It happened one day near in the summer of 2013, when I could no longer ignore the desire to finish my Psychology degree. For the last two years, I had been a stay-at-home mom of my three children. I had wanted to be a mom so badly, and it when it didn’t happen the way I had originally planned, my husband and I decided to become foster parents. In 2013 we had twelve and seven year old boys, and a four year old girl. The first year we were parents was incredibly challenging; establishing routines, boundaries, and showing them what unconditional love looks like took up our entire day. Then all of a sudden, we became a happy, loving, and (very adorable) family. Everyone had their own identities with sports, extra-curricular activities, friends, and school work, and I found myself being less needed. Somewhere between transporting kids between hockey practices and play dates, I found myself wanting more.
September 2013 was a very challenging time for me. Returning to university meant not being there two days a week when my kids came home from school, not baking cookies or yummy desserts as often, and trying to squeeze in my homework whenever I could. By far the most challenging experience I faced as a student and as a mom was the guilt. I felt guilty when I knew the kids would be home, but I was in class. I felt bad when I couldn’t be all things to everyone. I look back (fondly now) on one day in particular when I was so busy with exams, I forgot it was my daughter’s day to bring a snack to school for the entire class. After one frantic phone call, and an overwhelming trip to the grocery store, I provided one poorly put-together snack, and cried all the way home. To avoid these crises in the future, I tried to do as much schoolwork as possible at the most convenient times. As a result, I became very good at reading in challenging places, like busy hockey arenas or dance class hallways, in the car waiting to pick someone up, and on the bus. I will even admit to reading my daughter my textbooks as bedtime stories: I remember that she would tiredly look up at the pictures of the brain. It always put her to sleep!
As I moved from second year into third, I began to feel incredibly stressed. For some reason, I had this idea in my head that because I was a mom, I had this extra burden of proving myself worthy of having the opportunity to be a student again. Getting straight As was somehow mandatory in my brain, which only added increased stress at home. Some people have told me that they do not know how I did it–how I was able to be a mom and a successful student. To be honest, I know I couldn’t do it without my kids and my incredibly supportive husband. They were my cheerleaders, my supports, my smile at the end of the day, my drive, my strength. I remember one time in particular I was having a hard time with the infamously dreaded year-long honours statistics course, and my youngest son drew me a picture of me getting an A. He said, “I know this will cheer you up!”
During my last year in school, because of my family life, I was inspired to do my thesis research on intensive (helicopter) parenting, and the stress/shame/guilt that parents (moms in particular) face when wanting (or having) to do anything other than stay at home and spend all possible time with our children. My thesis was like a form of therapy for me, because after doing so much research, I knew I was not alone. It was perfect timing, because during this time, my husband and I were incredibly lucky to welcome our fourth child (and now third son) into our home.
I hope to continue this research in graduate school to help moms feel confident, worthy, and justified in their decisions, such as going back to school. I know my education has helped me become a better parent, and it has helped my children become more independent. It will also provide them with a brighter future. But most of all, having them watch me walk across that stage to get my cherished degree shows them that dreams come true, and that success is not easy.
To all the moms and dads out there who are also students, congratulations and good luck to you, and just like all your fellow classmates, you too are worthy of this experience.
Commencing in December 2016, this website will be launching a new series of posts entitled STUDY. The name for this series incorporates the multiplicitous denotations of the word, “study.”
STUDY will feature photographs of and interviews with Psychology Department students, faculty members, contract faculty members, lab instructors, research associates, and alumni. The intention of STUDY is to provide a glimpse into the university lives of the diverse individuals in the Department—from serious questions (what are their vocational goals, research interests, current challenges, recent achievements?) to the more mundane (what are their caffeinated beverage of choice when studying?; where are their favourite places to eat/study/relax on campus?). STUDY aims to connect the many individuals who one sees on a daily basis in the Department with each other and with the broader community of readers of this website. To quote E.M. Forster, “Only connect”: this is the ultimate purpose of the STUDY series—to transcend (if only for a brief glimpse into someone’s life) the limitations of the web and internet for a moment of connection.
STUDY is inspired by the popular blog, Humans of New York (HONY): http://www.humansofnewyork.com/about
I sincerely hope that you will enjoy learning about the people who work, study, and research in the Department of Psychology at UWinnipeg.
–Carolynn Smallwood, Department Assistant, Psychology