Friday, December 15, 2017

Finding the balance: Camosun students who juggle parenting duties tell their stories

November 29, 2017 by Felicia Santarossa, features writer

The stresses of school are well known to any student, and the stresses of parenting are well known to anyone raising kids. My heart threatens to give out just thinking about combining the two, yet some Camosun students manage to do it. A few questions fly through my mind when thinking about students who are also parents: what motivated them to go to school when they have dependents to take care of? Do they have any time-management secrets to share? How do they cope with it all?

We caught up with a few Camosun students who are managing to feed their knowledge and their kids at the same time to find out what makes them tick and how they do what they do. One common thread runs through all their stories: going to post-secondary while raising kids is a monumental balancing act.

IT CAN BE DONE

Having a good schedule can make all the difference. Just ask third-year Nursing student Saundra Fleet. The 23-year-old had her son four months ago and considers herself “very blessed” with her situation—she has help from her in-laws, and, thanks to her class schedule, she has opportunities to spend time as a mom.

“My partner owns his own business [as a DJ], so baby’s back home with daddy and his grandparents while I’m at school,” she says. “Of course, I miss him, but third year is really nice because we’re not in school Monday to Friday for eight or nine hours a day like the first two years are; I’m only gone for about four hours, Monday to Wednesday. Thursdays I have the 12-hour shift and then I have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday off.”

Fleet—who says that parenthood is not a cakewalk—is able to bring her kid to class, but that proves to be a distraction. Not to the other students, but to Fleet.

“He’s actually really good, quite quiet in class, but all I want to do is squish his cheeks and kiss him,” she says. “I’ll leave and think, ‘What did I learn?’”

This story originally appeared in our November 29, 2017 issue.

Fleet made her third-year team leader aware of the situation and requested a specific class schedule; she says all her instructors have been very supportive. Her pregnancy through last year was tough, as she says second-year Nursing is more physically demanding than first year. That being said, she stays positive and keeps considering herself lucky.

“I had a healthy pregnancy, I just stayed focused, I had a really good support system at home, and I had him on July 8, so I had two months to heal before I went back to school,” she says. “Everything just really fell into place for me, but a huge part of it is how supportive Camosun is. I thought I was going to be nervous and it would be outlandish and inappropriate to bring my son to school but everyone’s like, ‘Okay, so when are you bringing him back? Bring him back now.’”

Self-care, however, is something that Fleet finds herself struggling with. She says it can be so easy to push herself too hard while looking after her child; she’s working on homework once he falls asleep, and she’s noticed that she’s been neglecting her partner over the past few months.

“He’s so willing, and so helpful,” she says of her partner. “We don’t really have time for us anymore; it happened so fast. These four months have just flown by, so we’ve sat down and had some really purposeful, meaningful conversations. Try to keep some element of being spontaneous in your life.”

Fleet says that when there’s only one time to do homework, you do it regardless of how tired you are, but she adds that should things go astray, she knows that her student colleagues are there for her. People can be under the impression that having both a career and a baby is impossible, she says, but it is indeed possible.

“As soon as I got pregnant, a lot of my friends, and even some of my family, said, ‘Well, there goes your nursing career.’ I’m just like, ‘Why?’ Having a baby is supposed to be one of the most monumental moments of your life; why is it seen as the end in people’s eyes?” she says. “That’s something that’s kind of misconstrued in our modern-day society. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me; I can’t remember my life before him now.”

SPLIT INTO THREE

Because she works full time and is in school part time, getting a hold of first-year General Arts student Nicole Crevatin is a daunting task. But she has to work hard: after she had her two-year-old daughter, she knew her minimum-wage pay would only be able to cover her child’s daycare. From there, the 23-year-old took Camosun’s Office Administration program, eventually finding a job with the charity Construction Foundation of British Columbia.

“I’m very happy that the work I’ve been able to do is something that’s going to help people, because it was a bit of an internal struggle deciding to pursue school and pursue a job now or be a stay-at-home mom and wait until my daughter went to kindergarten to pursue the career and workforce again,” she says. “So it’s a joy for me to know that it’s worth it. And I may be in debt, and I may not get to spend every hour with my daughter, but knowing that I’m putting food on the table, and I’m paying off the loans that I had, and the work that I’m doing is benefiting thousands of people across the province, it definitely is worth it.”

After Crevatin took part in filming and producing a video for someone in the construction trade, her employers offered to pay for her schooling if she wanted to pursue skills like video production, leading her to take a course on digital technology. She is also taking a course in psychology; she originally wanted to get a psychology degree but had second thoughts.

