because of the unreasonable hiring practices of companies. He just spent three months helping a PR firm look at it’s diversity practices when it comes to young people of color. That’s something a lot of top companies are doing – take Starbucks and Walmart for example.

One thing that I have as an added layer, is single parenthood. How does being a single parent play into the complicated life that is college? Well added expenses for one. But beyond that it’s the missed opportunities that college provides that single parents can’t always take advantage of, and the additional stress to manage.

Expense versus Gain

According to the Lumina Foundation, 4.8 million undergrad students in America are raising children. 43 percent of that population are single mothers. I wonder how many graduate students – traditionally older people with some professional experience under their belts – also fall into this category. One of the things that I wish I had paid more attention to before committing to this program was expense versus gain. What skills, knowledge, and economic opportunities will arise for me – real opportunities not hypothetically – through this educational experience? I should’ve made a list. And then I should’ve made a list of every financial sacrifice that was going to need to be made. Oh, and the other sacrifices, like time spent with my kid, favors called in, etc. AND THEN I would have put those lists right next to each other and really gave thought to which outweighed the other. Personally I am committed to making the gains outweigh the expense of added debt and financial sacrifice, but because hindsight is 20/20 I hope making a list in advance helps some other parent out there.

Missed Chances

There are many awesome opportunities provided by being in a program of study, even as a graduate student. Research opportunities, conferences, workshops, special lectures, the list goes on. However being a single parent can significantly reduce the amount of those opportunities you take part in. Even if you are lucky enough (or unlucky depending on your relationship) to have a co-parent, sometimes you can’t make that weekend conference, after hours lecture, or two day travel work. I do take advantage of as many opportunities I can, while managing care for my kid. Sometimes that means she’s spending a Saturday with GiGi, or having a late night hang at Nana’s. These kinds of opportunities are sometimes missed chances for single parent students.

Stress Load Management

If any people in this world are good at stress management – or avoidance – it’s single parents. Many of us do not have time to feel stress; we have to work, take care of kid(s), take care of house, try to socialize, and sometimes pursue higher education. Add on top of all of that, the mountain of emotional trauma that a lot of single parents have experienced, some guilt, and sprinkle on all of the hopes and desires of the kid(s) in the picture. That is so much to deal with! Being a student can provide resources that help with the management of stress; from mentors, to onsite childcare, to finals week stress relief for all students. Know what your program, department, and/or campus provides in this area – and take advantage of it! I know I do, especially the free food and free massages!

Doing it Alone Let's Talk

Single Parenting Is Really, Really Hard

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

I’ve never actually been a single parent, but I know that single parenting must be incredibly difficult. For two weeks, my husband was laid up while recovering from surgery. My husband, who, as an experienced single father, does most of the cooking and laundry in our household, was unable to move from the sofa. I suddenly had to fix meals, take the kids to and from school, do the laundry, and still keep my business going. Two weeks was enough for me to know that I never want to be a single mom even though some moms are happy to be single moms…and I have a ton of respect for the moms and dads out there who, by choice or by necessity, are raising their kids on their own.

Single Parenting Is Harder Because

…when you’re a single parent, there is no built-in respite. You’re responsible for every need your child has, emotionally and economically. Certainly, you may share parenting duties with the other biological parent, but it is much different than when there are two parents available to break up squabbles, give hugs, and yes, make money!

…when you’re a single parent, there is no running errands while the other parent stays home with the children. Every outing (until the kids are old enough to be on their own) requires you to bundle up the kids and haul them along with you.

…when you’re a single parent, there is no taking turns when the kids are sick. Every middle-of-the-night vomiting, fever, nightmare, and feeding are all yours.

How to Help a Single Parent in Your Life

Do you know someone who is a single mom or dad? With the understanding that single parenting is tough even when it is by choice, there are things you can do as a friend or family member to make it easier and give them a chance to recharge their batteries.

  • Offer to babysit! We all love our kids, but we love them a lot more when we get a chance to recharge. This is often difficult for a single parent to do, and having a trusted friend or family member take a turn with the kids every once in awhile can offer a much-needed break.
  • Run errands. When going to the store for a gallon of milk means packing up three kids and loading and unloading them from the car, the willingness of a friend to drop off a few groceries can be a wonderful gesture.
  • Spend time! When your only conversation is with children, it can get lonely. Stop over and have coffee with your single-parent friend or family member and give them some adult time.

Single parenting requires the ability to find energy where none exists and to keep smiling when you feel like crying. My hat goes off to all the single moms and dads out there who wake up each day and give everything they have to their kids. It’s quite a job!

