For the past seven years of my daughter’s life, she has bore witness to my life in higher academia – most of which she can’t remember but a lot of which she can. Prior to me having her at the age of 19, I’ve always been a scholar. I took pride in getting all A’s and being involved in everything I could get my hands on when I was in school. When I got caught up in a relationship with my high school sweetheart that carried over into college and got pregnant, honestly, finishing school was never really a concern of mine. I always knew I would finish – I wasn’t sure how long it would take or where I would ultimately receive my degree from – all I knew was my education was not going to stop just because I became a mother a lot sooner than what was preferred.
I got pregnant over winter break of my freshman year at the University of Missouri-Columbia and came home for a year and a half to get support from my parents and other external family members, all the while completing coursework at a local university to keep up with my credits. Although I was grateful for all the hands-on support, I wasn’t content being back at home. I wanted to finish where I started and walk across the stage with the cohort that I came in with. When my daughter was 15-months-old, I made the brave decision to go back to the University of Missouri-Columbia, leaving my strong support system two hours away.
I was a few months shy of turning 21 with a teething toddler and no printed manual on how to be a full-time parent and student without my mom or dad in the other room who were willing and ready to help when I needed. It was all on me and that caused more anxiety than I had prepared for. I took out additional financial aid and got real acquainted with the social services office to apply for foodstamps, TANF, Section 8 and anything else I could use to help me during this financially scarce season. Regardless of the stigma that comes with being “a single mother on welfare,” it was a lifesaver for me and sustained my household for the time that I needed it.
I had moments where things would run smoothly: I found a daycare that worked with my schedule (I had all morning and afternoon classes), her God-mother went to school with me so I had some social support, I was only 2-hours-away so my mom would meet me halfway to get her on some weekends so I could have a break, and I found a community of other student-parents at the university that became emotional support for me.
These moments were always followed by moments of chaos and uncertainty: I would question myself many times on if I made the right decision leaving home, I was still battling postpartum depression stemming from my broken relationship from her father, potty-training was a struggle, I went six months before finding campus employment, I had a few sinus infections that made me immobile and I had to lock her in the room with me with a box of cereal and a tv so she could be occupied while I slept, I got called a part-time parent, put out of class for bringing her, etc.
With my share of both, I persevered. I graduated with my same cohort in December of 2012 and my daughter walked across the stage with me.
Every tear, every moment of uncertainty, it was all worth it. It took great sacrifice. I never perfected effective time management or equal balance between roles. There were seasons that I had to give more to academia and my time with my daughter suffered. There were seasons where I felt I was neglecting her and I would miss class to make up that time. I found what worked for that specific season – what worked for me.
I just recently completed my Masters of Social Work degree program from the top Social Work program right in my hometown – St. Louis. I took the lessons I learned my first go round as a student-parent in undergrad and tweaked it to fit this new season as a graduate-student. I informed all my professors of my role as a parent (who were all supportive), created a Graduate Students w/Children student organization on campus, hosted the school’s very first student-parent awareness week, and won two leadership awards because of my work advocating for student-parents on campus. Just like 2012, she crossed that stage with me again – first student in the history of that school to have their child walk with them.
Am I done with the world of academia, it’s hard to say. I will always be a lifelong learner but I am at a point where I want more of my time to go to parenting. At least I know if I do decide to go back for my Ph.D, I know how to get it done. In the words of Bawse Beyonce: “Strong enough to bear the children, then get back to bi’ness.”
Alana Flowers, MSW, is a recent graduate from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work where she studied Social and Economic Development and the impact of government and corporate interventions in thriving, urban communities. Alana is a St. Louis native who works in college access and advocates for the implementation of interventions for the betterment of Black families and Black communities. She is also the owner of an online thrift/vintage store called Mae’s Closet and a lifestyle blogger/natural hair enthusiast.
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