Single parents struggle in college

Mengyuan Dong

Molly Miller, a 24-year-old social work sophomore, is now living with her 2-year-old daughter as a single mom. Although her parents help with child care sometimes, Miller said the responsibility is mostly on her.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a mom,” Miller said. “My goal as a parent is to set a good example for her and raise her in a way that she can be successful.”

Miller is one of more than 70 UT student parents with children from 6 weeks old to 5 years old enroll in child care services each academic year at UT’s Child Development Center, said program director Hara Cootes.

Miller said she gets lucky because her daughter can play alone and entertain herself well. However, it’s still a huge challenge switching between the student role and parent role every day.

“I always have to be a parent first, especially when she gets sick,” Miller said. “If she gets sick, she can’t go to school, and then I can’t go to school. And it just makes it hard to keep up in classes if you are missing a lot.” 

It’s common for students with preschool-age children to find it difficult to balance child care and schoolwork, Cootes said. To make meeting the child’s needs easier for those parents, she said reaching out to reliable, high-quality child care and establishing a regular bedtime routine help a lot.

Apart from lacking time for academics, Cootes said single parents often struggle to make ends meet financially. Miller said she has a very small amount of financial support from her family, and most of her money comes from FAFSA or working.

“It’s recommended that low-income parents should become educated on resources that they might be eligible to receive,” Cootes said in an email. “(UTCDC) provides information to parents on accessing these types of services upon request.” 

Miller said she mostly socializes with other single mom friends through her apartment’s program that helps single moms.

“That’s really convenient because there’s no drive time,” Miller said. “If the kids get fussy, we can just go back to our apartments and put them down.”

Haoqing Tian, management information systems junior, said he noticed it can be hard for some single moms to speak out about their experiences and needs.  

“My friend babysat a child last semester whose mom is a 19-year-old student at UT,” Tian said. “We were willing to know what happened and tried to offer help, but the mom said it was just a kind of shame and would be uncomfortable for her to say.”

Tian said he believes all college students need to be well aware of what responsibilities they have before having a child, and it’s also important to make the decision out of one’s free will.

Miller said she’s always understood the responsibility of having a child and going to school at the same time, and she enjoys having the connection with her daughter.

“It’s kind of fun having both of us learning new exciting things at the same time,” Miller said. “For her, new exciting things are like she knows all of her colors now. And for me, it might be some theory on social justice.”