When You Are a Mother and a Student

>>Mother studentBY MELISSA GEIL

The recent snowstorms in North Carolina caused a lot of headaches for parents of school-aged children, but a particular subset of parents had to deal with not one set of school closure decisions, but two.

“OK, so my three kids are out of school tomorrow… What am I supposed to do about my exam?” a mother posted to a social media thread when UNC-Chapel Hill was open and local public schools were not.

The responses that followed this post were incredible. Offers to babysit from other mothers, advice on how to approach professors to see if they would accommodate the student, and lots of encouragement.

“I honestly thought I was the only single mom on campus!” wrote another student.

Everyone needs support, but mothers in particular need it. We seek it out from friends, family, and especially other mothers.

What struck me the most about these mothers was the sense of singularity that most of them expressed. To be a parent in a sea of undergraduate students whose greatest concern is where to go on a Friday night can be an incredibly isolating experience. And while the demonstration of kindness and solidarity on a social media thread certainly bolstered my belief in the goodness of people, mothers in particular, it got me to thinking about why it was necessary for them to reach out via a website at all; where are the resources for undergraduates who are mothers?

So I decided to look into it.

I reached out to two of my local universities, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke. It turns out, there is a lot of support for mothers on campus, but you need to know where to look for it.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, there are a number of organizations both formal and informal that serve and support student parents. The >>Carolina Women’s Center has a new resource called >>Parenting @ UNC that serves as a clearinghouse for information that students may want. In addition, if you work with the department of >>Student Affairs, they will personalize assistance based on the particular needs of the student. There is also a student group called the >>UNC Student Parent Association. Locally, the UNC Health Care system’s >>Women’s Health Information Center offers numerous resources for all mothers, including a group called MOMS (Mentoring Other Mothers Group) for new moms.

At Duke, many of the resources available for graduate students are also available for undergraduate students who are parents. As with UNC, >>Student Affairs is the go to place to start. In addition, >>DukeReach provides case management services, coordination with on-campus offices (academic affairs, housing, etc.), and connections to local services. They work with each student and family individually to ensure that each particular case is handled appropriately.

There are resources, to be sure. But the trick is seeking them out. A lot of universities will certainly work with students as needed, but they don’t have information widely available on their website—I have a lot of trouble tracking down resources on the web at the eight university pages I researched. And while there are resources to cover the practicalities, support groups are sometimes difficult to find, and finding the time to go to them is even harder.

With busy schedules and the sheer overwhelming task of being a parent, it is difficult to make time to find the support you need, be that a babysitter or someone to vent to.

The one thing that every mother needs to know, however, is this: you are not alone. This was the message of the social media thread I happened upon, but it is one that a lot of us have a hard time remembering.

>>MelissaMelissa Geil is a freelance writer and English teacher. Although originally from New York, she moved to North Carolina the first time for college (go Tar Heels), and now she is back to stay. She enjoys reading, hiking, and gallivanting around the triangle with her family.

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