Advice and suggestions wanted for a single mother: working, in college, not sleeping, and the hours (and stress) of this are about to blow up in my face. I may implode unless there is some kind of change.
May 23, 2012 6:49 PM   Subscribe

Advice and suggestions wanted for a single mother: working, in college, not sleeping, and the hours (and stress) of this are about to blow up in my face. I may implode unless there is some kind of change.

I'm a 33-year old single mom to a kindergartener. I work 25 hours a week at a job that I don't hate, and I'm a junior in college. I take two classes a semester, both of which have separate lab components (as they all will until I graduate). So really, I'm essentially on campus for four separate classes. I mostly live off my student (all federal thus far) loans since I can't work more hours. As a bio major, my classes are becoming more demanding and requiring more hours of study than physically exist in my day. I'm desperate for suggestions on either how to balance school/parenting/working, or what options I have for not working so that I can get out of school sooner than the currently projected 2015.

My schedule is basically: take daughter to school (25 min away), go to work (25 min from d's school), go straight to campus (40 min from work), go directly to get daughter (30 min from campus) and go home (25 min) to make dinner and regular nighttime kid routines. I really don't spend time with my daughter anymore, and she is beginning to ask why I don't have more time for her. It's heartbreaking, and I miss playing with her and simply existing in our own secret world.

She's gone every other weekend, and the weekends she's home, I'm often forced to find distractions so I can catch up on papers and homework. The only time I get to study during the week is from about 9:30PM-1AM, and the lack of sleep is starting to affect the relationship with my daughter. Something has to give.

Her dad lives far enough away so that he can't help with her. I get ~400/month in child support, which covers only about half of d's tuition/after-care, so I'm financially responsible for all other expenses; money is obviously bad. After this fall, the remainder of my classes are only offered in the morning. I'll be forced to either quit my job or put off school. If I can find a way to not work, I can go to school full time and dedicate myself to studies in a way that I never have been able; I realize this is probably fantasy. Although, I'll owe so much in loans that it feels like it just doesn't matter to rack up more. It's that bad, yes.

Please help with your thoughts on how I can do this. I do get what limited state assistance is available, but there are very few support systems around here for moms who are trying to get out of a welfare rut.

Thank you to anyone who actually read this far.
posted by WanderingTheHill to Education (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Move closer to school - cut out that commute.
posted by Brent Parker at 6:57 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've heard good things about modafinil.
posted by jjjjjjjijjjjjjj at 6:57 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you spoken to your school about this? There may be resources for just this occasion -- supporting single parents who just need a little more help with the juggling.
posted by Etrigan at 7:00 PM on May 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Have you looked into getting a job on campus? If you can get one, and if it pays enough to replace the income from your current job, that would eliminate one leg of your commute. Some on-campus student jobs (e.g. circulation / reception / checker jobs in the library, language labs, or gym) allow you to study while working. More specialized jobs, like assisting in the bio labs, may pay better, though. Ask your professors if they know of any jobs that will come open in the summer session or in the fall.
posted by Orinda at 7:02 PM on May 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Modafinil. Yes, I fantasize about this quite often.

I should have clarified about the driving. From my home, D's school is east, my campus is north and my job is west. I'm actually right in the center of all this.

D is at a new school as of last month, and yes, the driving sucks. But the only other option nearish me (which offers after-care and true Kindergarten, while also accepting my state scholarship) had serious behavioral issues among the children. D was no longer safe there, and this change has improved her mood and her behavior. I can't stress enough how important it is that she stay there.

I recently began recording my lectures and listening to them in the car--this is helpful, but obviously doesn't solve a lot.
posted by WanderingTheHill at 7:08 PM on May 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm desperate for suggestions on either how to balance school/parenting/working, or what options I have for not working so that I can get out of school sooner than the currently projected 2015.

Hmmm. I am just going to spitball a bit based on what I know about barriers and access to higher ed for working adults and parents. None of this might be helpful, but I hope some is.

