By: Barbara Gooch, Volunteer State Community College
The night air cools my room as I stumble out of bed, toward the door with the sound of wailing. I do this often throughout the night. It is a sound I cannot ignore no matter the absence of sleep. On the other side of the door is a little bundle of joy waiting for someone to hold him and take care of his needs. I promptly change his diaper and lay him to next to his mommy, who is slowly waking and expecting to feed him. I then cradle him as he goes back to sleep and place him back into his crib, awaiting the next sounds of wails, while clutching a few more hours of sleep.
In July 2020, my daughter and my then five-month-old grandson moved into our home. This was not expected during this stage of my life. After raising my own children, I believed my child-rearing years were behind me. As my daughter transitioned back to her full-time job, while also attending college part-time, it would take the whole household to raise this little one and to support her in working toward her associate’s. To allow her sleep for a few more minutes or to accomplish her coursework, I would assist in any capacity to ease the stress on her, yet it arrives at a cost to me.
Help, I Am a College Student Grandparent
I experienced frustration from lack of sleep and quickly approaching homework deadlines as I, too, was a college student. I suffered from the pressure of slipping grades, while balancing an internship, completing homework, performing house chores, and contending with the new addition that takes up much time and attention. As my daughter turned into bed early, it was not unusual for me to rock him to sleep at bedtime and then do homework for a few hours after the others were already in bed.
The scene of a young mother completing homework, while taking care of a baby had a sense of irony or déjà vu. I was once her, a young mother — myself a teen parent, having a baby before my senior year of high school. I recall completing homework during my firstborn’s naps or at nightfall, while attending school during the daytime. I set personal goals for myself, to strive to become a first-generation high school graduate. After receiving my high school diploma, my husband and I decided for me to become a housewife. Other babies soon added to our family and as each became school age, higher education became important in their upbringing. When the opportunity arose for me to become a college student, I leapt towards the opportunity.
I soon grasped that the fall semester, with my daughter and her son living with us, I would not perform at the same level I strive to be as a student. I was unable to read my textbooks, I completed the bare minimum effort needed, and sensed that I cheated the professors and myself out of my best work. This became the most stressful semester of school.
Helping the Next Gen Student Parent
Yet, as much duress as I experienced, it is nothing compared to my daughter’s level of stress and frustration trying to raise a sweet baby boy, as well as work, all while accomplishing her educational goals. Her success was at the expense of my success, but it was a sacrifice that I was willing to make. I know her educational attainment will improve their future quality of life, and I am here to support and to make it happen.
While unbelievably stressful, these nights are the most precious of moments. There is nothing purer than a grandmother’s love toward the grandchild she holds close to her heart. It reminds me of why it is important for her to receive her education. He reminds me of what a gift life is and teaches me the gift of wonder as his mind discovers the newness of life. He never stops learning and neither will I. It is with that fortitude of wonder and excitement that I press forward, reaching for a degree this late in life. It is to change family legacies to include higher educational attainment and to become a first-generation college graduate, as my children also work in the direction of becoming first-generation graduates. And so, our march toward a degree continues until our pathways lead straight to walking across a stage, while donning a cap and gown. My son became the first in our family to graduate with a bachelor’s on May 7, 2021.
Fresh Perspectives for Higher Education
While my daughter and my grandson lived with us for a short time, the reminders of the demands to raise a child lends perspective in what student parents are confronting each day as a college student. While I endured only a semester, student parents have many semesters of balancing school, work, childcare, and home life. Hoping to work at a higher education facility in the future, this experience has opened my eyes to student parents who produce additional effort to complete college attainment.
While I was drowning with balancing the essentials, it is overwhelming to accomplish and to support other’s needs (two other adult college students, and a college student husband) in the household. They, in return, have assisted with the baby and household chores, while finishing their homework. Student parents often feel this burden. Higher education institutions should consider student’s viewpoints in the barriers that student parents are encountering to attend their campus. Support services for student parents are essential to college attainment. Colleges can help parents become successful students by creating childcare programs, employing students at the institution with a livable wage, and organizing informational booths for government programs such as food and utility assistance, emergency grant funds, financial aid appeals, and tuition assistance. Advisors who are aware of the students’ situation can be supporters of student parents to complete degree programs, offer sound advice, and point students to specific student parent programs.
Professors can be a lifeline for student parents through their perception of adversities that the student may encounter as a parent. A student may miss a class because a child is sick or hurt. A fresh perspective on if a course permits for absences and extension of coursework allows success for a student parent. Professors can consider a syllabus section devoted to student parents that offers flexibility to them specifically. Understand that a cell phone is essential for student parents. Professors can learn to excuse the occasional need to step out of a classroom or take a quick glance at an incoming text message.
I am grateful helping to raise my grandson for the perspectives gained. Within each beautiful struggle, there is something to be discovered. It allows me to be a more compassionate advocate. Higher education institutions can also benefit from a fresh perspective relative to student parents. Acknowledging the barriers student parents confront as college students and being proactive in solutions that create successful student parents must be a focus at every higher education institution. While student parents are raising the next generation, students need change and assistance from their college to build a legacy for their future and their children’s future. Be the change that encourages student parents to become successful #RealCollege students.
Barbara Gooch is a rural area college student at Volunteer State Community College in Tennessee. She is a self-professing state political nerd in education reforms, an advocate for #FreeTheTextbook as an intern at OpenStax, a SLAC member at The Hope Center, and a student fellow through the Every Learner Everywhere network who works directly with Achieving the Dream on DEI initiatives. She is also a devoted grandmother to three grandsons, four adult children, and wife to her high school sweetheart — now college sweetheart.