- Tell your lecturers early. Obviously this only really applies if you get pregnant while you’re a student, but I’ve proved that it happens, so this advice still stands. It can be terrifying, having to tell your lecturers that you’re pregnant – I remember sitting in the office, having asked all three of my lecturers for a meeting, and begging them not to shout at me. They were lovely and so supportive, and have remained supportive throughout pregnancy and having a young baby. I’ll never be able to thank my lecturers enough for the support and understanding they showed me at a time where everything was so frightening.
2. Learn to manage your time. This is something all students could do with learning, really, but it becomes all the more important when you’re a student parent. I know the temptation is that when your child is out or asleep, to have some ‘you’ time and relax, GET YOUR WORK DONE! It’s the only way you’ll manage it without having random strings of nonsense letters turn up in your essays, because your kid has slammed a sticky chubby hand on the keyboard repeatedly when you weren’t looking. Writing essays while your child is awake – not easy, and not advisable!
3. Research your financial situation. Information on benefits is not easily accessible for students, as the government has very little information available for student parents, and the Citizens Advice Bureau were fairly useless (in my area, anyway). I highly recommend going to your actual student finance website (I’m hoping that in a few months time, I’ll be able to put together a handy guide to what you can claim as a student parent. Student finance does offer assistance with childcare, and extra money if you are a student parent (lone parents, or couples where both parents are students, are entitled to even more). You can also get child benefit, child tax credits, and in many cases, housing benefit if needed. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to claim these – remember that you’re doing a great thing in getting your degree, and this is just help to keep you afloat while you’re doing so.
4. Ignore the judgmental people. There will be people who’ll judge you for getting pregnant while at university. There’ll be people who’ll judge you for being a student parent (these same people would also judge you if you dropped out of uni to care for your child). They’ll judge you for using childcare, they’ll judge you for getting extensions on your assignments, they’ll judge you no matter what. The only advice I can give for these people is to ignore them, and be happy in the knowledge that when you finish lectures, you get to go home and cuddle your child.
5. Get involved in university life. This can be easier said than done, when your life outside of uni revolves around parenting, but still try and enjoy a student social life! Whether that means leaving your child with your partner/a babysitter so you can go out for the evening, or whether it means joining a lunchtime society or sports team, it’s important to have a good social network at university.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t be a martyr – you’ll only cause yourself unnecessary stress. If you need an extension, or help with your assignment, or even just a shoulder to cry on, ASK! People want to help, and will do their best for you. It could be the difference between passing and failing uni, and may certainly be the difference between finishing uni with your mental state intact or not.
7. Don’t be a baby bore. Your kid is amazing, and no-one’s going to argue with that – but, rightly or wrongly, people will start to drift away from you if the topic of conversation is 100% baby, 100% of the time, even if it’s the cutest child they’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s important for the sake of your own identity to remember that you are an interesting person in your own right, and your conversations don’t have to be just about nappies and amazing new skills and the cute drawing they made for you last night – it can be about your hobbies and interests too.
8. Don’t be afraid to talk about your baby. This one kind of contradicts the last, but it’s all about moderation. Don’t hide your kids away like they’re a dirty secret. Students seem tough and young and too cool for children, but sometimes even the toughest will melt at an adorable picture, and laugh at a story of what your kid’s gotten up to now. There’s a time and a place for it – figuring out when and where is key.
9. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Shit happens. We all know it! So why, when we don’t hand in an assignment on time, or don’t get as good a grade as we could have done because we were up all night with a teething toddler, do we still act so hard on ourselves? We’d go easy if we were ill, or our computer broke. It’s like there’s a little reasoning process in our heads, that tells us that nobody forced us to have a baby, therefore we deserve no slack for not always being on top form. Newsflash – we do. We’re raising a human at the same time as finishing a degree – not only are we pretty fucking epic, we’re also deserving of a little understanding, empathy and self-worth now and then!
10. Enjoy! Despite everything people will warn you, and all your own preconceptions, student parenthood brings with it a raft of fun and happy moments. Looking back, some of my favourite moments on my course have involved SB. Three of my coursemates were among the first people to visit us in hospital after she was born! She was a major part of my final video project for one module, and had her first ‘taste’ of performance when she was still a little 5 month bump, and I was in Little Shop of Horrors as part of my course. Being a parent hasn’t detracted from my uni experience at all, but it has added to it so much.