1. Can you apply for full-time jobs at your college? Those jobs often come with tuition benefits.
2. Do you have two, three, or four semesters left in school? If two, how much would you have to borrow to ninja your way to graduation by May of next year? You would have to look very closely and frugally at your current debt burden, your expected career prospects post-graduation and how much, if at all, your standard of living can be trimmed.
3. Can your daughter's dad help out more financially if not physically until you graduate? It's a net positive for him if his daughter's parent is more financially stable, but obviously that is a very complicated situation and it's not like I think you can just call him up and demand more money.
4. This a complete long shot, but a VERY few schools in the US have dedicated single parent programs. The ones that I've heard of are all listed in this US News article, although, like I said, I don't imagine that those happen to be near where you are and are also more affordable than your current program, esp. considering that you already have three years of credits.
5. This is another wacky long-shot, but would you consider being a live-in caregiver for a person with disabilities? If you could find the right employer- someone who needs assistance at the beginning and end of the day, maybe?- you and your daughter would get room + board, and you would have more time to study. Other non-traditional living arrangements that might take some financial pressure off of you might be living with another single mom and sharing childcare, etc, living with an elderly person, or living on-site as a caretaker/long-term housesitter.

I think it really depends on how much you owe now, how far you are from graduating, and what your career prospects are.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:22 PM on May 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

The morning classes situation is that you will have to quit your job anyway. I would bite the bullet and go full time if it got you out of school faster and into a career. Where I live, your reduced income to go to school full-time would automatically increase your child support, maybe it is true there too?

Is your education a career-track one, meanining, would there be employers willing to hire you and pay for your tuition at one class a semester(delaying graduation, but not as important if you have a good job paying your way).

I've missed a fair amount of my children's lives the past couple of years (full time grad school +full time job). I'm at the end now and my relationship with all my children, including my four year old, is very strong. It was a (difficult) phase, it wasn't the rest of their lives - and the result makes it all worth it. Do you get breaks between semesters to devote to her?

Hang in there. You can do it.
posted by saucysault at 7:44 PM on May 23, 2012

I'm completely, and in a heartfelt way sympathize with you. I'm a single Dad of a two year old, and being torn between spending time with your kid and paying the bills is an almost evil choice to have to make.

There's a few things that are working for me, that may help for you (I know every situation like this is vastly different though).

1. Look Into Working From Home. I know this often sounds like a crazy, impossible, spammy thing but it really can work. When I found out I would be raising a daughter solo I got in touch with various people I worked with over the years, and offered them specific services for a discount. Basically, I only took on work I knew I could complete without having to go anywhere. Mainly pitching, copywriting, strategy and social media. It was slow in the beginning, but now I have a decent client base. Honestly, I make about 1/3 less then I did when I worked full time, in-house, but what I save on sitters more then makes up or it. More importantly, I can take care of, and spend quality time with my daughter each day. Investigate how you can apply your skills freelance at home.

2. Check Out City/State/Local educational programs. This varies from place to place, but after a bunch of research I found two practically free (less then $25 a month) subsidized music and library education programs. Basically, I drop my daughter off three times a week, twice for music once for a library program, which gives me time to work and run errands. She loves the music and reading, gets to meet other kids and learn something. I get a break, and the cost is negligible. There are sponsored programs like this all over the US well worth checking out. I was surprised how many free educational classes were out there, even for very young kids.

3. Barter/Swap. Almost no one in my social circle, that lives nearby, has kids. Mainly through hanging out at the playground, I've met a bunch of other parents with kids that my daughter enjoys playing with. We regularly swap playdate times. It's great. My kiddo loves to see her little friends, and each set of parents has a sitter they can really trust (something about other parents in a similar situation makes them great and trustworthy). When it's my turn to "herd the cats", I use it as a great excuse to take them to the beach, museum or some other out of the ordinary spot. It's almost like a mini co-op. Nothing formal, but it helps a lot and I feel good because I think it's important for kids to play with other kids.

4. Ask for hand me downs on Craigslist. Honestly, I felt weird about this one at first. I'm not a beggar, I've worked everyday of my life and I'm happy and proud to live a life free of dependence on the government and other people. However, there are literally thousands of people with tons of just about brand new clothes/gear/toys that throw that stuff away! I have met so many fantastic folks that were more then happy to hook me up with the really great clothes etc. that their kids have outgrown. I literally have 2 years plus worth of clothes in a closet for my kiddo that people gave to me, and they were happy that would be used as opposed to tossed.

