My Life as a Student-Mom: A Day in the Hectic Life of a Single Mom in College

As winner of the writer contest, Kelsey L. talks about being a single mom -- with law school dreams -- trying to finish her college degree.

It's hard for me to quantify days exactly. Well, to be more specific, it's often hard to disentangle them, so I can't guarantee this was all from yesterday and not just some collage of caffeine-blurred memories smeared across the past week.

I woke to the beautiful sound of my son's voice babbling into the monitor. Not crying or screaming, not even fussing. So I sat down on the floor beside his crib and asked how his dreams were. He smiled-a big, gummy, dimpled grin. I hope he stays a morning person.

I had to work the lunch shift. Somehow, even though my babysitter wished me a million-dollar tip day, I only walked out with $30. It was completely dead. I spent more in gas and child care this week than I took home in cash. Good thing I get that $3-something an hour on my paycheck-minus taxes. Before I picked up Isaac, I stopped at the library for some good news. I'm not sure yet if I can afford internet at my apartment, so I frequent coffee shops with the logic that I'd need the caffeine anyway, and I brave the library when I'm feeling up to meeting those steely stares if my four-month-old should make a peep. Anyway, the good news is that my end of the private student loan application process is complete! I'm still waiting to hear from the University of Iowa, though, as to whether or not they've accepted it. If they don't do so by tomorrow they will be hearing from me . . . every hour until they either accept it or give me instructions necessary to make it possible. I'm so close to school I can taste it. I miss school.

Fast-forward to when I would text Isaac's father at midnight. He's in Wisconsin, and staying there, and possibly getting laid off, but staying anyway to accept a job that won't give him two days off in a row. So who knows when he'll see Isaac. I know he loves my son, (yes, I said my. It might take two, but it sure only feels like there's one right now) but I can't understand how he can just not sacrifice everything, everything, EVERYTHING for him. Not loving me, I understand. But not loving Isaac unconditionally, or loving him but not enough to center one's life around him: impossible.

Long story short, something strange and potent made me text him. It was something along the lines of "you won't make me fail no matter how difficult you make it for me to go back to school, and graduate and go to law school."

His response: "If you fail, I'll help you."

Like I'd be some damsel in distress; like he'd save me! Notice, he won't help me to not fail. He can't help me aspire to create a better future for his son. But, once I fail to give that wonderful life, then he'll help.

Heaven help me not strangle him when I see him next weekend.

OK, back to the afternoon. After I got Isaac, I checked the mail, but the forms had not yet returned from my employer in Wisconsin. They're due tomorrow or I'll be denied food and child care assistance. Right now I'm living on WIC provided sustenance. For me that means beans, eggs, milk, cheese, and frozen veggies. You get creative fast when ingredients are limited. I'll just apply again for my state assistance, if I get denied, but I hate the way they talk to you when things don't go exactly according to plan. The tone bites like every valid reason is a pathetic excuse, and I'm a sixth grader again who hasn't gotten her homework in on time. I hated sixth grade.

I returned the first disc of season of "The Flight of the Conchords." Hilarious. I can't afford to keep DVD's more than one night. Luckily, Isaac woke me up every other hour the night before, so I watched all six episodes.

On the way home, I parked in a McDonald's parking lot for the free WiFi and checked on my loan again. No change.

By the time we got home it was 8, so I gave Isaac a bath and jammied him up for bed. We snuggled into the couch for his bed time bottle and (for me) the second season of Gilmore Girls for the fourth time this year. I don't buy many forms of entertainment. I don't buy many things at all. Little did I know, sleep was still hours away. Isaac was overstimulated. This was a first for me. I had planned on unpacking more and doing laundry, and now . . . now it was 10:30 and all I could do was pray for sleep. We went for a car ride, but he was still awake. We went for another car ride, and he was out cold. However, twenty minutes after the tricky carseat-crib transfer, he was up again. It was midnight when I got him to go to sleep. That's when the crazy set in and I resented Isaac's father for not wanting to be here, to help us, to take turns when I started to cry alongside my son. That's when I texted him.

Tomorrow I am getting that school to activate my account. Period.

