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It’s Complicated: A balancing act of school, work and parenthood

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in a series that explores various issues related to college relationships and how they impact students’ mental health.

Colorado State University is host to a variety of students, all varying in their numerous backgrounds, identities and experiences. Parenthood is one such identity that, while rewarding, comes with a unique set of challenges.


Student parents are a group often overlooked, though they make up a significant percentage of the student population.

According to data collected by the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, 22% of undergraduate students are parents.

Single parenthood, especially, can make seeking an education more difficult, as parents are faced with a completely different set of challenges than students with no parental responsibilities.

“Financial resources for a student may be thin, and so the question (arises) of whether the single parent who is a full-time student is also working to meet financial demands,” said Zeynep Biringen, a professor in the human development and family studies department whose research focuses on parent and child mental health. “Stress is a big predictor of how children are affected, and as his/her stress levels go up, the child or children are more affected.”

Financial stress can affect the entire family, but if a parent can keep a positive “interaction style” and stay emotionally available, especially through times of stress, their child will have a solid foundation, Biringen said.

It is often less stressful for student parents if they have either a positive co-parenting situation or a solid support system, Biringen said.

There’s a lot more to my life than just me going to class and studying. It’s all that plus taking care of two other people.Jonathan Philpott, student parent

A challenge that can be presented to student parents, especially single parents, is “figuring out how to be not just a parent who does the basics, but one who can be emotionally available … if not supported by others,” Biringen said.

Raising a child is a full-time job, and it requires a lot of time and energy, explained Olivia Martinez, president of CSU’s Student Parent Organization, social work major and mother of three.

“You can’t not do the laundry or not do the dishes or not cook dinner or, you know, any of these things when you have other people who depend on you for survival,” Martinez said. “There’s not a lot of room to cut the fat from your schedule. (Student parents) just always have a lot to do.”


Jonathan Philpott, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, has primary custody of his two kids, 12 and 14; goes to school full-time; and works a part-time job. Much of his time is dedicated to his children.

On top of his own studying, Philpott uses a large portion of his schedule to help his kids with their own homework.

“A lot of times, I have to put my homework on hold or my studying on hold just to help (my children) out,” Philpott said. “There’s a lot more to my life than just me going to class and studying. It’s all that plus taking care of two other people.”

Because of the busy schedule of a student parent, however, Biringen says they tend to have more motivation and better focus and study skills.

“We have the best, smartest people on campus in our (Adult Learner and Veteran Services office) and with the student parents,” said Josh Johnson, a psychology major, president of the Student Veteran Organization, senator for the Associated Students of CSU and peer adviser in the ALVS office. “They’re also handling so many more challenges than we’re dealing with on a daily basis.”

Nevertheless, there are unavoidable situations that can cause missed classes, labs or tests, which can have an effect on grades and academic standing.

“I know after talking to other students who are parents, they’ve had kids that are sick,” Philpott said. “An emergency came up with their kids, and they took them to the doctor or something like that, and they missed a test, and they weren’t allowed to make up the test.”

Philpott recently has had to miss a class in order to take his daughter to urgent care.

Referencing another instance where he had to take his son to the ER, Philpott said, “You can plan for everything short of the zombie apocalypse, but … if your kid gets sick,” that becomes the ultimate priority.

Sometimes, he says, there just isn’t time to send an email or make a call to a professor.

“I think there needs to be some resource that can help (student parents) get through some obstacle like (their kid getting sick) just because it is a unique situation, and it’s totally out of our control,” Philpott said.

Biringen says that educators should work with student parents in regards to these situations, as it makes parenting much more difficult if not supported by others.

The Student Parent Organization, a new student-led club, is working to give student parents a sense of community and a support system.

Martinez says the club wants to advocate for policy change, specifically regarding excused absences for student parents.

“We recognize that individuals should not have to choose between their education and raising their children because that’s ultimately the struggle,” said Mikaela Dalton, vice president for the SPO and an HDFS major.

Some other programs for parents, as listed on the ALVS webpage, include Project Self-Sufficiency and Moms Offering Moms Support Club.

Some scholarship opportunities can be found through mediums like WomenGive, which offers postsecondary education scholarships to single mothers, according to the WomenGive scholarship website. Opportunities can also be found through CSU’s Child Care Access Means Parents in School application, which offers financial aid for children of eligible student parents to receive on-campus child care at the Early Childhood Center or Sunshine House, according to the official CCAMPIS website.

“It might be harder, but you know, I still have the same goals as everyone else to graduate and go get a job and all that kind of stuff, so hopefully I’ll graduate and be that much better off for having gone through the challenges that I have,” Philpott said.

Joey Wagner can be reached at or on Twitter @joeyleewagner.

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