Meet Maria: Super Mom & Super Student

So Maria, why not start by telling me a bit about yourself?

My name is Maria Diaz. I’m 33 years old, from Mexico. I moved to Canada in 2008, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m a second year student, and I’m majoring in Women and Gender Studies and Portuguese. 

What made you move to Canada?

I’m in the legal field, and it’s very competitive. I decided that I needed a university degree because I struggled to find a job after finishing college. [The] majority of the people I was competing with for positions already had university degrees. I moved to Canada because I wanted to study, and I didn’t want to do it in Mexico because the city I’m from had little respect and support for women. 

How has your life in Canada been so far, given the fact that you’re a single mother and part time student?

I came to Canada when my son was 9 months old, and this country welcomed us with open arms. I was looking for a new life, and I found it here. My son and I first lived in Durham for 7 years. I had subsidised daycare but it was still a challenge. I was working and studying in downtown and my son was going to school in Durham. I would sometimes only get home at 10 p.m. Obviously there was no daycare that ran this late, so it was a challenge to arrange care for my son. It was very expensive too! 

I moved to downtown Toronto a few years ago, and I no longer had subsidised daycare, but things were surprisingly easier. My son and I found more support in the inner city, and I no longer had to commute long hours after work and school. It's a relief, knowing that if something happens to my son, I will be there faster.   

If you don’t mind me asking, how did you find yourself in the position of a single parent?

I became a single mother because the father of my son was not ready to assume the responsibilities that came with parenthood, but I was. So I have been doing what needs to be done ever since. He has no role in our lives. 

And in terms of support, what support system do you rely on, if any?

I have a cousin who lives here and we're very close, but for the first few years, I didn’t have any family. I relied on friends that have now turned into my family. I don’t know any other single parents from school. Most of the people I interact with are either married, with or without children, or completely single. Sometimes it’s difficult to establish a good rapport with my peers, either at school or work.  

In your opinion, what is the biggest problem that single parents who are also part time students face?

There are so many problems! But I think the biggest one is that nobody knows you’re a single parent. I don’t walk around with a label saying I’m a single mother. People don’t know unless I tell them, and it’s difficult to talk about.

Could you expand?

Sure. Because not everyone knows I’m a single mum, they assume I’m lazy. I have a feeling TAs and professors think that I'm irresponsible and lazy because I request extensions or I'm late for lectures, when the reality is I had to pick up my son from daycare or I was busy meeting house, work, and school expectations. 

Many university programs are not designed for people who have other responsibilities. I find that even the workload of bird courses is quite heavy for a parent that also works full time or even part time. 

How has being a single mother affected your university education?

I started my degree in 2013, and because of my job and my son, I’ve only been able to do 1.5 to 2 credits a year. That is why 4 years later I’m only in second year. My course choices are also limited as only a few courses are offered in the evening. Many courses also have tutorials in the morning when I cannot attend, which [makes] it difficult for me as my first language is not English, and I need the interaction in tutorials.

It’s also hard to split my time. Sometimes I find myself studying and doing laundry until midnight. It doesn’t help that daycare is super expensive after hours, and that is why this year I've decided to bring my son into the lectures with me. Thank goodness the professors at the WGS program accommodated my request. 

Juggling university, motherhood, and a job is obviously incredibly taxing. How do you do it? What keeps you going?

I think it just makes me happy to see where I am at this point in my life, and I'm also excited for the future. Things will never be perfect but can definitely be better.  We just have to work hard to have what we want and be where we want to be, and I say we because my son has been a great supporter, and sometimes my biggest support. He is definitely a team player by waking up at 5:30 am in all the years that I had to commute. 

What do you think the biggest misconception people have about single parents is?

This is a difficult question. I think some people think that single mothers are not strong.  

What advice would you give to someone who is a single parent and wants to pursue a university degree? 

I would say, try to stay as organised as possible. Sometimes it will feel impossible to juggle everything. But no matter how hard it is, you will be rewarded in the end. It's definitely worth it to pursue a university degree.