Balancing act as students, spouses


Parents Jason and Rachel Smith, seniors in FAA and LAS respectively, pose for a photo with their daughter Elizabeth at their house in Champaign on Monday, March 16, 2009.

By Ellyn Newell

Rachel Smith, senior in LAS, has trouble sleeping because of her noisy roommate, Elizabeth. It’s not Elizabeth’s loud guests or booming bass that keeps Rachel up, but rather the 10-month-old’s crying.

Elizabeth Smith is Rachel and husband Jason’s daughter. The pair married two years ago and had their daughter about a year later. Jason is a senior in FAA.

“Jason wanted to get started on a family and I had always wanted to be a young mom,” Rachel said.

Rachel has been planning on having children before the age of 25 but admits that it is not always easy juggling school work with motherhood. Because Elizabeth is teething, it recently has become even more difficult for Rachel to get enough sleep to focus in class.

She considered dropping down to being a part-time student, but because this is her last semester, she decided to “power through it.”

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    “It’s difficult but I will appreciate the time I get to spend with her as a young parent,” Rachel said.

    Although being a mother makes schoolwork even more stressful for her than the average student, Rachel believes it also gives her a different perspective on how she approaches situations both inside and outside the classroom.

    “My life experience has helped me to interpret pieces of literature and approach situations differently than many other college students,” Rachel said.

    Her husband, Jason, said that sometimes it is easier to connect with professors and teaching assistants than other students.

    “There is a certain level of maturity that comes from being a parent,” Jason said.

    This difference in maturity affects their social lives as well. Rachel said that it is hard to commit to social engagements outside of school because of her responsibilities as a mother.

    “I can’t even fathom going out and having five or six drinks,” Rachel said.

    Although the Smiths do not spend much time in campus bars, they do try to schedule at least one date night a month to “just be grown-ups.”

    This is possible through the support of their families.

    Rachel’s mother travels 75 miles to watch Elizabeth for three days every week so the Smiths can concentrate on school.

    Rachel’s parents also bought them a house so they do not have to worry about a monthly rent check.

    “A lot of people don’t have the luxury of an extremely supportive family,” Rachel said. “We feel very fortunate for all the help they’ve given us.”

    While Jason spends the next couple years pursuing a master’s degree in architecture, Rachel is looking forward to taking some time off to concentrate on being a mom.

    Young married couples without children also face unique challenges in balancing their personal and academic lives.

    Although Amy Black Crane, senior in Media, cannot imagine having a child right now, she has responsibilities of her own that have made her grow up rather quickly.

    Amy and Ben Crane, both members of the National Guard, wed six months ago.

    The pair decided to get married before he left because it was the one time they knew that they would be in the same place together.

    This left Crane with less than seven months to plan a wedding while also taking 17 credit hours of classes. She said that the process forced her to mature and better manage her time both in and out of school.

    “Classes were important but this was my life, my future,” Crane said. “It was what I really needed to focus on.”

    Less than two months later, Ben had to leave for military training in Maryland. The pair now see each other once a month. During the short time Crane has to spend with him, she still has to deal with coursework. The majority of the time, professors do not see the visit as an excused absence, so she is forced to choose between skipping class or miss spending time with him.

    “Missing one day of class to spend time with him is totally worth it,” Crane said.

    Although Crane’s main responsibility right now is her 1-year-old German Shepherd, the couple plan on having children in the next two years. Military policy states that parents must have a plan for taking care of the child if they are both deployed or if something goes awry in combat.

    “It’s kind of scary when you are handed a will to fill out on your 18th birthday,” Crane said. “But I know if I can do this, I can do just about anything.”

    From the surprised looks Crane has received in response to the ring on her left hand, she understands that many students cannot imagine being married at this point in their lives.

    However, she feels fortunate to have found someone at such a young age that she is not only compatible with, but who also understands her obligations to the National Guard.

    “I feel stressed out on a daily basis but the whole experience has just made me stronger,” Crane said. “I consider myself very lucky.”