Single moms jump through hurdles for diploma


Being a single mom in college means balancing assignment deadlines, parenting, and often, full-time work.

Michelle Candelaria, 30, Early Childhood Leadership student and single mother to her eight-year-old daughter knows the challenges that lone parenting adds to the already difficult task of earning a diploma.

“The hardest part is juggling the time,” says Candelaria. On top of parenting and her schooling, she works full-time at Sheridan’s daycare, so time is something she doesn’t have much of.

She says that she takes advantage of every free moment. Even her 15-minute breaks during class to work on assignments.

When she’s not scrambling to keep up with assignments, or working at the daycare, she uses that time to spend with her daughter.

“When I come home and she’s there, I’m not doing anything like homework wise, or school wise. I’m helping her with her homework, getting dinner ready. I’m playing with her, taking her to her tap class, her swimming, her Brownies, whatever it is that she has scheduled for that week, and then when she goes to bed, that’s when I start doing my stuff,” she says. “Every minute counts, and scheduling counts too.”

Candelaria says that she’s constantly working on balancing everything and says that it can take a toll mentally.

“You struggle with feeling guilty because you have to spend so much time working on your studies and it’s taking time away from you interacting with your child,” she says. “Anything that results in that, if my child has behaviours, or something else, I immediately fall back to, ‘Maybe I’m not spending enough time with her because I’m in school.’ ”

Sara Cumming, sociology professor at Sheridan understands the barriers that single mothers face while in post-secondary school.

Not only has she done studies on lone mothers, she did her entire Master’s and PhD as a single mother of two kids.

Michelle Candelaria, Early Childhood Leadership student with her daughter, Lydia. Photo courtesy of Michelle Candelaria.

Michelle Candelaria, Early Childhood Leadership student with her daughter, Lydia. Photo courtesy of Michelle Candelaria.

“Their lives are constructed by way more rules than everybody else. If you have a child, and your child’s in daycare, the time that you’re available to be in school is conditioned upon when the daycare closes, and when it opens,” says Cumming.

She says that faculty should make more of an effort to be sensitive toward this.

“Deadlines can’t always be so rigid. If you have a learning disability for example, we will give all kinds of accommodations, but parenthood isn’t seen as something that needs to be accommodated. When in fact, a lone parent just doesn’t have the same time available, it just is not there.”

Cumming says that the timing of OSAP payments can be another barrier.

“(Loans) come after the semester already starts, which means you’re late in paying for everything,” says Cumming. “Which means sometimes, parking passes are already sold out, you can’t buy your textbooks until a month into the program, so you’re already starting behind.”

Cumming also suggests that single moms use some of the resources that Halton Region has to offer.

Home Suite Hope is a non-profit organization in Oakville that’s there to help struggling single mothers.

“Our ultimate goal is to help single mother families by providing subsidized housing and other components. So that they are able to work on their own goals in order to get sufficient,” says Sharlene Gumbs, senior program manager at Home Suite Hope.

One program at Home Suite Hope has both a subsidized housing component, as well as a college scholarship, to help single mothers pursue a post-secondary education.

“A college diploma is all about employment opportunities, opening doors and getting them those interviews,” says Gumbs. “I also think that a college diploma gives them certain skills that they need in order to be successful in a job, organization, and time management, all of those practical skills that they will need.”

Gumbs says that although single mothers may need help financially, they are more than capable to achieve higher education.

“I would assume that most single moms that are going back to school have already been out of school for a couple years so when they go back, they are pretty committed.”

Cumming agrees. “When you know that you have someone relying on you, and that their future depends upon your success, it really is a motivating factor,” she says. “I would say it’s one of the biggest motivators to get through school.”

She says that it’s important that as students, single mothers talk to their professors.

“I would advise them to talk ahead of time to their professors, and to work out a plan. Some students can wait to do the assignment the night before it’s due but one sick kid in that mother’s life can ruin that mother’s plan. So things really have to be done proactively,” Cumming says.

However, she says that often students don’t come to their professors, or wait until it’s too late.

“They don’t feel comfortable coming to us, which is one of the big issues,” says Cumming. “I think they are afraid that they will be judged morally. There’s a moral judgment of, ‘Why weren’t you able to keep your man?’ ‘Why did your man leave you?’ Or perhaps if you had a child out of wedlock. There is a lot of stigma still attached to lone parenthood.”

Cumming says when she was in school she was lucky to connect with professors who told her that her being a parent could be an asset, instead of a barrier.

“I think more lone parents would be more successful if we had those kinds of role models for them. It just really depends on how much the single mother is willing to divulge about her life.”

Candelaria says that her professors are understanding about her situation.

“As long as you are honest with them, they’re really good. I took classes in the evening, so if I had to be home by a certain time cause my sister wasn’t able to take care of (my daughter) at that time for example, I was able to leave an hour early,” says Candelaria.

“They were very accommodating. They were happy to let me know what I missed if I gave them an email.”