We’ve all been there – cram time, and you’re so far behind on things, you’re facing a week’s worth of tasks in a day. You end up going into overdrive and pulling all nighters, sometimes skipping food and sacrificing other daily activities, like time with friends or family, in order to catch up. Guess what? That comes along with being a student; get over it. So many students complain how “busy” they are, or how “hard” they’ve got it. You work part-time, you take two classes, you live with your parents and don’t pay rent, household utilities, or buy your own groceries, and have no idea how hard some students really do have it. Some people live on their own without help or support. Some take full time classes, and have a full time job, or multiple jobs. The hardest job of all – being a parent. Picture that on top of everything else that needs to get done in a day’s time.
The Sullivans: Full time student, full time mom while husband’s deployed
Kimberly Sullivan is on her fourth semester back in college, working towards an art degree. She takes full time classes, works part time as a teacher’s assistant for Photography instructor, Rick Murai, and is a mother of a seven-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy. Eight months out of the year, her husband is deployed, leaving her to fulfill the role of both mother and father. And she does it the hard way.
Their home is a no-cable family; Kim and Sean prefer to spend time playing with and teaching their children, rather than plopping them in front of cartoons all day. She says, “Even though it’s good for them, I don’t always have the energy to play as much when Sean’s not around because I get so drained from school.” She has a degree in Culinary Arts and refuses to let her kids eat fast food. Even when she makes quick snacks, she makes wholesome, from-scratch foods. She makes time to run a 5K every week and go to the gym, choosing not to let her health suffer from lack of time.
Kim does a lot of prioritizing, pushing things off just to be able to complete another. She can’t give her parenting, housekeeping, or school work 100% because she is spread too thin and, even though she tries her hardest, feels that everything comes off being sub-par. She misses functions for her children, studies until 3am, and lets laundry and household chores slip on occasion. She drives her daughter to school everyday, and her son goes to the Childhood Development Center (CDC) while she’s on campus.
She’s used the CDC the entire time she’s been in school, and says it absolutely benefits her. Without it, she wouldn’t be able to go to school. Even the discounted rates at Beale were four times the price of the CDC, and would have cost her more than she makes from working part time. In the past, the daycare issue actually caused her to stop working because she’d rather stay home with her kids herself than pay those large amounts.
She says, “I don’t feel like I identify with anybody as far as my situation; a lot of other parents I’m friends with at school have somebody else helping them – a spouse or family members, and most parents I know don’t go to school or work. They may do one or the other, but not usually both, while handling the family and household duties alone. It’s tough.”
The choice for Kim to go back to school was her decision, but Sean had no problems with it. “He is totally supportive of anything I do. If I really want something, he never questions it or asks why, he just says ‘alright.’ It’s amazing because I’ve had some crazy, harebrained ideas that he’s gone along with and supported, and didn’t even get mad if I didn’t end up following through. He’s a great guy. We grew up together, and have been together for 16 years.”
Her husband was home for only five months before he was shipped off again. While he’s gone they talk as often as possible, but with no cell phones and poor, if any, internet service overseas, she can’t just call on him for input when she needs it; they talk only when he is able to, which sometimes isn’t even once a week. She says the time together wasn’t enough, and she’s still drained and recuperating from the last deployment. However, she admits that, “It’s all preparing me for something. It’s given me a lot more self-confidence in my abilities to be a single parent when it’s necessary. If, God forbid, anything happened to Sean, I wouldn’t freak out or be left in the cold because I couldn’t stoke a fire or change a flat. Having no option but to handle all of these things on my own has made me stronger. If I can do all this, I know I can do anything that needs to be done.”
The Rasciners: Parents of three, both working towards a PHD
Erik and Emilee Rasciner, parents of three, are both taking full time classes, each working towards a PHD in Psychology. They have two boys and a girl, ages five, four, and two. They met in high school and have been together for eleven years. Emilee has two part time jobs; she tutors psychology on campus and is also a counselor for programs she wishes to keep anonymous. Erik formerly served in the Army.
The Rasciners are a one car family, which is difficult enough, but they drive their oldest boy to school in Wheatland, making schedules even tighter. Emilee says finding time together is the biggest challenge. They do get help from their parents, which saves them from paying a babysitter to watch their oldest when he gets out of school before they do. “Having a family’s a job in itself, and when you throw work and school in the mix, it gets really complicated and hard to balance things. We only have so many hours in a day.”
“We do homework together sometimes, but our oldest is the only kid who has homework to do, and it’s never much. Yesterday I spent three hours sitting in the driveway doing homework while the kids played outside with the neighbors. We have to find ways to keep them entertained so we can get our work done,” says Erik. Emilee adds, “Sometimes I put on the TV and I’ll do homework while they watch it. I don’t know what we would do without TV or video games.”
The Rasciners also utilize Yuba College’s CDC, for their two younger children. Emilee says, “It’s been amazing; Miss Rhonda has been so good with our son. Flat out, – we would not be able to go to school if we weren’t able to get our children into the child care center. Our classes would have been put off until all of the kids were in school. As it is, sometimes work suffers, sometimes homework suffers, and sometimes the family suffers. It alternates, but there is always something not getting our full attention.”
