This op-ed by Lesley Del Rio, an Ascend Parent Advisor for the Aspen Postsecondary Success for Parents Initiative, was published on April 9, 2020 by Imaginable Futures, an Ascend Network Partner.
Life as we know it has been turned upside down. As a student parent, I am working on my associate degree while being a full-time mom, I knew my responsibilities were delicately balanced, but the recent disruptions to everyday life have shown me just how much instability threatens to topple everything.
As the days of sheltering in place have turned into weeks, I’m now facing months of managing how to work and learn from home while being a full-time mom. Strangely, it’s not the fear of getting sick or the challenges of transitioning my son to remote learning that’s causing me the most stress. It’s the uncertainty. Not knowing how long this will last, what is coming next, or if I am doing enough to prepare—these are the thoughts constantly running through my head.
In many ways, I’m one of the lucky ones. I am able to work from home and my school was online to begin with. My son’s school district began online learning this week. I’m grateful we are still healthy and live in a place where we can enjoy the outdoors. Even still, it has been incredibly difficult to adjust to the new reality and the last few weeks have meant searching for a new sense of balance in my life—shifting my priorities, setting new routines, and establishing new expectations for myself and my son. All while every day brings new questions and new uncertainty.
I know I’m not alone.
There are millions of student parents out there: nearly a quarter of all students who are enrolled in undergraduate are also parents. We are also some of the most impacted by these uncertain times, because we feel the effects on every level: not only are our kids home from school, childcare has been disrupted, the campus resources many of us relied on are less accessible, and we face uncertainty in our employment and economic instability. Even as one of the 25% of student parents who study exclusively online, I have observed the need for continued innovation and greater flexibility around how we all learn.
Largely, student parents exist in an education ecosystem that was not designed with our needs in mind. It’s an ecosystem that often overlooks us or leaves us behind, into which we must find ways to fit ourselves, rather than the system providing the flexibility and accommodations we need. Yet despite this, when we have the chance, we are thriving members of our postsecondary institutions, bringing invaluable perspectives and unique motivations to our classrooms, whether they are in-person or virtual.
The uncertainties we face right now are not necessarily new, but they have reflected, magnified, and exacerbated the barriers we face in our day-to-day lives. As we all come to terms with our new normal and look toward solutions to get us through, I carry with me the hope that we can come out of this situation with solutions that have longer term effects than just alleviating the stressors of the current moment.
If there was one thing I could have right now, more than anything, it would be certainty: to know when this current crisis will end, so I am able to make plans for the meantime, work toward them, and maintain stability in my and my son’s life.
In the absence of this impossibility, I want educational institutions, organizations, businesses and decision-makers to at least consider our voices as they adjust plans for today and the future. I know we can’t meet all needs for everyone, and there are no right or easy answers in the situation we face, but there is comfort, strength, and grace in respect. And the best solutions come about when a mix of voices are heard.
And this shouldn’t just be in times of crisis.
We deserve to have solutions that address the unique needs of student parents now, and solutions designed for us in the long-term. With the right support, student parents can reach our goals, rise, and create progress for our families and communities for generations to come. We deserve that chance—and that begins with hearing us.