Caroline Hsu leaves the classroom, rubbing the fatigue from her eyes. She’s spent the last hour working on her assignment, following a three-hour class. Now, she’s going to pick up her son, Hannes, from day care.
Hsu climbs the steps and walks up the ramp to the Malaspina Child Care Centre. Children run around the playset, go down the slide, or push toy vehicles through the gravel.
A few of the kids look up. Then, almost in one voice, they call: “Hannes, your mommy’s here!”
One of the boys runs out of the yard. Hsu bends down and wraps her son in a bear hug.
Being a student is tough. Being a student with a child, or more than one child, is even tougher.
Student-parents must balance school, home life, and work. Finding the time for all three can seem impossible. For Hsu, there’s the extra challenge of studying and raising a child in a new country.
But the impossible must be done. Students with children must move at super speed and tap into endless energy in order to get all their tasks done.
They must put on their capes and step into the role of superhero.
Hsu is in the Graduate Preparation (GP) program and will enter the Masters in Business Administration program (MBA) in January. She arrived in June with Hannes, who is almost five. Her husband stayed in China because of his work.
Hsu came to Canada for her son, although she told Hannes that it was for her own studies.
“I tell him that ‘I come to study. You accompany me.’ I don’t want to give him the stress. Also, I don’t want to spoil him,” she said.
Hannes is precocious, with strong English skills thanks to international kindergarten in China. He is close to his mother, often helping her with chores and telling her he loves her. However, transitioning to school in Canada wasn’t easy.
After the first week at daycare, Hannes told Hsu, “Mom, I feel sad. I don’t have any friends.”
“You will,” she said. “Don’t hurry.” That night, she almost cried.
Luckily, Hannes soon made friends at daycare. Instead of asking his mother to pick him up early, he now asks her to let him stay later to play.
Hsu’s biggest worry is that she won’t be able to spend enough time with her son due to her studies. It’s particularly important now, as Hannes grows and adapts to life in Canada.
“The children will grow up very quickly, so [we] should cherish this period,” she said.
Hsu is one of five VIU students whose children are at the on-campus daycare. Another mother, who wished to remain anonymous, had relied on family members for child care at first. However, the transition to the daycare was very smooth for her and her daughter.
“[It] had a lot to do with the great little friendships she continues to develop, a good energy and confidence with our caregivers, and a bright atmosphere,” she said. “I think this makes both my child and me feel very secure and ready in the mornings to immerse ourselves in the rest of our day.”
As a single mother, she has all the responsibilities of being two parents in one. Being a housekeeper and a full-time student, life gets overwhelming pretty quickly.
“There is ebb and flow,” she said. “Some weeks I feel like I am a superhero, and then there have been other weeks I must stay awake until midnight to prepare everything for the next day.”
Another VIU student, Mike Duddy, is considering enrolling his two-year-old son Lincoln at the daycare.
Duddy is a fourth-year Digital Media Studies student, a videographer for The Navigator, and the father of Lincoln and six-year-old Madeleine.
As he can attest, it’s not easy balancing school and family life.
“Children are chaos engines, and I feel like school is designed specifically with your typical student in mind who doesn’t have a whole heck of a lot going on family-wise,” Duddy said.
Luckily, his teachers have been understanding and allow him to attend classes via Zoom when he’s unable to be there in person.
To complicate matters, his wife has started working as a substitute teacher, which means there’s less time for him to catch up on assignments and readings. Duddy also has his time eaten up by videography work and his job delivering newspapers.
So, how do these three parents—Duddy, Hsu, and the anonymous mother—get everything done?
What’s their superpower?
For Duddy, it’s the family calendar, which is extremely helpful when figuring out who is taking care of the children.
“Make time for yourself and make time for your sanity, because school is one of those things that likes to take up all your time,” he said. “If you are a parent, you already know. If you are becoming a parent in school, you need to know that children occupy all of your time.”
Duddy also urges students to go to Financial Aid, so they know their options for student loans and grants. The Canadian government has many grants available for parents, which can considerably ease a student-parent’s financial burden.
The anonymous mother agrees that scheduling is vital.
She recommends several colour-coded calendars: for the home, for school, and for general scheduling. She also advises parents to get things started—papers, laundry, lunches—in a “tornado of multitasking.”
“I feel great about it. Seeing all the work from the ‘tornado superhero’ mode allows me to enjoy the small moments I get to relax because I know how much I just accomplished,” she said.
Hsu’s personal strategy is finishing her assignments as soon as possible and working on them when her son is in day care or asleep. It allows her to spend time with him while also keeping track of schoolwork.
To help with scheduling family time, and to get a head-start on Hannes’ Canadian education, she and Hannes have joined the Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) program. Every week, a Home Visitor comes to teach Hsu activities based on a curriculum, which Hsu then teaches to Hannes through games or reading.
This home instruction has a double purpose as Hannes becomes more familiar with the English language.
Hsu is worried that he’ll forget his mother tongue because she’s the only one he speaks Chinese with. She now does the HIPPY activities in Chinese instead of English, so that he remembers the Chinese words.
But besides keeping his first language, Hsu tries to spend time with Hannes everyday because she’s the only family he has in Canada.
She admits that sometimes she loses her temper with Hannes, especially if he hasn’t slept well and she’s tired. But his acts of love for her make her forget when he’s naughty.
One night, after a difficult day, Hsu told Hannes, “I’m so sorry. Sometimes I’m yelling at you. But in my heart, I’m really thankful you [accompanied] me.”
Even superheroes have bad days. No one can do it all on their own.
Duddy stresses that student-parents should reach out if they’re feeling overwhelmed.
“It’ll often feel like you can’t get everything done, but if you communicate with your professors and you are very honest with yourself, you can get through it all.”