Erik says, “We barely see each other as it is, and if we both worked we’d never see each other and we’d have to find somebody to watch the kids. Sometimes on Sundays we have to shut out everyone else around us just to have family time with the kids because Emilee works at night a lot, and it’s her only day off. We haven’t even been able to have a date night in almost a year.” Emilee says, “We are finally having a birthday party for Mikela next weekend even though she turned two in July. It was hard because we were moving, and we moved on her birthday. We’ve planned it like five times since then, but something always comes up and we had to keep putting it off.”
Emilee takes some online classes to allow herself more time with the family. If it really came down to making a choice, she says she would quit her job before quitting school. “I made up my mind school comes first. We’ve never been on Welfare before, but if we had to, to survive, I would because school is important and I’ll do whatever it takes to finish. I’m not gonna be stuck forever in a menial job. We have a while before we can transfer, and we both want to go as far as a PHD, but the question is, can we really do that with a family? It’s going to be difficult. Our next step after this is going to Sac State for our Bachelor’s Degrees. I don’t want to stop with anything less than a Master’s.” Erik says, “I don’t think we can even attempt to go to different universities; it would be too hard, especially with one car. I’ve been thinking Sac state anyways because they have a really good psychology program. I want to do family therapy.”
Asked if he uses any of the psychology he learns on his kids, he replies, “I try to. But once we start going back and forth, it goes out the window. It’s easy to say, before becoming a parent, how you will handle things to get from point A to point B, but when you’re in the heat of the moment in a real situation, it rarely works out that way. Most people have ideas on how to be the perfect parent, until they actually have kids. I still stick to the major things I said I’d do, but even though I don’t want to spoil my child, sometimes I just give in because they’re screaming and it just goes on and on and I don’t know what else to do. It’s better than getting mad and exploding.”
The Rodockers: School on hold for this single mom
Rachel Silva-Rodocker is the single mom of a four-year-old girl. She was going to school full time since ‘08. She got certified last December, and was working towards an Associate’s degree in Auto Body in paint, along with working at Wheeler Chevrolet as a detailer. She was forced to quit her job due to being diagnosed with Tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel five months ago. She now wears braces on both hands, and is unable to do many things she used to, like anything that requires a lot of grasping, or heavy lifting.
A few weeks ago, her car blew a head gasket and, unable to fix it herself like she would have in the past, she was forced to drop out of school because she couldn’t afford to get it fixed. There is public transportation, but it would have been almost impossible to get her daughter back and forth to child care with no vehicle, on top of the fact that they were already in the process of moving to Gridley.
“I’ve always been a person that didn’t give up or say, ‘no I can’t do it’ so I actually cried when I had to drop out, but I guess it makes me stronger because I know that if I can’t do it at this point in time, for whatever reason, then I’ll come back later and do it even better. My goal was to get my Associate’s and start a career even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to start at the top. Now my plans have changed; I don’t know how far my hands can actually take me, so I’ll be lucky, happy even, to be a secretary at a dealership or body shop. I want to work in the field but I can’t really do all that I wanted to.”
“I do receive food stamps and Medi-Cal, along with my workman’s comp. I pay my own bills, I bought my own car; I’ve never really gotten much help from my daughter’s father. Since before she was born, I was going to both school and work full time, and still did odd jobs here and there for extra money. I did all of the cooking and cleaning, and raised my child alone. I love my daughter; she is, and probably always will be, my best friend. She makes me happy, she gets me laughing, she wakes me up in the morning and gets me going. She makes me mad, and then melts my heart with her smile. She is… all of my emotions. She is what motivates me.”
In reference to who or what inspires her, Rachel responds, “My brother Ralph. He started working when he was 16, and rode his bike from Yuba City to Feather River Boulevard to get there. Then he got a job working for a company that helps mentally challenged people who live on their own. My brother started at the bottom, and now he runs the company, and he’s also a youth pastor. He’s always had a lot on his plate and has handled things. I think, if he can do it, I can too. He’s come very far and is very strong. He’s been a major motivator for me and I can’t help but brag on him.”
When asked what she struggled the most with when it came to prioritizing, optimistically replied, “Nothing; it made me happy. Work and school and her being happy and healthy made me feel like I was accomplishing something and all the hard work was worth it. Even when I struggled or reached a point where the school work was overwhelming, I didn’t reach a point where I just didn’t want to do it. I guess my biggest struggle was not having companionship – a significant other in my life. I don’t have someone to give me advice or back me up when I tell my daughter she can’t do something. I have nobody to tell her, ‘listen to your mother.’ Good guys are hard enough to find, but there is a lot of peer pressure. A lot of guys don’t dare to date a single mom because of their fear of what their friends will say, or fear of ‘baby mama drama.’ It’s really tough trying to prove those stereotypes wrong.”
She also says that even though people may not have the best support systems, there is help out there if they look for it. “It will take a lot of hard work, but young parents need help so don’t be afraid to ask for it. Getting on welfare is not abusing the system if you’re just using it to get back on your feet. If you’ve worked, you’ve paid money into the system and deserve help if you need it. That’s what I had to do but it was just a stepping stone for me. Sometimes my schoolmates or peers would pick on me but I did what I had to for my daughter.”
Seeing someone remain so positive after being dealt such a rough hand is truly inspiring. Many students face the struggle of having to prioritize and sacrifice to meet their goals, but in the case of a single parent, an obstacle can have such an impact that it can literally shatter your goals, force you to reinvent your entire plan. Before you start looking at the negatives in your life – which aren’t really that big of a deal – and over dramatizing them, take a step back and realize that no matter how much you struggle or how many problems you think you have, there are always people struggling with more, and if they can do it, so can you.