NEW WILMINGTON, Pa.– Most students can agree, at one time or another, that college is time-consuming. A dedicated, full-time student will easily spend 40-plus hours a week in class, studying, researching, writing, and in labs. Student-athletes, artists, and musicians spend additional time training, practicing, and competing or performing.
Many students have work-study jobs or a part-time job on top of the coursework. Several students who even work full-time. And then there are a few traditional, full-time students who are new parents.
Imagine managing the typical schedule of a full-time undergrad when you’re also a new parent. Ben Canty, a senior Broadcasting and Media Production major, a less than a year old daughter. And Goldieann McElwain, a junior English major, has a one-year-old daughter. She’s also pregnant with her second daughter, due on Dec. 2.
Canty’s has a five-month-old baby girl named Elliana. His daily schedule is far from typical and often changes because of scheduled and unscheduled doctor appointments for the baby. If Candy has any free time, that rolls around 2 a.m.
His Wednesdays are the longest of the week when he can leave campus after 8 p.m. While his on-campus schedule takes up his days, he works overnights at Sheetz as an associate. Canty days are long, and he’s often tired. And it’s stressful with his job, going to school, and managing life as a new father. He tries to get in some sleep or do homework when the baby naps, but there are times he falls behind in classes. He’s engaged to Ellianna’s mother and has support from his family.
“Sometimes I’ve had to turn things in late because of a doctor’s appointment or because I can’t to go campus because I’m at home with the baby when she’s sick,” explained Canty. “For the most part, my professors have been pretty understanding with it. They’ve been supportive because I have a baby at home it’s a lot more difficult to manage your time and get stuff done on time. So, they’ll let me turn things in maybe a couple of days later or even a day later.”
McElwain has similar experiences with faculty. They’re willing to give her additional time with assignments. As a full-time mom and a full-time student, she also needs flexibility with her daily schedule when something unexpected comes up with her one-year-old daughter Kinsley.
McElwain’s family and husband help as caregivers during class days. Her husband works, but he’s helping her find the time to work on assignments and focus on studying. McElwain’s mother watches little Kinsley through the class days. But being pregnant with her second child with a full class schedule is also challenging. She tries to get the rest she needs, but she can only get some extra sleep on the weekends. Sometimes she will stay late on campus using computers and software in the labs for assignments.
She tries to get home for dinner after most class days, but then she has the housework to fit into her schedule and wants to spend as much time as she can with her precocious toddler.
Sometimes everything doesn’t work out as planned. She’s had to bring Kinsley into her classes on some occasions. It’s a little awkward because Kinsley is curious and is walking. She wants mom’s attention during lectures, and while snacks can help keep the toddler busy, McElwain would rather have the help of a short-term sitter. Someone who can take Kinsley to a commons space on campus and out of the classroom. But unfortunately, the babysitter can’t show up to watch her and McElwain has to bring her daughter with her for the whole day.
“The hardest thing is trying to get schoolwork done whenever Kinsley just wants to play,” said McElwain. “Or she just wants to come over and grab my laptop, or she needs a snack, or she needs her diaper changed, or she needs a bath, or she just wants to cry because mommy won’t look at her, she’s just too busy looking at her laptop. That’s my biggest problem.”
McElwain appreciates the support instructors give her. Some of her instructors have been very accepting of her situation. She and Canty share some of the same classes and labs. They’ve both had their daughters in the same classroom at times. During one class, Kinsley quietly explored the computer lab during a lecture as Canty gently rocked his daughter in her car carrier.
The struggles that these new parents manage includes controlled chaos as they juggle their daily schedules. Their work as undergrads pulls at their time and creates tension with their parental responsibilities. If college is a full-time job for most undergrads, then Canty and McElwain are examples of a working mom and working dad. They never have time for themselves. They can’t just hang out in the Tub or decide to sleep in during a class. They are constantly busy as the work to be good parents and full-time students. And Canty and McElwain agree that struggle and stress are part of the journey as young parents, and it’s the desire to be a better parent that adding to their desire to finish their degrees.