5. The Dolly Parton Imagination Library. This isn't the biggest deal, but Dolly Parton runs this amazing program where they will send any child a free book every month for the first 5 years of their lives. The books are amazing, my daughter loves almost all of them. It's definitely worth checking out. It has made me a huge Dolly fan.

Those are some of the things I do to keep it together. Feel free to send me a MeMail if there is any more info I can help you with. Hang in there!
posted by EvilPRGuy at 7:55 PM on May 23, 2012 [7 favorites]

If you aren't taking summer courses, are you able to in order to spread your classes out?

Are lab sections arranged such that maybe you could take lab on the same day as lecture--basically try to pack your classes into as few days as possible, and use off-day time to work and study. This would cut down on commute time, though classes all day can get rough for sure.

Does your university have any daycare options with maybe discounts for students? If any of your professors have kids maybe you can ask them.

Can you inquire about full-time positions at the university? This would consolidate work and school into one place, and you might get tuition assistance.

I have a job with It has very flexible hours (there is an option where you can log in and just tutor whenever you feel like it) and I'm able to get a little studying done while I'm waiting for students or waiting for students to work out problems. This could bring in a little cash.
posted by Anonymous at 7:57 PM on May 23, 2012

Well, financially, you really have two options:

1. Borrow heavily in order to focus solely on school, and quit your job altogether. The opportunity cost of this option is at least somewhat quantifiable: the amount of money that you will need to borrow + the income you would have received from your job.

2. Quit school, keep your job/get a full time job. The opportunity cost of this option is harder to quantify -- by forgoing (or further delaying) a college degree you are statistically beating yourself up, in that your "long term" future income will likely be considerably less (not to mention that you've just created a glass ceiling for yourself in terms of career advancement).

Really what I'm trying to get at is this: borrowing to focus on school full time will suck, but at least you know what you're getting yourself in to -- you know that it's going to cost X number of dollars.

If you ditch out on school, however, you will never know how much you may lose/be losing by not having a degree.

I am really sorry that you're going through this -- I can't even imagine. But you very much need to be mindful of the long term financial implications here.
posted by lobbyist at 7:58 PM on May 23, 2012

Snarl Furillo's suggestions all sound excellent to me, and are definitely worth considering.

I don't have a child, but I am around your age with more financial commitments than the typical undergrad, and work a similar amount, although (instead of having a kid) I go to school full-time.

My best suggestions for you are:

See if you can find a more convenient job. If you can work closer to campus, you'll gain an hour or two per day from the commute. Obviously you can't disregard money, but time is worth something, so don't forget to consider that. When I was looking for work, I valued a campus job as if it paid 2-3 more dollars per hour than an off-campus job, because the gas money adds up, and campus jobs are often super-flexible with student schedules (so you can disappear for 1.5 hours in the middle of your shift and come back later and they don't care -- and you can do this all on foot, so it doesn't cost you anything). If you can't change your work situation, you can't, but it's worth trying. I actually have found that tiny companies are the easiest places to work, because they are usually pretty willing to be flexible, and actually more likely to pay close to a living wage (at least if you're part-time).

You don't mention what your living situation is, but would you be able to move? If you own, could you cover your mortgage by getting a renter and then get an apartment? Cutting down on the commute is really so key.

Finally, this may seem like a non-helpful suggestion, but... care less about your schoolwork. If you plan to go on to grad school, maybe you need to keep your grades up. If not, then your GPA doesn't really matter much. I've been having a hard time lately, and I just let school slide a bit. I still passed everything, and honestly, that's fine. It's doubtful that any prospective employer will ask me what my GPA was (or ever verify it), so all I really need to do is graduate. If you have a bit of room to slack, maybe that's not the worst thing, if you're spending that time with your child and sleeping so you don't totally lose it. If something has to give, consider whether it can be your grades, a little.
posted by emumimic at 8:00 PM on May 23, 2012

As the single mom of a toddler with a part-time minimum wage on-campus job and an internship, I sympathize so much. Here are some things I've done:

1. Moved back in with my mom. This sucks, and it may not be an option for you at all, but I thought I would throw it out there, in case you have family in town. Alternatively, perhaps you could get a roommate. It sounds like a housing situation closer to the new school might be ideal, and it could save you some cash.