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Comments (22)
I am in your same situation. You aren't alone. I work full time and I had to (for obvious reasons) temporarily stop attending school to financially provide for my daughter, who is now 5. I am the only financially responsible parent so me going to part time work or quitting work is completely out of the question. We also live by ourselves so I am 100% responsible for the rent and utilities. No second income. I must work full time and somehow squeeze in time for class schedules so I can try to attain my Bachelor's sometime in 2018 or 2019. I have stopped and started school many times since my daughter has been born but as hard as life is or hectic and tiring, I am not giving up this time. Time is going by each minute with no known time of when our last breath might be so we have to tell ourselves we can do it.
Posted: September 02, 2016 at 10:41 PM
I don't know how you moms do it.Am 28yrs with a 5 yrs daughter am still trying to figure out a way of coming up with a schedule so I can go back to school ,work full time and take care of my baby.Right now am barely sleeping,I don't qualify for state assistance with childcare.I work night shifts I leave my daughter with a relative who will no longer be available.I just don't know what to do or how to even go about it.i want to go to school full time,work full time,and also get my child taken care of.Anybody in a similar situation?
Posted: January 25, 2016 at 3:43 AM
Kelsey! All of your posts make me smile so big! Your story is relatable to me on a deep and inspiring level. I too am a young single mother in college and working nights as a waitress. Is it hard? Damn right. But your stories make me realize how important it is that I keep trying and keep trekking on. Some days I feel so defeated that I almost quit. But then I read stories like yours and I know that I, like you, am making the right decision for me and my daughter. If you ever start to question yourself I hope you read these comments and see how many cheerleaders you have in your corner. We are all rooting for you!
Posted: October 12, 2015 at 12:01 AM
I am not legally separated from my husband but I still consider myself as a single mom with 2 kids. I am going to college too talking up Bachelor for Special Education. I am working full time and studying full time as well. It's not easy but I am just so happy and blessed that my family is there to support me and take care of my kids. They're in another province and I miss them so much. I only get to see them twice a month. It's so hard not to see them grow everyday for almost a year now but I am making a sacrifice for a long time goal, for me and for my family especially to my kids for us to have a better future.
Posted: May 26, 2014 at 5:00 PM
I'm a single mother in college too! I'm majoring in petr. engineering, and completely empathize with the sleepless nights praying that he'll fall asleep soon so I can at least function the next day. We have to go outside and look at the moon and stars sometimes but at least he calms down enough to fall asleep. For some reason he still wakes up at 730 though so functioning off of 4 hours has become a necessity for me. It's nice to have someone to relate to!

As for the father situation (that we're both in)- you're better off to stop thinking of how much easier it would be if he was there-it just makes it harder for you and baby Isaac. You've been taking care of your baby alone for 4 months now- you're doing can keep going without his father's presence. It get's so much easier as they start talking as well, don't give up. Good luck, I wish you all the best.

-another single mommy in college
Posted: March 28, 2014 at 10:09 PM
Photo of Brittany P.
Brittany P.
I just want to say I know what you are going through. You are truly an amazing and strong woman. It is def hared at times being a single mom but whenever you see your baby smile it just makes everything all better. Stay strong hun! I hope everything works out with your student loans!!!
Posted: October 28, 2011 at 5:54 PM
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Cheri A.
Where there is a Will there is a Way my mother always used to say! She was also a young mother at the age of 14 years old and became a single mother at the age of 21 with a 3 month old, 3 year old and a 5 year old. She was also a waitress and I remember when she made the choice to go back to school to her her GED so that she could start college all her family told her it was impossible to raise three children, work full-time and attend college full-time. But she is amazing and has done it! She is now 34 years old and I am 20 and I think that my mom has been an exceptional role model for I and my brothers. She always seemed so tired but still entered the door with a smile and open arms to show us that she loved us! My mother has provided a path of strength, endurance and had to make the hardest decsions of her life! To give up time with us! But you need to know that now that I am an adult, I can't imagine juggling all three kids, work and school as I can barely do one. My mother has been an inspiration for us and Issac will appreciate everything you have done for him and yourself. I know that balancing everything seems overwhelming, but remember! Where there is a will there is a Way my Momma is proof of that! Keep moving forward your dreams and goals will come true.
Posted: October 28, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Mommy T
I totally agree and understand your comment about not understanding how the father can not sacrifice everything, everything, EVERYTHING for your child. To me, it is so automatic to make those sacrifices -- it's not even a second thought. Just know that many, many married women go through the same thing with a spouse who contributes very little to the care of the kid(s). There are a lot of extremely selfish fathers out there, single and married. To me, that's what it boils down to -- SELFISHNESS. Hang in there and BE ENCOURAGED -- you will make it to the other side of 'through.'
Posted: October 27, 2011 at 11:43 AM
Denise L.
Good on you for continuing your degree despite all the hardships your facing. I oftentimes feel like I'm a single college going mom because my husband somewhat lacks in the taking care of the kids dept. I stay up late to do my homework And don't spend a single minute watching tv. That would be time taken away from doing my homework. Well, I write here while I wait for the bus since I can't really study now. I know what it's like getting up in the middle of the night, but luckily my 1 yr old daughter is just wanting to nurse a couple times and my 2 year old is pretty good about staying in his bed at night. At least I don't have to worry about finances and a decent sitter. I have one who'll work 45 hrs/week. My life may not be as hard as yours but I've got med school ahead for me so we are kinda in the same boat. Good luck!
Posted: October 25, 2011 at 8:06 AM
Mercedes P.
nomatter how hard it gets GOD will always be there for you and hopefully you will be a layer and be able to pay the rent and ext...
Posted: October 06, 2011 at 4:49 PM
Photo of Mikia B.
Mikia B.
OMG this is my life! You just confirmed that I need to keep going, I love your quote, and I may post it on my bathroom mirror "To stop would be to surrender, and I cannot do that". I need that confirmation in my life, I need that reminder every time I'm up at 3 in the morning with a sick child knowing that I have to be awake for work in two hours and after 10 hours of work I have class until 10:30 pm. You go girl, you can do it!!!
Posted: October 06, 2011 at 10:01 AM
Photo of Heidi C.
Heidi C.
"but I can't understand how he can just not sacrifice everything, everything, EVERYTHING for him. Not loving me, I understand. But not loving Isaac unconditionally, or loving him but not enough to center one's life around him: impossible. "

