Single parents balance motherhood, education

By Anne Gleason

When Julie Griffin, a part-time master’s student in education, had a child after two years in college, she chose to leave college for a few years to take care of her son. She knew she would eventually continue with her education, but Griffin said the University didn’t offer as many resources for single parents then as they do today, and she needed to take a few years off.

“It was rare to have a child at that time (on campus),” she said. “It wasn’t nearly as accepted as a reality as it is now … but one of the main reasons I decided to continue with my education was because I wouldn’t have been able to provide for my son as well unless I continued with my education. “

Griffin said resources available today like the Childhood Development Laboratory and the Single Parent Network weren’t around when she gave birth to her son.

Griffin returned to the University in 1997, after her son turned one year old. She said that at times she found it difficult to take care of her son while she was an undergraduate.

“Now, he’s a little bit older and he would be very easy to keep quiet at the library,” Griffin said. “When I was an undergraduate, I had to search for the resources. Now they’re more open to the reality that things like this do happen.”

The Single Parent Network was created in the early 1990s by two staff members in the Office of Minority Affairs to link single parents on campus with resources, according to Angela Clark, coordinator for the program.

Clark said she used the network as a student and she continues to be involved today by helping students – and some others – connect with resources and support systems.

“We can’t provide financial assistance, but we can help them find resources available in the area,” Clark said. “And sometimes some parents just need someone to talk to … or they just need a place to go and study.”

On Sundays, the network offers study hall for three hours through the African American Cultural Program. Clark said the study hall and the network is open to everyone.

Marita Anderson, a sophomore in LAS, attends the study hall frequently with her two-year-old son. On other days, Anderson said she sometimes goes to the Urbana Free Library with her son to study on the children’s floor.

“It gets both of us out of the house, and it’s just easier,” she said.

Aside from finding an adequate place to study, however, having a child as a student also means scheduling parenting responsibilities around class schedules, work and homework.

“Sometimes, my son wants to play and I want to play with him, but I also have to be a student … but I’m his mother first and foremost,” Anderson said. “It’s extremely hard to manage time, unless you have a set schedule; you have to have discipline.”

Anderson puts her son in day care while she attends classes and works. She uses her time between classes for homework and studying.

Clark said she isn’t aware of any single parents on campus who don’t have a job to help support their child.

As a part-time student, Griffin only has classes on two days, but she also works as a full-time administrator. Griffin said her job allows her to take three hours off during the day for class on Wednesday and her second class is at night.

“On Wednesday, I give up my lunch hour for class, then I pick up my son after work and then we start homework,” Griffin said. She usually starts her own homework after 9:30 p.m.

Griffin has very little downtime, but she said she likes it that way.

“I strive to stay busy. When I have time to myself, it’s very little … and it’s almost odd,” she said. “Most of my downtime is with my son.”

Griffin said it will take her about three years to get her master’s. After that, she is considering getting her Ph.D., but she said her future is contingent on the future of her son.

“I think I’ll have to reflect about where I’m at and about where my son is at … he will probably be very interested in sports by that time,” she said.