Health Let's Talk

One Per Customer – Learning How to Live

Please welcome our newest contributor…

Getting Real with Amy Larson

Get a life.

Hmmm. How often have we heard that one, or even told it to someone in jest, or in a not-so-jesty way? Guilty as charged over here.

Been thinking a lot about life lately; how it almost seems easier to lose your life than to get one, or to fully appreciate the one we’ve got, and those lives around us that we’ve been given.

Twelve years ago, I ran a little daycare in my home. I was separated from my then-husband, had three children of my own, and was panicked and pre-occupied about money and the future nine-tenths of the time. Two of my daycare kids, Taylor and Rebecca, were siblings. Their mother always paid on time, often brought me gifts, and was a dear friend. Taylor and Rebecca were the type of well-adjusted, well-loved kids that just blended right in with any group. They rarely had issues, and my children enjoyed being around them. Rebecca, or Becca, was only two when she came into my home. I watched the children for about a year, then reconciled with my husband and stopped doing daycare.

I didn’t see the kids or their mother for a long time. On occasion I’d run into them at a random yard sale or at the grocery store. Facebook changed that for me, though. (Thank you, Facebook.) When I thought about my friend the daycare mom, I looked her up and got current on what she’d been up to. Had I not done that, I might have never known what became of that family. Only a month or so after I’d ‘friended’ this lady, the urgent, all in capital letters message came onto our pages, “PLEASE PRAY FOR MY CHILDREN! THEY’VE BEEN IN A TERRIBLE CAR ACCIDENT!”

That was the beginning of a saga that was heart-breaking to follow, but I felt I had to. Both children had brain injuries; only one lived. We lost Becca. Taylor lived, but it was a pure miracle. He is still recovering from his brain trauma.

I wondered why the family waited for four months before they had her Celebration of Life service. I understood when I attended; it was Rebecca’s fifteenth birthday. People told stories of what a loving person Becca was; how she really seemed to care and was always there for friends and family. They told us how she didn’t like to go too far from her mother throughout her life; it was almost as if she knew that their time together would be shortened. Her brother stood and shared that he never got to tell his sister how incredible she was, and that if there was anything he’d learned over the past few months, it was this: Tell the people in your life that you love them every day, because you may not get that second chance.

I rewound, back to the days when I combed Becca’s hair after a nap, or fed her mac and cheese for lunch, or helped her with her potty training. I’m sure, in my daily stress, that I wasn’t always as patient as I could have been. She was a cute little girl; there was nothing difficult about watching either Becca or her brother. Had I known that the same curly-headed little child that I held sometimes, or whose hair I combed, or whose tummy I fed would wind up dying in a car accident at the tender age of fourteen, almost fifteen….I can tell you I’d have done things very differently.

I’d have given more hugs. I’d have been more deliberate in the way I told her I approved of her, in my praise of her. I’d have paid more attention when she was trying to tell me something in her cute two-year-old voice. I’d have taken more time, had I only known.

Becca’s mother had us all take a Chinese paper lantern home, and at 9:45 pm we were to light them and release them, in honor of Becca’s favorite movie scene in Disney’s Tangled. When we did this, we saw several other lanterns from all parts of the valley joining ours in the sky. I was sorry that my children, who were at a sports game, were not there to see that. When my son came home, I told him all about it. He stepped outside to see if maybe, just maybe, he’d get another chance to see a lantern. I doubted it; it was well past the appointed time. We stood there for a moment, looking. And then it happened.

One lone lantern came from seemingly out of nowhere, flying low, and lingered right over our house for the longest time before drifting away to join the rest somewhere. It was uncanny how long it stayed right there, as if just for us. It might sound funny, but I almost felt like that was a gift from my Becca…or maybe more like a message.

Stay. Linger. Take your time. Enjoy things before they burn out and float away.

Getting a life.

It might be easier than we think, when we realize just how easy it is to lose one. If we viewed a person as if it were their last day with us, how would we treat them? Would we slow down? Would we linger? Would we make eye contact for longer, touch more, or be more tender?

I know I would be.

In the movie and book, “Tuesdays With Morrie,” Morrie Schwartz, a real-life character says, “When you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” He also said that the Buddhists believe in the little bird on our shoulder. We are supposed to ask our little bird, “Is today the day?”

Keeping that thought in mind might sound morbid, but it might also save us from a whole lot of regret.

To my little Becca: I wished I’d taken more time. Thank you for the lessons you are teaching me. Thank you for helping me to change the way I see others. During your life celebration, a letter was read that your brother had found in your notebook. You said in it that you wanted to change the world for the better; that you wanted make a difference in the world.

You have, Becca, you have. Thanks for being our lantern.