The Balancing Act


This blog is adapted from Ariel Ventura Lazo’s remarks on January 25 at the Aspen Forum on Children and Families, which brought together policymakers, parents, practitioners, researchers, and philanthropists to lift up a set of solid ideas for investing in the economic stability and educational success of children and families.

I am a first generation American and a first generation college student. Growing up, I was mainly raised by my mother. I had a step-father, but he was only around to keep a roof over our head. We never had a strong relationship. Not having a strong male figure in my life really affected me. As a kid I was incredibly shy and had low self-esteem. So, when I became a young adult, I promised myself that I would be not only a physical, but also an emotional presence in my kids’ lives. Fast forward to today, I am the father of a 6 year old son and a baby girl who was born only a month ago. I am also a full-time student at Northern Virginia Community College and I work part time at the Adult Careers Pathway Center.

They say persistence is key, and in my journey, that’s absolutely been the foundation of me getting my family ahead. My persistence is constantly tested. Currently, I am interacting with the system to access resources such as SNAP, TANF, local organizations, and food banks. However, I hit a roadblock when I recently reapplied for TANF. When I called their offices to apply, the first woman I spoke to completely shut me down. She told me that because I was employed, I do not qualify. I tried to explain to her that my wife is on maternity leave, and that I am a student who only works part time. She told me I still didn’t qualify. I hung up the phone stuck. I needed TANF to support my family.

The following day I did some research and emailed someone who is higher up than the person I originally spoke too. I found out that I was, in fact, eligible for TANF and I got a new case manager.

Speaking from the perspective of a father, it shouldn’t be that difficult and it shouldn’t be intimidating to apply or look for resources to aide your family. This is something that is incredibly important for people who may not be as informed or educated about the resources available to them.

I often get asked, “What is it like to be a parent in college?” In short, it is very stressful. Before I went to college I had been working full time for five years. Working 60 hours a week while raising a son didn’t leave any time for me to go to school. Doing this I felt really stuck. I knew that if I wanted to make something of myself I had to go back to school. It was like I was stuck in a dead-end. However, my wife and I managed to find a way to make it work.

I enrolled in college and transitioned from working full-time to part-time. While it was great to be in school, working part-time took a dramatic hit on our income. We weren’t making enough money to support our family and we needed help. This is when my wife and I started to look into different government resources. We also had on-campus organizations that helped our family. These various programs really helped our family transition.

My progression as a student-parent was slow, but I managed to succeed my first few semesters. I tried my hardest to make the best out of the situation. However, it can be really hard being a father on a college campus. It was hard for me to find anyone to relate to in such a limited population. I do feel like it’s so important for people like me, fathers and  husbands, to be represented in higher education.

It’s definitely hard trying to coordinate work and school schedules with my wife, keeping our children in mind. It really puts a limit on things. I never have time to do anything outside of work, school, and taking care of my kids.

It’s a slow progression through school but I’m eager to get my degree and get a job so I can be financially empowered for my family and for my kids.