Parenthood, party of one

Your Mom Goes To College

mia-villanueva

With only three minutes left to complete the last five questions of my online quiz, I hear my son get out of bed in his room upstairs.

“Shit!” I think to myself as I click to the next question. His door opens, and I begin to calculate how many questions I can get through before he makes it downstairs.

Before he makes it down one, I hear the door of the master bedroom open.

“Liam … get back to bed.”

I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. Dad to the rescue.

I complete my quiz in the nick of time, turning it in exactly one minute before it is due, at 11:59 p.m.

I’m lucky to have a partner who has my back, who knows how crucial his role as a dad is to my success as a student. Many student-parents, however, only have themselves to rely on at home.

One of the biggest divides in the student-parent community is between student-parents who are married or raising their kids with a partner and student-parents who are single parents.

The more I went to the student-parent center (SPC), the more I became aware of this divide.

After my last final of the spring semester, I walked in to the SPC, which was particularly packed during that time of year. Many student-parents, including myself, came in to compare finals horror stories and hopefully offer each other some sort of solace for the tests that we were sure that we bombed.

“Everyone in my classes asked me if I was sick today,” I vented to the room aloud. “But I’m just exhausted from studying.”

“At least you got to study,” a voice behind my meekly chimed in. I turned my head to be met by the familiar face of a student I had seen in the SPC a few times but never engaged with. “My son decided this week was going to be the one where he refused to sleep.”

“Girl, you should have told your son to wake his dad up and have him deal with that!” I replied tongue-in-cheek, but the look on her face told me that I had just put my foot in my mouth.

“I’m the mom and dad in my home … a jack-of-all-trades, if you will,” she replied, trying to make light of my tactless remark.

Here I was, complaining about how tired I was from preparing for my exams, when another mom, who was just as smart and just as eager for success as I was, was not able to because of something as simple as her child having a rough week of sleep.  

As a mom myself, I had been there. I knew what it was like to rub the back of my son so he’d fall asleep, but to no avail. I knew what it was like to read countless bedtime books only to have him be more awake than when I began. I also knew that after hour one, however, it was dad’s turn.

For many student-parents who are single parents, it is always their turn. Their turn for pick-up at school, their turn to wake up in the middle of the night, their turn to call in sick from work and their turn to take an “L” on an exam because their kid getting a good night’s rest takes precedence over anything else.

As one part of a two-parent household, it is easy for me to gloat about how doable it is to be a student and a parent while pursuing a career. So much of that ability, however, stems from having a partner who is happy and willing to carry some of the load for me.

The true martyrs are the student-parents who are doing it alone. The ones who worry about tomorrow’s physics quiz while worrying about their child feeling the absence of a second parent at home. The ones who show up with a child on their hip for their 6 p.m. class because daycare closed at 5:30 p.m. and there is no one else to watch them. The ones who answer to mom, dad and [email protected]

I see you, and I am amazed by you.

Mia Villanueva writes the Thursday column on her experience as a student-parent at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected].

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