2. Bit the bullet. I'm going to school full-time; I went back last fall as a junior and I should graduate in December. That post-graduation real job (assuming that I get one, which I should) is looking beautiful right about now. I have maxed out my loans, but they do allow you to pay them back based on your income after graduation. To me, this seemed like the best option. I am so poor, and have been for a while, but from where I'm sitting I really believe it will have been worth it.

3. Got a job on campus. This job is amazing, although it pays nearly nothing. I work for a department head. I have an office with a computer and an internet connection, and they mostly leave me alone. Sometimes I answer MS Word-related questions for my boss, or make copies. Once a day I get the mail. I do a lot of studying here, and also some of my (remote!) internship work. It is fantastic.

I'm assuming you've looked into adult scholarships that might be available on your campus - have you? Departmental scholarships? Do you have an adult student center on campus? You might try there as well.

Huge good luck to you. Feel free to MeMail me if you need to vent or talk.
posted by woodvine at 8:53 PM on May 23, 2012

I really don't spend time with my daughter anymore, and she is beginning to ask why I don't have more time for her. It's heartbreaking, and I miss playing with her and simply existing in our own secret world.

I want to touch on this, a little.

I don't have your crazy routine, but I did parent and work two jobs for a long time, so I know what it's like to face those question. My first comment is to be very up-front with her about what you're doing (going to school), why you're doing it, and why it's important.

But also, find a way to carve out rituals between you and her -- play time is important for her development, and it's also important for your sanity. Think hard about your days together, and where you can find time. Breakfast rituals can be great, and bedtime rituals as well. Maybe make it a point to find time to talk each day about what was most important to you that day, and write those things in a big notebook. Maybe agree to have a 'treasure hunt' while you're apart: you need to find four flowers or three pebbles or notice seven different colors, and make her a little checklist to check off her finds. Be sure to leave her notes and photos in her lunch, under her pillow, in secret places so she knows you love her and are thinking of her when you are apart. Most of all, find times each and every day that you dedicate to nothing more than being fully physically and emotionally present with her. For me, when I was working two jobs, our most important times became bedtime (a full hour, including getting ready for bed, stories, and just taking the time to lay in bed together and talk about things) and also a couple of hours very first thing every Saturday morning. Don't discount that time you have together in the car -- that's a perfect time to tell each other stories, go on (visual) scavenger hunts, etc.

On a more concrete level, I'd do my utmost to move closer to her school - a LOT closer, even if it meant everything else was farther away. Moving there will enable you to build connections with the families of her fellow students, and that will be a huge benefit as summer comes on. (Although truthfully it seems like the driving is eating up a lot of your life. I know she loves her school, but finding a way to move you, her, her school, and your work into a 10 mile radius of the university would, I think, be of great benefit to your sanity.)

Given that you are a junior, I do feel like quitting your job is the best option and just trying to get it all over and done with as quickly as possible. Also, don't fail to talk with your professors and your financial aid office. Working on campus may, indeed, be a viable option for you.
posted by anastasiav at 8:58 PM on May 23, 2012

Also--recognize this doesn't have to be a choice between "Quit job, rapidly accumulate more debt" and "Kill myself trying to balance everything." Especially in this economy, you do not want to pack on more debt than you have to and a biology degree is not a sure path to making beaucoup dollars. There are MANY on-campus jobs that have a lot of down-time: office work, manning a stock room desk, receptionist, etc. They do not pay a lot, but offer an opportunity for you to basically get paid to study with bouts of low-key work in between. You may qualify for work-study and this will open up even more opportunities to you.

My university puts a limit on 20 hours of work-study a week--not sure if this is the case for all universities. But that is not much less than what you're working now, and would provide some steady income. You'll probably still need to take on extra loans, but don't let your desire to get everything done make you quit everything and have you end up with an extra $20,000 in private loans or whatever you're thinking of getting.
posted by Anonymous at 9:44 PM on May 23, 2012

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