Double lives of student moms a difficult dynamic to balance

By Alissa Groeninger

During Mom’s Weekend, while many students will be busy spending time with their moms, the University’s student moms will be caring for their own children.

People can forget that Mom’s Weekend is for student moms as well as moms of students. Raising a child while meeting the demands of school can be challenging.

Vivian Zhao, graduate student, spends hours working at the Beckman Institute as a graduate assistant and then returns to Orchard Downs, the University’s family housing complex, to care for her 13-month-old son, Ruideng Zhong.

Since having Ruideng, Zhao said she does not have a personal life. With her husband working in Louisville, Ky., and only able to spend weekends in Urbana, she spends every available minute with her son.

After moving to Urbana from China in 2003, Zhao began working on her Ph.D., before she gave birth to Ruideng in 2007. Her attention and energy is now divided between family and school.

Ajla Zisko-Aksamija, graduate student, said her situation is different from a lot of student moms because her daughter, Nula, is four and involved in Champaign-Urbana community activities. Nula participates in sports and attends preschool so most of her friends are from the area.

“We tend to be more involved in the community than other students,” Ajla said.

She added that it feels like she and her family lead a double life because, while she and her husband are very active in the Champaign-Urbana community, they are also students and active in the University community.

While on campus her family spends a lot of time on the Quad, in the library and bowling and playing pool in the Union, Ajla said.

“Now (Nula) can reach the table,” she said.

Ajla’s husband, Zlatan, is president of Students With Children, an organization started last semester to provide student parents with an opportunity to support each other and discuss life as a student and a parent. Members can network in an informal situation, she said.

The organization is for undergraduate students, graduate students and young faculty, Ajla said.

She and her husband started the organization to provide a resource to student parents because they did not feel there were enough resources for student parents on campus.

Although not a member, Zhao said she is interested in Students with Children.

“The goal of the organization is to be a gathering place,” Zlatan said.

Zhao said she would like to be involved with an organization again. She used to be involved with the Chinese Student Association but has not been active since having Ruideng.

Zhao would also like the opportunity to meet other student moms because she only has a small group of friends on campus who have kids. Connections with other student moms would allow her to interact with other adults and give her son kids to play with, she said.

Right now, Zhao said she anticipates that her son will play with the other kids at Orchard Downs when he is a little older. She said the residents get together and the older children all play together.

“It’s a very nice place for families to live,” she said.

While Zhao said she has not had much time to consider Mom’s Weekend, she would like to participate if there are activities that are suitable for her son. She said the various musical performances would be enjoyable for the two of them and for her parents, who have been visiting from China.

Ajla is also interested in Mom’s Weekend activities. She said her family is planning on attending some of the events, including storytelling for kids.

While balancing children and school work may be difficult, Ajla said she feels that being a student mom is becoming more acceptable.

“I see more and more people bringing their children to the Quad,” Ajla said.