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Don’t let being a parent stop you from getting a degree

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It was Family Weekend at USC and we were divided into two separate lines — although the one I stood in was shorter, his was moving much quicker. I caught Timothy glancing up at the tall brick buildings and palm trees from his short, three-wheeled stroller with a shark hood on top. He didn’t notice I had left him with my mother and sister to join another line until he turned around and met my gaze. 

“Mama,” he cried, his face puffing up with red and eyes swelling with tears. He tried to wrestle himself out of his stroller’s confining straps, now screaming, and when my mother told him it would be okay, he protested. “Let’s go with mama!” Timothy would not relent.

He was the only baby in that sprawling array of people without his mother next to him because he was in the family line, and I was in the one meant for students. 

While this moment only lasted about two minutes, it felt like an eternity. In a much greater sense, it is the best way to sum up how I had spent the last three years of my life as a mother: separated from my child via the limits of school.

Still, the second we got past the checkpoint and through those iron gates, we were able to embrace. I walked him through USC’s beguiling architecture and past the vibrant rose bushes, then took him to sit beside the water fountain overlooking the statue of USC’s Traveler horse. He was amazed every step of the way, and it gave me a lot of joy and pride to share that with him. I even remarked that one day he could be my legacy there.

Just like it had been hard to be seperated from Timothy to get into school at first, having that maternal urge to be beside him always, I later found that having gone through that was fulfilling — something that made him excited, even. 

My experience at that moment, and as a parenting student overall, made me feel glad that I never gave up along the way.

According to the CDC, only about half of teenage mothers receive a high school diploma by the age of twenty-two, compared to 90% for non-parenting adolescent women. To take this further, less than 2% of women who gave birth as a teenager earn a college degree by the age of thirty. 

The CDC also says that women of color are more likely to experience teenage motherhood, as indigenous women give birth as a teenager at a rate of 29%, Black women at 25.8%, and Hispanic women at 25.3%, compared to the 11.4% rate among White women. Additionally, teenage parenthood is associated with increased socioeconomic costs, including unemployment, and health problems.

All of these reasons and more are why teen mothers should be encouraged to obtain higher education. As we find ourselves in the midst of admissions season, it is more important than ever to help spread the message.

As a parenting mother pursuing university life herself, I understand that there can be a stigma working against teen mothers (or mothers in general) in pursuit of anything that they are doing for themselves. After all, we are not far from a period where stay-at-home mothers were the norm. However, there is no reason to ever feel guilty for pushing one’s education forward. 

Sure, there might be times where the child (or children) might cry and ask their mother to stay, and it might hurt saying no, but mothers are 100% entitled to make time for themselves and put their dreams into action. It will show children that you can be a boss and a mama, and help defeat a narrative about mothers staying home. It also helps to have a great support system that can watch the children while away at class and stay in touch throughout the day, with updates from both sides.

When there is not someone to watch the children or there are additional responsibilities in the picture such as work, online classes can be a swift ally by eliminating commute time, removing as much of a need for a babysitter, and offering flexibility. 

Additionally, communication with professors is key. Many professors will understand — and may even be impressed with the tumultuous responsibilities being juggled — and be willing to make accommodations. In my own experience, I’ve never had a professor tell me “no” when I’ve asked for an extra day to submit an assignment on the days my son was being particularly difficult or if I was simply feeling burned out from everything I was juggling. Sometimes I think that was the only reason I graduated from community college.

Lastly — and I hate to say this — but as teen mothers, there might be times where we need to be more prepared than others. While our peers might have the leisure not to worry about their children’s nap schedules or commuting to work after class just to make ends meet, motherhood takes a lot of preparation. Adding school to the equation might require a whole extra itinerary — but that is okay. It builds character and makes us stronger in the end.

Being a parenting student is hard, but it does get easier in time. I started taking college courses two weeks after my son was born, and at the time I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I was just going through the motions and hoping for a good outcome. 

But then last night, now in my senior year of college, I queued a recorded lecture from my oceanography class, with my notebook and assorted pens sprawled out across my desk. I didn’t get twenty minutes into the lecture before Timothy burst into the room, twelve-inch animatronic dinosaur in one arm, a plastic shark from the Dollar Store in the other. He climbed up my lap, glazed a donut all over his mouth, and said, “Hi mama.” He gave me a kiss on the cheek and watched the rest of my lecture with me. As I jotted down definitions in my notebook, Timothy sat on my lap scribbling spirals in his Blues Clues notepad. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Victoria Valenzuela is a twenty-year-old transfer student in her junior year as a creative writing major at USC. She lives in Hacienda Heights, CA, and has a two-year-old son named Timothy. Victoria has been writing all her life. She contributes to various publications as she pursues a career as a journalist and dabbles in fiction as a hobby. Some of her favorite things aside from writing are mall trips, fresh face masks, any gothic literature novel (although the Bronte sisters are a favorite), and Red Chickz Nashville Chicken. Victoria's email is [email protected] .
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