Real Stories

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Mary Stanley and her family ~ the reason she got her degree!

My name is Mary Stanley. Up until 3 years ago I was a single mother of 4. I had given up hope that I would ever attend college after I had my twins. Life was busy and often difficult with 3 children at the age of 23. What were supposed to be the most enjoyable baby moments were taken away by working 3 jobs just trying to make ends meet. The only education I had was my high school diploma and the thing we use often “what our parents taught us”. The best job I could find was waiting tables and bartending. I became frustrated that this was me and this was the life I was going to be stuck giving my children. I took a huge step and enrolled in college to pursue my dreams of being involved in law and/or law enforcement. I quit 2 of my jobs so that I could focus more on school. I know you may be thinking shouldn’t you be focusing more on your children. The answer is yes and I was able to do this as well by enrolling in online classes so that I could be the mommy I knew I should. Before I knew it I was enrolling in my bachelors program after receiving a 3.8 GPA in my associates for Criminal Justice. In addition to completing my first college goal to better our lives, I found a better job making more money and in my line of work. My dreams were beginning to come true one step at a time. I found out I was pregnant with my 4th child. I was in what I thought was a magical and life long relationship when everything came crashing down and I found myself single, 3 kids and 1 on the way! When I was 6 months pregnant I received my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a 3.8. With this degree I received a $7.00 an hour raise and moved up to the highest position in the office I work at. I am now married, a paralegal, independent business owner, mother of 4, college graduate who made the decision to take those 5 minutes to enroll in college to become who I am today! I once struggled to pay my electric bill in a 6 month payment arrangement. A college education will change your life. You are capable of become who you want to be and build a better path for your children to follow. It is possible to find your dreams being a single parent.

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Shelly Perkins and her girls ~ the reason she is getting her degree!

I’m a mother.  I’m a married mother of three AND a full-time college student.  Trying to successfully earn my bachelor’s degree and be a good mom has turned out to be one of the most challenging things in my life.  Balancing my time between commuting to the university and being at home with kids has been difficult at times but extremely rewarding.   Studying a variety of university required courses while making sure my children are fed, have clean clothes to wear and spend time with them has been a juggling act, but I have the end in sight.  I know in a few short months, my family will finally see me receive my degree.

My final Women and Gender Studies project has allowed me to meet some other Oklahoma mothers who are also working hard to receive their degree and achieve their dreams.  I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with them and their children while photographing a few images to serve as a record of their journey.  I also have learned a few tips to help other mothers, single or married, in their 20’s or 40’s, who are returning to school.

To be a successful college student and mother, the first thing is to get a support system.  My husband has been a tremendous help in helping me achieve my dream and set a good example for my three daughters.  Our family is not the average nuclear family, after my husband was diagnosed with cancer; he has become a stay-at-home dad.  Once his illness stabilized and he could stay at home alone and help with the children, his military retirement pay with several student loans has afforded me a chance to return to school.  I wanted to improve myself and better take care of my family, especially should I ever become a single parent.

Mothers who want to return to school in addition to having a good support system need to make a commitment to the long journey.  Setting priorities even when other moms are attending Girl Scout functions or basketball games that a mother who is also a student must miss is challenging.  Multitasking my own homework with helping my children with their homework is not always easy but it is doable.   My children have watched me struggle and watched me study.  They know that getting an education is important and attaining a degree is hard work that takes a lot of time.

There are steps a mother can take to relieve some of the stress being a full time non-traditional student can add to a family.  Delegating jobs and other household chores is one way to lessen the burden, also allowing others to give your children rides home, help with child-care and preparing for the next school day are all ways to make the week go by easier.  Setting aside a time to pay bills to meet monthly obligations is important.  Meeting and speaking with instructors can help them know you and your circumstances, especially in large university classes of 100 students, with mostly traditional college students.

Include your family in your college activities and take them to campus with you.  This helps you to remember why you’re doing this and also so they can have a better understanding at what you do each day.  Kids like to know where their mom goes all day while they too are at school.  Also the most important thing, which I have often forgotten, is to take time for you.  Don’t forget who you are and why you want to get your degree.  It’s not just about that final piece of paper; it’s about the journey.