University can be a balancing act for most of us. But for those who attend university having taken on the extraordinary responsibility of raising children, how much more so! The already challenging balancing act becomes more of a juggling act , “throwing everything up into the air and just trying to catch what you can, when you can” – in the words of Sarah O’Hara, a final year wolves student (full-time) of Business Management and mother of two.
Sarah is one of many students attending the University of Wolverhampton who bravely take on this remarkable responsibility. For students like Sarah, it is a life-changing and character-shaping experience.
Mother of two – 9 year old son Alexander and 4 year old daughter Jamie – Sarah shared with us her experience of being a student parent, returning to education after 16 years. See what she says regarding her decision, the challenges, and the rewards of what seems to be from the outside, quite impossible:
“I had friends, that were doing foundation years and others doing Open University. I came to a realisation that no matter how hard I worked or however experienced I was, there was only so far I was ever going to get. I wanted something more, to DO something more. I’d always regretted not going to university, and my husband was very supportive with me when I told him I wanted to go.”
“It was a big, scary thing, but I was also so excited as well. I remember thinking on my first day of the first week, I thought to myself this is exactly what I want… this is exactly where I want to be.”
“It’s just a juggling act… It’s hard to maintain any kind of steady lifestyle. I end up prioritising my uni work over a lot of things. It’s been so important knowing what support is there. But sometimes I just have to accept that, for a while, everything is just going to turn to mush.”
“As a parent, mature student, and living away from uni, I never felt part of the ‘Fresher Crowd’. It’s been a very different experience for me, not being able to do all the typical things you imagine when you think of uni. But I’m glad that I’ve done it now, when I’m 36. I take my studies much more seriously than I might have done when I was younger or if I didn’t have kids… It’s meant that I’m more prepared. I have to be.”
“The kids are occasionally dragged to University and I’ll sit Alex down with a hot chocolate while I do some work. He’s been to some of my economics lectures – he says ‘your maths is really hard mummy.’”
“But there are days I might not get home until 7. Chances are my daughter is going to already be in bed by then, so I just give her a kiss on the head and say goodnight... I try to maintain some normality for them, but I do get very stressed. I kinda carry some guilt about it, for not always being there. But there is always someone there for them.”
“My son understands where I’m going. I wanted to be able to be a good example for him, for him to see where I am and what I’m doing. I want them to see that if they want something there isn’t anything that can stop them doing it.”
“Because of all this as well I really value my time with my kids, even more. Any sports day or activity I never miss it.”
“TIME. Time is my enemy. I’m in uni every day, have 2 hours a day commuting from Shropshire, in my final year and work part-time as an Army camp steward and the community bar. I’ll literally be sat at half 5 most mornings in my dressing gown with the kettle on, reading or working. I’ve got my children and everything that goes with children – sickness bugs, clubs and classes etc. My daughter has medical conditions (congenital hyperthyroid) which means hospital appointments. I’m also separated from my husband now…but I’m very lucky he’s very supportive of me and there for the children.”
“Results. Handing in work that you’ve spent weeks and months (and a sleepless few days before the deadline) working on, and getting a result better than you actually expected. I get a lot of self-worth from it and feel like I’ve achieved a lot.”
“I sometimes call this my ‘selfish phase’. As a mum and a wife you get very lost in that… this is the first thing I’ve done for me in a really long time. It’s helped me to re-discover what I want and who I want to be. It has changed me. I feel like I’m doing something worth-it.”
“I’m doing better than I thought I could. It’s something that no one can take away from me. And If I can do this, what more can I do?”
“The end goal and just remembering why I wanted it in the first place. I’ve loved university… Anything worth it isn’t easy.”
“I try. I feel guilty when I do but I try. But my friends understand that when it comes towards deadlines they might not hear from me or see me for a while, but I don’t forget them and they help and support me.”
“Do it. Just bloody do it. Don’t be scared about making friends and being with different age groups. It’ll turn your life inside out and upside down. Accept that It’ll be crazy, that your house might be a mess and your kids be wearing odd socks. But it will change you – you’ll be a different person.”
“Current students, just remember WHY you wanted to do it. It’s all worth it. And there’s never any shame in asking for help.”
Taking on the responsibility of parenthood on its own is a major step and great responsibility. So from the outside it’s easy to wonder how it would be possible alongside being a full-time student. But Sarah is one of many that has not only proved it possible, but recommends it. It has been a great journey for her that she would never take back.
To all student parents, we admire what you do! And if ever things do get too much, don’t be ashamed to seek out help or advice – you’re not on your own.
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