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Mom-Student: When parenthood comes early

Being a college student is hard. Being a parent is hard. Being a college student who is a parent might be one of the most challenging things I've ever done. During my junior year of college, I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. I remember seeing the words "pregnant" on the pregnancy test. I was overwhelmed by anxiety, excitement, confusion, and frustration. I was happy this happened with the man I hoped to marry, but upset because this wasn't how I envisioned my future.

 I planned to study abroad, graduate from college, get my master's in education, and start a career. Then I wanted to get married, buy a home, and then start a family. Yet here I was at 22, with so much left to experience in the world, and I still felt like a child myself. People gossiped about how I wasn't going to be a good mom, and that hurt. While I was so terrified to be a parent and upset about the rumors, I am forever grateful to have my best friends who stuck around and assured me that I'd be the best mom ever. I finished the fall semester, then withdrew to work more hours and save money for the baby.

Three years and another baby later, I'm finally back, a college student and a mother of two. A mom-student.

My wild little boys sometimes drive me crazy, but I love them with my whole being. While everyone experiences parenthood differently, I have never felt a love like this. I don't mean to romanticize parenthood, it's far from perfect and easy. We’re all familiar with the challenges of college; late nights studying, difficult professors, balancing work, and a life outside of school. Having two little humans that rely on you for everything makes all of these challenges exponentially more difficult.

 Imagine having a big paper due that requires a lot of your attention. The day you planned to have set aside to work on that assignment, your child is homesick, feverish, cranky, and throwing up everywhere... Or say you have an exam and the night before your exam, you are up until 3 am, trying desperately to comfort an inconsolable baby whose first teeth are breaking through... In those moments, you understand why the doctor warned you repeatedly about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome and you take a deep breath and pray for patience.

 People say, "well, you signed up for this," and I know that. But mothers are never given enough credit for all that they do. We burn at both ends for our children, work to support them, and some go to school to ensure a better life.  We are given these high expectations of having our lives put together, and harshly criticized when we show our imperfections. 

Mom shaming is real. I’ve been mom-shamed for looking too young, or simply because I happened to be out in public without my husband. People will shame you for bringing your children to daycare with messy hair, but sometimes it is just not worth fighting your 3-year-old over brushing their hair. I cannot even sit down at the park to look at my phone for a second without being looked at as a bad mom. I am exhausted, and I am not even allowed to say it because, "well, that's parenthood." 

I feel like my life consists of waking up early, fighting with the children to get dressed, and fighting them to get in the car to go to daycare, which is where I work. I go to school two days a week. On those two days, I only have time to attend class and get a small handful of work done. After class, I have to pick up the kids from daycare, bring them home, fix dinner, bathe them, and make sure they are in bed at a reasonable time, which rarely happens. Then do it all over again. On the days I don't have school, I work 10-11 hour shifts to make it to 35 hours of work a week to keep a discounted rate for childcare. Without my job, childcare is unaffordable to us and would make it more difficult for me to attend school. 

All this hard work between being a parent, work, and school is physically and mentally exhausting. I should be proud of all the work I put forth, but sometimes I feel like a bad mom because of the impossible expectations I face. I feel like a bad mom because I had kids early, and before my husband and I were financially stable. A bad mom because I feel like I yell more than I should. 

I have all these feelings of doubt, that I am doing it all wrong and that I am a bad mom. However, I have these other feelings that motivate me to keep on moving forward. The feeling my children give me when they look at me with love in their eyes after a long day. All the hugs and kisses they provide. When my oldest tells me, "mommy, you are so pretty," on the days I feel my lowest and probably have his younger brother's boogers on my face. They forgive me for all my mistakes and think I am a superhero. They push me to be better. While I am going to school for myself to finish what I started, I am also going to school for them. To show them that even when things feel heavy, they can persevere through it. I am far from being a perfect mom, and these tiny humans may make things difficult sometimes, but their love and happiness is worth it.

Whether she’s hiking with her family or trail running through nature, Cecilia loves taking photographs of her journey through life. She studies history at Winthrop University and will graduate in 2022.
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