that really hit home. but i have to tell you, i have several friends who are married, have husbands who are with them and shower their kids with attention (and money, and moral assistance to help them succeed instead of coming in after failing) and the women STILL resent their men.

i think it has something to do with readily taking up the responsibility of caring for our child, if you're breastfeeding that will make you more aggressive as well, and the crazy sleep (no-sleep) schedule. fatigue will make a childless person grumpy and resentful.

hang in there. like i said i'm in the same/similar boat, as is obvious by my having opened an upgraded account. and being a single mom. and a phd student. and working. hang in there. you're right, you're son is worth every little bit of it. a little bit of resentment will keep you on your toes, which is what you really do need at the moment.

good luck with everything. i dont know about god or praying or whatever, but i do know that if you have done your best then at least you know you couldnt have done any better. ask for practical help whenever possible. good luck!
Posted: September 28, 2011 at 11:04 PM
Photo of Angel S.
Angel S.
I know it's hard and you're under a lot of stress and pressure. It may not seem like it now but from the rough, undervalued opaqueness of coal, with great pressure, produces the sparkling clear beauty of a diamond highly valued. Realize that you are a diamond in the making.
Posted: September 26, 2011 at 4:23 PM
Shpresa I.
If you realized along what you wrote you have reached your dreams and you know that your story is so expensive that Isac's Father can't buy! It is very sad that a strong young mother like you, and many others have to sacrifice so much,when that baby you have was not created solely. Yet he will grow fast from your love and he will know what you had to go through for his good: Overall I wish you all the best and I am already sure that what made you weak at hard times, could not kill you at good ones. Go for your dreams and feed that huge hope of yours inside!
Posted: September 24, 2011 at 7:47 PM
Photo of Kaitlyn M.
Kaitlyn M.
God is with you . ASK him for help . Don't let those who judge you bring you down .
Posted: September 21, 2011 at 12:34 PM
Photo of Kaitlyn M.
Kaitlyn M.
[keep youre head high . youre the only one that can keep yourself going .]
Posted: September 21, 2011 at 12:32 PM
Photo of Kaitlyn M.
Kaitlyn M.
girl , it doesnt say where youre at . but if youre in the tampa , FL area , id assist with FREE childcare . You shouldnt have to go through all this on your own , but you should surround yourself with good friends . check out my profile if youre in my area . id be more than happy to help you out . :)
Posted: September 21, 2011 at 12:31 PM
Photo of Lupita K.
Lupita K.
Do not ask Issac's father for help, ask GOD !!! HE has been there for you all this time, but HE is waiting for you to talk to HIM. Nobody else can help the way HE can.
You are very brave,and there is nothing wrong with crying at the end of the day, tears help rinsing pain off, to be ready for next day.
I have a 30 year old son, I got pregnant when I was 17, he grew up with a single mother.
Thinking about who I was back then, makes me wish I was at list 1% of the wonderful MOM you are to Issac.
Keep going and never give up on GOD !!!
Posted: September 19, 2011 at 10:54 AM
Photo of Mary-Frances G.
Mary-Frances G.
You will make it.
Posted: September 18, 2011 at 7:43 PM
Photo of Caroline O.
Caroline O.
Kelsey, you're an inspiration to ALL of us young moms working through college with little ones! Keep up everything that you're doing for yourself and for your son. Remember that he's the one man who will be by your side no matter what.
Posted: September 17, 2011 at 1:27 AM
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