“I realized it was going to take at least seven years of schooling to get my master’s and do a whole lot with my degree,” she says. “I’ve always been interested in counselling or going into teaching and doing school counselling or something like that, but, after having my daughter, I just decided for something quick to get my foot in the door, somewhere where I wouldn’t be making minimum wage; that’s where I went into office administration.”

It’s no surprise that Crevatin’s duties as a mother, as an employee, and as a student leave a few household chores to pile up; the biggest issue at the moment, she says with a laugh, is “keeping the house in order.”

“I do have a big pile of dishes and laundry that needs to be done, but I find that that’s the stuff I can push aside for the weekend,” she says. “My first priorities are getting my work done, getting my schoolwork done, and making sure that my daughter is fed.”

A SPACE FOR EVERYTHING

Tekala Macsweyn is experienced in the world of post-secondary parenting. With four children ranging in age from seven to 18, the 33-year-old has always been a parent while in college, and was even a parent back in high school. That being said, she says it took an entire year for things to run smoothly, for everyone to have everything they needed when leaving the house in the morning, and for her to find quiet study spaces to do her schoolwork.

“Leaving my children and going to another place isn’t always an option, but with the lack of childcare, you’re forced to get things done with your children at home,” she says. “The most challenging thing was probably to divide the rooms in our house up in a way that there’s a segregated area where we do schoolwork.”

What led Macsweyn—who is majoring in Criminology and Psychology—to Camosun was, in short, her hatred of her former career as an independent broker. While she found it fascinating to learn about selling insurance and investments, ultimately, she felt the career conflicted with her values.

“It was selling things people don’t need to them so that you can make money—not great for feelings of self-worth. You’re basically paid to manipulate people for a living,” she says. “Not a great job.”

Criminology and psychology are “oddly familiar” for Macsweyn, as her mother worked in youth justice for the provincial government in Alberta for 45 years; at home, she would talk about the changing laws regarding how the province dealt with youth, says Macsweyn.

“I was a teenager for a lot of that, and we would discuss it,” she says. “She didn’t really dumb things down for me when I was a kid; she would openly talk about provincial policy and federal policy. It was kind of fantastic and challenging; it’s nice to be challenged about the broader world at home.”

The biggest change in Macsweyn’s relationship with her younger children is that they want her to be available all the time, but now she’s sometimes distracted by her studies. Before she was at Camosun, Macsweyn was immersed in the role of a parent.

“Now that a piece of me is always mulling over something that I’m learning in school, I think they can tell,” she says. “I think they can tell that my focus is divided sometimes, so I imagine that’s been the biggest impact with parenting—the time and the focus.”

AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

Quang Nguyen is in his second year of his post-degree diploma in Human Resources Management and Leadership; he recognizes the enormous difference in experiences as a student now compared to the first time he was getting a post-secondary education. The 48-year-old says that it’s been more than 25 years since he got his first university degree in medicine.

“Like you,” he says, “I was very young and independent and very much enjoyed the student life, nothing to worry about, but now I have many things to be concerned about, with my kids, my job after graduation, my son’s job after graduation, how’s my daughter, her high school and after that—so [there are] many things to worry about.”

After gaining many years of experience working in a medical supply company, the father of two decided to take a break for three reasons: to de-stress from the business world, to gain his diploma in Human Resources Management and Leadership, and to take care of his university-aged son and middle-school-aged daughter. Despite his son being in the Visual Arts program at the University of Victoria, there’s not as much post-secondary father/son bonding going on as one might think.

“We have meals together, we prepare dinner together, we have a part-time job on the weekend together, and we go cycling together—not in the winter, but in the summertime. I try to bond with him by that kind of activity,” he says. “With my daughter, I support her in terms of homework, but most of the time it’s just chatting—and she doesn’t need support in class, she needs support outside the class, like to go shopping to buy something.”

Nguyen says that, after living in Vietnam, he has no concerns about letting his daughter walk to school.

“Because the traffic in Vietnam is very bad, very crowded—lots of people in cars and motorbikes and a lot of people—the traffic on the trip is very dangerous,” he says. “We’d never leave the children to walk on the street, and they either take the school bus or have a parent drive them to school.”

PURSUING WHAT YOU WANT

When I approach first-year Mechanical Engineering student Braeden Parrott and ask if he can spare 20 minutes to be interviewed for this story, he briefly hesitates; he ends up agreeing, but as the interview goes on, I understand why he hesitated. With his wife and eight-month-old son, he is just beginning to go through the roller coaster of parenthood. The full-time student says that Engineering is a pretty intense program, but because his wife Anna is on maternity leave she takes on most of the parental duties.

