School as a Single Parent

Ever considered going back to school as a single parent? It’s no secret that getting through university can be tricky at the best of times, but add into the mix the trials of single parenthood and ‘tricky’ quickly evolves into seemingly impossible.  But while it may be a concept that at first appears somewhat unthinkable, a surprising number of single parents are making the decision to return to their studies each year.

In Canada, around 25% of babies are born out of wedlock and up to 19% are raised in single parent families. Across the country in general, studying as a single parent is a lot more common than most may realize.  Suffice to say however, when factoring in the academic and economic challenges of returning to student life while at the same time putting every fiber of your being into your child’s upbringing, may seem incredible daunting to most.

Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that if it is something you really want to do as a single parent, it may also be something you absolutely can do.  Along with a wide variety of official channels to explore in terms of advice, support and assistance, there is an extremely sizeable community of single parent students out there with which to get involved and seek encouragement.

Inevitable Obstacles

Statistically speaking, single parent students are more likely to come from lower income households than those of two-parent families.1 They are therefore more likely to work long hours outside their family and educational responsibilities to make ends meet.  These are the kinds of obstacles which must be taken into account and acknowledged realistically so that success can be more assured.  What’s more, it is important not to take for granted that any specific university or learning institution will make allowances for students with dependents in terms of day-to-day flexibility and demands.

This is precisely why the most important decision anyone in such a position will make is that of exactly where to study and in what capacity.  There are of course endless opportunities for part-time and rather more casual studies, which have the potential to be just as beneficial and fulfilling as a fulltime course.

But aside from choosing an institution which is at least sensitive and respectful of the needs of students with dependents, what kind of tips are offered in order to make life easier for parents heading back to school?

1 – Prioritize

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that every hour you dedicate to your studies represents an hour you will have to find from somewhere else.  For example, you might have had your eye on a few home improvements or perhaps a project in the garden, but these are the things you will have to think about when it comes to managing your workload and prioritizing.  Needless to say, it will be the needs and the education of your own children that come first which is why rather than simply hacking away at an already overbooked day to day schedule, it makes sense to plan ahead, identify your priorities and allocate time accordingly.

2 – Talk to Your Kids

Never underestimate the importance of properly talking to your kids about your planned return to the classroom and what it is likely to entail.  For most kids, it can be encouraging and motivating to have a parent who is also studying at the same time they are.  When and where appropriate, little things like scheduling your study sessions and doing your homework at the same time can be a surprisingly enjoyable bonding experience; turning something of a chore into a pleasure.  And of course, depending on the ages of your kids, there’s every chance they may even be able to help you with your work here and there.

3 – Routine

The subjects of organization and prioritization have already been touched upon, but of equal importance is getting yourself and your family into a workable routine.  This basically means knowing where you need to be and what you need to be doing at any given time. To approach any aspect of your life in a haphazard manner is likely to impact both your studies and your family life.

4 – Get Technical

If it has been some time since you were last enrolled in a formal education program, you could do yourself a huge favour by brushing up on your technical skills before heading back to the classroom.  Even if the course you are looking to attend is not strictly a technical course or one with a core focus on technology, it is inevitable that technology will play a huge role in the way the course is operated.  Once again, you might even be able to get your kids to help you.

5 – Single Parent Grants

While they can be rather difficult to get hold of, single parent financial assistance does exist.  The specific terms of applying for and ideally receiving such help varies in accordance with both the institution chosen and the individual, but it is always worth asking your chosen college or university if such assistance is available. See Service Canada, Canada Benefits and CanLearn for more information.

6 – Stay Healthy

Now more than ever, you need to maintain your health at its peak if you have any chance of balancing such challenging goals.  It’s not as if you will have a world of free time available to dedicate to personal training and gym classes, which is why it is so important to look after your health by eating well, sleeping well and making sure you get as much downtime as necessary.

7 – Get Social

Last but not least, while it’s probably fair to say that socializing will be the very last thing on your mind, it could be in your best interest to use every opportunity to expand your existing social network.  It’s worth remembering that you will not be the only person in your position and that the more fellow students you have on your side, the easier your time studying will be.  From lending a helping hand in a variety of ways to collecting notes when you cannot make it to class and so forth, build yourself a small army of friends who just might be able to offer you that essential support you may occasionally need.

1. The Globe & Mail and The Toronto Star