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Parents build their careers, families while attending college

By Eric Heinz
On February 9, 2011

Rachel Bodden left Colorado Springs last year for her first semester at UNC. Her car was filled with pens, paper, clothes and other necessities for college — but she wasn't traveling alone. Bodden's 3-year-old son, Tristan, was also on board.

Bodden, a freshman pre-nursing major, gave birth to her child when she was still in high school. She said school was always a big deal for her, and her pregnancy gave her a boost to become a consistent straight-A student — as a student pursuing a nursing degree, she must maintain a higher than average GPA to stay in the program.  

"I guess having him kind of motivated me," Bodden said. "Before, I was like, ‘Oh, I can take a year off (before college),' and then after I had him, I thought, ‘No, I need to get this done so I can fight for him.'"

As a single mother, Bodden has to compromise with Tristan's father, who lives in Colorado Springs, for visitation rights. Because the father does not have means of transportation, she said the responsibility falls on her to transport her son, making scheduling time for school critical.

It's not an easy task for anyone who has to raise a child while attending a university. But for students who are younger than those who delayed their enrollment — Bodden is 19 years old — the task of maintaining a family can be a lot to handle;  they have not had a chance to focus solely on their children and, sometimes, the time to mature.

Sarah Hite, the coordinator for the Families First hotline, a Denver-based parenting support group, has raised five children of her own. Hite said she refers parents in the area to parenting classes and gives advice. She said it is always hard to balance these things, but parents can't neglect their schedules.

"What is important to remember is that it's harder than you think it's going to be," Hite said. "It takes a lot more maturity than you might think, and it's important for the parents to have the skills to raise a child."

Hite said one thing successful parents do is care for their own health, as well as their child's.

Hite also said being a good role model is essential to any parent, as is establishing guidelines to benefit their child or children. She also said UNC parents need to be respected because studying and raising a family can be daunting.  

"You have to prioritize, and you have to put your child first economically and sometimes cut back on the school to raise the child," Hite said. "You chose to be a parent; you chose to have a child. Parents can no longer be selfish because they are now responsible for someone else's life."

The morning at Bodden's apartment starts like that of  most mothers with a 3-year-old child: Wake up at 7 a.m., breakfast, some cartoons together, finish getting ready and then off to daycare. At the end of her school day, she picks up her son, and life continues. But she said getting into this routine was not easy at first.

"I didn't really manage my time well. I was a big procrastinator," she said. "(Tristan) made me get out of my procrastination and be better at time management, especially when I got to college. The workload is a lot heavier here. And because I was so focused on my son, I thought I could get by with little studying time and just focus on my son."

Currently, Student Senate is trying to reinstitute a nursery for students' children. Salynthia Collier, the director of Student Affairs, said Bishop-Lehr Hall was once used as a daycare. Collier said the project to reinstate the daycare has hit a roadblock, for now, because the insurance rates would have to go up and be specialized in order to hire staff members. She said she has looked at different means for helping students with daycare, but for now, the project is at a standstill.

"The students I do know who have a child need at least a month or two to get all their childcare needs in order," Collier said.

 Planning a career and being able to build one requires a fastidious mindset to keep organized.

Zach Scully, a Career Services Office counselor, said when career counseling with a younger parent, the focus is placed on the kmost prevalent issue in the individual's life. Scully said issues may come up in the conversation regarding how they commute, how much time they devote to course work and many other factors.   

"We would help parents with planning and goal-setting and steps that fit for their situation," he said. "We're very open to meeting with the campus and those who have a need and concern about developing a new resource for help."

Bodden said her initial career path was to become a lawyer, but her experiences from going to the hospital for her pregnancy geared her toward being a neo-natal nurse.

Bodden suggests to students who are pregnant and may be facing the same decisions she did that they use the resources and people around them.

"Support is a big thing, if you have a lot of support," she said. "I understand school is a big thing, and I would encourage parents to go to school and get jobs. But if you don't have the support you need, then I would tell them to make the sacrifice for the child."

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