A Balancing Act

7 June 2017

More parents with young children are taking advantage of the opportunity to continue or return to their studies. For some parents, studying offers a break from the stresses of parenthood and can be a liberating experience.

Yet being a parent can be difficult at the best of times, and when adding the responsibilities associated with studying, it becomes a whole new challenge.

Rebecca Fregon, a mature age student and mother to three children under the age of ten, says that she enjoys coming into university as it gives her some time to herself.

Upon returning to her studies, Fregon notes the added difficulties she faces.

“You have to be super organised because you simply don’t have the luxury of time that you had when you were younger. Looking back, I was a pretty slack undergraduate,” says Fregon.

“But now I don’t get much time to study at home, especially since my youngest has given up on his day sleep, so I make the most of the days that I come into university.”

For student parents, the class environment can also pose a challenge. Group work, for example, becomes even more difficult, especially in finding a time to meet up outside of class. There are also assumptions made about the type of student in a given class.

“I think for the most part, lecturers have a particular type of student in mind. That is, a young person for whom university is the main focus. This makes sense because it’s true for the majority. However, it can make things a bit more complicated for parents,” said Fregon.

This presumption by lecturers and tutors alike may create stigmas for student parents like Fregon, and stresses the need to re-evaluate what the ‘typical’ student looks like.

There is early childhood education and care for student parents at the University of Melbourne, a service funded by the Student Services and Amenities Fee. Low-income students are offered a student rebate for the service, making it more accessible.

Caitlin McGregor is a young parent at the University. Her son attends childcare at the University five days a week.
“I treat study, as well as the from-home work I do, as a nine to four job. I try to restrict work outside of the house, so that I can give parenting my full attention when my son is with me.”

McGregor says that she feels supported by the University, and that when she fell pregnant in her first year of studies, she had no problems arranging a year of leave. Since returning to studying, McGregor says she has been able to study part-time or full-time loads at different stages as it has suited her.

Fregon has not used these services, and considers herself very fortunate in the support she receives from her family. She says that studying part-time makes things more manageable for her.

“For a younger parent however, who may be at university for the first time without a lot of support, it would be much harder.”

In addition to the early childhood education and care that the University provides, there is also the Graduate Student Association’s (GSA) Family Study Space. Family Officer for the GSA, Smriti Ghimire says that the study space is a “room in the 1888 Building with desks and two computers for student parents, toys and equipment for children, and a comfortable couch”.

The space is only available to graduate student parents, but Ghimire hopes that it can be a pilot test, and that other parts of the University will look to it as an example, and in effect create other spaces for student parents and their children.

Despite all of the demands that come with parenthood, study and even work, both mothers agreed that studying is something they really enjoy.

“Being a university student is a relatively flexible lifestyle, as opposed to a full-time office job; I like being able to study from home if I need to, and to choose my own hours,” said McGregor.

Fregon says that studying sets a great example to her children.
“Studying as a parent is really, really valuable. It gives you something to focus on outside of your family, and can be a way back into the workforce for mums like me. No matter how old you are, there is always something new to learn.”

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