Coping with University as a Single Parent

When I first began my journey at university as a single parent, there were times that I just wanted to drop out from studying. The guilt, the exhaustion and frustration along with the added stress of parenting too was sometimes too much. However, I am now in my third year and I graduate in 2021.

My son was two and a half years old when I first embarked my journey at university. I was very excited to start as I thought that I would never have the opportunity until he was much older. The university was very supportive of people who have children and part time careers. The first few weeks I would come home exhausted, and then stressed because I would have to make dinner and entertain my son after a long day at University. I had been given homework to do at home and I really just wanted to get that out the way, but I couldn’t, I had to be a mum first. The first year of university was probably the hardest, because I had to adjust to my new routine.

I would normally wait until my son was in bed to do my work, but sometimes my son would be such a challenge to go to sleep so I would be stopping and starting constantly. I also suffer with anxiety and depression and have done since the age of 16. I would have attacks of anxiety feeling as if I’m not doing enough to get good grades, or anxiety over going to university and putting my son into nursery so young. These thoughts would be overwhelming at night time. When I found out I had passed my first year with 2:1’s and 1:1’s, this helped my confidence and I felt that I could do anything. This was until I started my second year, and these worries would overwhelm me again. This time I decided to speak about my feelings with the doctor and to the wellbeing support services at university.

As hard as it was to be honest about my low moods and anxiety, about various things in my life especially when it came to my son, it really helped me get the right support. I was able to have weekly drop ins with the wellbeing support services over the phone, and the doctor wanted to check in with me every two weeks. Unashamedly, I was given a low dosage of medication to keep my anxiety at bay. This was extremely helpful, and it allowed me to continue to succeed in my second year. I also decided to get extremely organised and quite militant in my routine. I stopped my son from napping in the daytime, and instead of the ongoing battle of getting him to sleep from 9pm onwards, I had a strict routine of bedtime being at 7pm. This allowed me plenty of hours in the evening for myself to recoup, and to also do my work at a decent time, meaning I would get enough sleep too. This really helped the both of us as he was in a much better mood in the daytime and so was I.

One major thing that helped me was being very organised with my finances. I would write down my student finance entitlements, write down the bills that needed to be paid during the term, and pay them up until my next payment. By doing this, I knew I had nothing to worry about financially when it came to household bills and childcare bills. It’s handy to keep a folder, in each section I would put different important letters in such as NHS letters, utility letters etc. This is very helpful to keep on top of your bills, and also helpful if you need to access previous letters for whichever reason. Being organised and minimizing your stress whilst studying and being a parent will make such a difference.

My third year has been a breeze at university. I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience more than the previous years, as I am very organised at home with my son, I am able to do my work on time and with ease instead of stressing and being worried about it and most importantly, I can enjoy my days off from university and focus on being a mum to my son. The university have been extremely helpful with their wellbeing services, and they have given me so much confidence and support in studying whilst understanding my responsibilities as a parent. I encourage everybody to try to be open and honest and seek help if you need to. Whether you access help from your GP, or the university wellbeing services. I was worried that they would judge me, and I felt ashamed. However, they are there to support you and want to get you on the right track.

By Louise Preston, Birmingham. Louise is passionate about working with children and families and aims to do this within the future, following completion of her degree. For more on Louise, please see the following Linkedin account:

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