We are all studying to improve our own lives. But there are those who are studying to improve the lives of their family as well. Juggling parenthood and studying is not an easy task, and there is no handbook on how to survive.
University and parenting share a lot of similarities; sleepless nights, plenty of tears, confusion, making it up as you go, and turning to google for answers. But they are not the same, not at all. And if you’re a parent, you know it doesn’t matter if you’re in class, studying late at the library, or even sitting an exam; your kids are still your number one priority. This is what sets parents who are studying apart from other students.
Alanah Pike and Beth Campbell are two such parents, both current UC students and mothers, who are sharing their stories, so we can learn what it is like to be both a parent and a student.
Alanah, the SRC Health representative and Women’s Officer, was in her final year of a bachelor’s degree when she and her husband, who is also studying at UC, became parents. They both had to quickly adapt to a new way of life, and learning. Being a new parent is hard enough, but in throw an honours degree and position on the SRC, Alanah is the definition of a super-mum.
Beth, on the other hand, completed her first degree as a recent school leaver, before either of her boys were born. She returned to university when her sons were in school. By actively making a change in her life by pursing a degree she is passionate about, Beth is inspiring not only her sons, but mothers everywhere.
How do your children inspire your education?
Alanah: My son is the source of my inspiration. I want him to grow up knowing that if he wants to pursue a career, he can do it while enjoying the process. Particularly, as my son identifies as Aboriginal, it is important for me to be a role model for him, and a successful example in attaining further education.
Beth: I want to inspire my children to do challenging things in life and demonstrate that it is never too late to change what you want to do.
What have been the challenges of studying while raising a family?
Alanah: Before having a child, I would dedicate a lot of time to study to ensure I was getting the best marks. However, now my husband and I have to be super organised in our weekly planning to work out who can attend what classes or study at certain times to make sure someone is able to look after our little man when he is not in childcare. This made it difficult to attain the same level of results because of the lack of time.
Beth: Timing is always an issue. You have to coordinate your schedule with your family’s schedule. [Class] timetables, for example, are just not designed for me. Classes usually start around lunch time, and I often have to leave early to pick my kids up from school, but I make up for things when I can. I list and plan everything to make it work, but life still happens outside the schedule, so you have to learn to improvise as well.
How has the university helped your experience?
Alanah: My supervisors have been especially accommodating and supportive. Especially when, scheduling virtual meetings when I have my son. The parents’ rooms on campus have been useful, however, they are very dated and need to be refurbished.
Beth: I really appreciate when tutors or lecturers accommodate or acknowledge us. It makes you feel included, especially when they see the effort you put in. UC Thrive’s mentoring program and Student wellbeing give a lot of support and provide a good sense of community. They are there to help me find answers to important questions, and there is always someone there for me talk to. PIRaNaS, (the Politics, International Relations, and National Security Student Association) has also helped me better understand some of the political theory in my degree as well as giving me a social outlet. Their study sessions and essay help have been invaluable in helping me improve my work.
How could the university better accommodate parents?
Alanah: The addition of adjustment plans through Inclusion and Engagement for new parents when it comes to assignment deadlines and child illness.
Beth: The limited hours of childcare centres and specific appointment times of health specialists for your children can make sitting exams almost impossible at times. So, there should be some flexibility for parents during exam periods.
Is there any advice you would like to give to other parents studying at UC?
Alanah: It’s all a learning curve, you’re never going to be a perfect parent or student all of the time but being organised definitely helps. It’s an extremely rewarding experience so enjoy it.
Beth: Don’t be afraid to ask for help, talk to UC thrive, your lecturers, and your tutors. You’re not on your own, and there is help available, but people don’t know you need it unless you ask. I’ve found that most people understand and try to accommodate my circumstances.