“The idea of me staying home wasn’t possible because I have to go to school, and, being 39, I don’t have the time to put into it; my time is fairly limited past this,” he says. “I’ve only got 26 useable years before I have to retire, so at 39 years old and five years into a program, I’d be 44 by the time I complete the program [if I stayed home for a year with my son], which puts me a year behind and gives me less time to work, right? In total, the time wasn’t available for me in my life to stop and do that,” he says.

After Anna completed her Business degree and before Braeden started at Camosun, the two spent a couple years working. Braeden was working in fracking, in a job he hated, which is why he decided to go back to school for something he wanted to pursue. At the same time, he says, the couple couldn’t put off having a baby for much longer. But when working in fracking, Braeden was away too often; since he and his wife wanted to have a baby, he knew he had to be closer to home.

“I wanted to have something where I could be a little more centred, not being gone on the road for two weeks at a time, and being a parent at home,” he says. “And then there’s the danger of the job, right? I didn’t want to have a baby and then have the possibility of me getting injured or just dying because I was working in fracking; it was pretty dangerous.”

All of this brought Braeden to Mechanical Engineering. Although being in the program means he’s gone for the majority of the day, he says that the positive is in being able to see his son every day.

“It’s still a trade-off—like, I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I’d like to—but I’m still there,” he says, “where before I would have been gone for those developmental steps. I’m still there every day, even if I don’t get as much time as I’d like every day.”

The Parrotts are looking into putting their son in daycare, which comes with its own struggles. Camosun offers childcare services, but Braeden says that it’s not all that convenient for the couple because Anna would have to be the one taking care of it all, and she’s not a Camosun student.

“We kind of looked into it, but I’m not sure because it would be her, for the most part, having to deal with him,” he says. “It’s not really that convenient. If she was a student, then, yeah, but it would be more convenient to have somewhere that is closer to our place, or close to her work, as she’s basically going to have to be responsible for it, because I just don’t have the time.”

CREATING A HOME

When Deniz Unsal arrived from Istanbul in 2015, school wasn’t even on her mind; she was too worried about making the move comfortable for her 11-year-old son. After putting him in school, she spent the next several months putting down roots and finding a community in her neighbourhood. Today, Unsal is in the Digital Production, Writing and Design program at Camosun.

“Gradually, [my son] is now feeling much more comfortable here, and so I started working a bit and taking this program, but being a student at the college and having a kid is tough in many ways,” she says. “I can’t take all of my courses, for instance; I have to be back at home around 3 when he comes back from school. When I was choosing my classes, if there’s a section that is between the school hours, I’ll take those; if they’re outside his school hours, then I have to take those next year or find another solution.”

Unsal’s previous education is in anthropology, and she teaches Continuing Studies classes at the University of Victoria. Her time spent working in museums developed her skills in creating accessible versions of stories for the public. While she can do academic research and write papers, digital skills are where everything is going, she says.

“I’m kind of used to going and speaking with people [about] their lives, their traditions, so I’m used to that kind of background experience in producing stories that are maybe more popular but also have a depth in it,” she says. “Then I’ll use [digital skills] to disseminate them to the digital platforms, because I have published books and articles, but, well, now that I think about it, I never wrote a blog,” she says with a chuckle. “So, I’m getting used to that kind of platform, because that’s where everything is going right now. I feel like I have to keep updated with the new generations.”

With that in mind, the 45-year-old is enjoying learning these new digital skills and hints that her son is as well. She thinks he too likes the idea of her being a student because of stories she shares regarding the digital world, considering that he’s “super interested in computers” and their applications.

“Now he sees I’m also getting into that area and now he feels like, ‘Oh, actually, Mom is not this old-fashioned mom, but she’s dealing with this cool stuff,’” she says. “I think maybe he’s thinking differently about me now, looking at me differently. I had [Adobe] Illustrator on the computer the other day and he’s like, ‘Whoa, how do you use that? Where do I click?’”

As for the rest of the time, Unsal attempts to balance working on homework, doing housework, and raising her son. She says that it’s getting easier, as he’s more comfortable being in the city and can handle more responsibility on his own. Still, that doesn’t mean time management isn’t a big deal.

“It’s true, you have to time things well. I work a lot at night after he goes to bed, so that’s like my homework time—like, the quizzes I have to do, I do it during that time. During the day, it’s hard, and the weekends are hard too, I must say, because he waits to be entertained and I have to carry him from here to there, like sports or clubs or music or friends and sleepovers and all those things you have to organize,” she says. “It’s like organizing your work for your class, in a way.”

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