Dear Mama: You are Appreciated…and Supported

Dear Mama: You are Appreciated…and Supported

Athina Chartelain

Student Success Coach, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (MCPHS)

On the drive in to work, Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama” song came on the radio. In this song, the artist depicts the experience of his poor single mother of two children on welfare and the challenges they face.

My favorite line?
It’s a struggle everday, gotta roll on
And there’s no way I can pay back
But the plan is to show that I understand
You are appreciated

Ironically, Facebook notified me that a year ago on this date, I posted a picture of my mother and me at my Master’s Graduation. Grinning from ear to ear, I do not even think that Colgate’s marketing and branding team could create a suitable caption to describe the moment.

Mothers. They endure an immeasurable ordeal. From carrying us in their wombs for 9 months (maybe less) to countless hours in the delivery room pushing out their new bundle of joy. Oh but wait, they are not done. They have to balance the duties of motherhood along with other roles whether as a wife/girlfriend and/or career driven woman. Needless to say, a mother is a verb, not a noun.

Students Who Hold The Role of Parent

One role we need to begin (or continue) thinking about in higher education is mothers who are students. Allow me to share an example of an actual conversation that occurred while I was working with a student.

As a Student Success Coach, I primarily work with students on academic probation to create improvement plans to ensure they are taking agency over their education and tapping in to the necessary resources available to them. I was recently meeting with a student on academic probation and our conversation focused on areas she struggled with in the previous semester.

Her issues were nothing out of the ordinary:

  • The professor does not teach in a way that correlates with her learning style
  • She did not know how to study for the exam
  • She struggled with time management and scheduling time to study

BOOM! Student Success Coach Athina to the rescue!

Me: “Okay great. Let’s use a time management grid to gauge how you are spending your time as well as see where you can strategically build in study blocks.”

grab time management worksheet, multicolored highlighters and pens

“Alright, let’s block out the times you have class…great…you have the afternoons free so you should consider utilizing this time to study………”

Student: “Well I work a part time job some afternoons”

Me: “Gotcha. Okay let’s add that to the sheet using the orange highlighter...”

adds to sheet

“Okay we still have some evenings and weekend to work with. How about…..”

Student: “Well I have a 4-year old that I pick up after school, have to feed…..can’t study until he goes to bed because he has so much energy and I am a single mom…..”


Maybe I should have not put on my super cape so quickly.

Supporting Parents Pursuing Higher Education

The Lumina Foundation recently reported that over a quarter (26 percent) of undergraduate college students or 4.8 million students, are raising children. Women make up 71 percent of all student parents, and roughly 2 million students, or 43 percent of the total student parent population, are single mothers.

Moments like these make me wonder:

How are we as higher education professionals or even institutions as a whole supporting students who are also parents?

Time and time again we come across stories of single mothers who are also college students and the challenges of balancing both.

In her article "Young Mothers Balance College and Parenting," Stephanie K. Taylor (2012) depicts the experience of Courtney Webb, a graduate of Oklahoma State University who spent most of her junior and senior year caring for her son Caden.

According to Courtney, "Being a young mother forces you to grow up and mature and to see how the real world is instead of seeing it through the eyes of a naive college student...[and] you have to be a mother, student, daughter, twenty-four seven."

Taylor also highlighted Courtney's schedule, which sounded very familiar to the student I encountered recently in my very own office:

"A typical day starts around 6:30 a.m. She gets herself ready for school and then she gets Caden ready for daycare. After dropping off Caden, Webb is off to her first class… All before before 5 p.m., when Caden gets out of daycare, Webb must also squeeze in time to work out, study, run errands and do homework. After she picks up Caden, she comes home to cook, do laundry, wash dishes, bathe and put Caden to sleep. Then Webb studies into the wee hours of the night, only to wake up and do it all over again the next day."

Courtney's situation and my student encounter demonstrate that students who are parents struggle with time management because studying and taking care of their children, amongst other tasks/duties are two demanding responsibilities that require an enormous amount of time and energy.

Reflecting on this information triggered an *"aha"* moment for me: I have privilege because I was able to have a "traditional" college experience because I did not have the responsibility of being a mom.

With this idea in mind, I pose the question again: How are we as higher education professionals or even institutions as a whole supporting students who are also parents?

For me, I know I can begin to shift how I serve them and provide them with resources to assist in their academic success. For example, when teaching time management to parents who juggle many responsibilities, I can be “creative.” I can suggest that while they are at the laundromat doing laundry, they can sneak in time to read or study. Similarly, I can be flexible with my schedule to meet with them. If the only time they can meet to discuss any issues is at noon and that is when I normally take my lunch, I will eat my lunch earlier or later. Better yet, I can (and will) research what organizations cater to their needs and connect them to better resources.

The wheels in my head are spinning and I have already begun to brainstorm ways to better support students who are parents. I look forward to advocating for student-parents because they too deserve a chance to better themselves in order to be role models for their child/children.

So, I pose the question one final time:

How are we as higher education professionals or even institutions as a whole supporting students who are also parents?

I welcome the opportunity to connect with those who are doing this work. Together, we can identify organizations to partner with and share best practices to better support our students who also hold the crucial role of parent.

About the Author: Athina Chartelain is a Student Success Coach at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (MCPHS University). As a Student Success Coach, she serves domestic and international students through a myriad of academic, personal, financial, and mental health transitions. One of her responsibilities includes meeting with students on academic probation to discuss personalized academic success strategies, including goal setting, time management, study skills and handling stress. Athina holds a B.A. in Communication with a double minor in Education & Hispanic Studies from Hamilton College and an M.S. in Human Development & Family Studies with a concentration in College Student Personnel from the University of Rhode Island. In her spare time, Athina can be found perusing through the clearance rack of her favorite stores, training for a race, attending cultural and art events, or binge watching one of her favorite television shows. Connect with Athina on LinkedIn.

Athina Chartelain

Student Success Coach, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (MCPHS)