As a student-parent, I’m always pressured by time. I have papers due every other day, classes to attend and, in addition, work, leaving my mind extremely occupied. Even when I’m at home trying to relax or spend quality time with my child, I can’t help but feel anxious about the pressing assignments I have to complete. The constant uneasiness has me feeling distant from my son, even when we’re physically close. When we go to the park, sing songs or play with fire trucks together, I’m not focused on engaging with my child but concerned about work that is due the next day.
When my child looks at me with his precious smile, it’s difficult to wholly soak in his beauty because I’m emotionally occupied with worry. And this is one of my biggest insecurities being a mom — not being able to provide enough love and attention for my child.
The first two semesters at UC Berkeley, I was able to fit all my classes between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., which worked perfectly with my son’s schedule for child care. I was the primary parent, and I’d drop him off, pick him up and come back home to spend more time with him. I wasn’t as involved in my own extracurricular activities as I am today. Although I was still busy, there was much less work to be done and much more time to spare. Back then, juggling work and raising a child wasn’t quite as difficult as my parents described it to be. I actually thought that I was extremely gifted at parenting, that I would never be one of “those” parents who’d have to give up one or the other and either be a good parent or a professional. But this year, I realize that I am in the shoes of many other student-parents or working moms. I can’t seem to be doing either of my most important jobs right.
Compared to last year, I picked up many more tasks for my final year at UC Berkeley. My school schedule reflects that I devoted myself to education rather than child rearing. This decision was made because of the strong belief that immersing myself in academics and internships would be the fastest way to provide a stable future for my child. But as of right now, I’m not too sure about my decision.
Recently, I received feedback from my son’s teacher at child care that he has been acting out — yelling, throwing things and pestering his peers. Though my more experienced mom friends say this is normal for a toddler, I can’t help but feel guilty about my son’s unhealthy behaviors. I worry that his sudden rebelliousness is because I am no longer able to drop him off at day care in the morning, to say goodbye and give him a hug. I worry that his violence in class is him communicating frustration at my absence when he gets home from day care. Is he becoming emotionally unstable because he senses my anxiousness stemming from my selfish endeavors? Instead of creating a better future for him, am I just greedy and wanting to achieve personal goals and, in the process, not providing enough time for mother-and-son bonding? Am I fucking him up?
When I see children who have a parent, grandparent or guardian whose primary job is child rearing, I can’t help but feel sorry for my son. I’m not saying that raising a child is an easy task — if anything, I believe it’s the most challenging job in the world. But those kids seem to have a stable person who isn’t pressed or overwhelmed by work to provide comfort and relaxation. At the same time, I truly believe that my hard work will allow my son to have a brighter future, that his present needs can wait.
I’m really insecure as to what mothering style is better for my child. But right now, I have to graduate and secure a job. So I’m trying to be a good student, to get good grades, to do many extracurricular activities. Simultaneously, I’m trying to be present for my son, to be there when he needs me. But I often feel like I’m failing to achieve both goals. In class, I find it hard to concentrate, as I’m concerned about my son, who will be waiting eagerly for his mommy. When I’m with my son, I’m emotionally distant, as I know I should be preparing myself for the intensive job market. And I’m sure I’m not the only student-parent who feels this way — it’s truly a dilemma. Society today makes it extremely difficult for individuals, especially women and femmes with dependents, to become successful — unless they’re already well-off. For someone like myself, it feels as though the only solution to this dilemma is to either give up my career and depend on my husband or give up being a good parent — and this shouldn’t be the case. Something needs to change.
May Choi writes the Monday column on being a transfer student-parent. Contact her at [email protected] .