Traveler, there is no path, the path must be forged as you walk. – Antonio Machado
Just making it through the week may be a challenge if you are a single mom. You may think it impossible to take another step much less a leap of faith. There is a less taken road that can, however, alter you destination in a positive direction.
College seems like an overwhelming hurdle for many single mothers. If this leap is too much for you, take baby steps. Baby steps in the right direction can make a giant difference in your life. If you think this is the case for you, take another look at the possible results.
Perhaps you will increase your income. Perhaps you will have a better chance for advancement. Perhaps you will simply have a life altering experience.
For me it was all three. When my children were nine, seven, and six years old, I made the decision to return to college. I was a teacher and the only avenue for an increase in salary was to earn a higher-level degree. It seemed like an adventure. Then I looked at the whole road map. The thought of moving three children to another city, locating daycare, and a place to live for three months in the summer, and paying for it all was an overwhelming leap of faith. So I just took one step at a time. The verse in Joshua 3:13-14 came to mind as I faced each hurdle along the way.
“When the priests who are carrying the Ark touch the water with their feet, the river will stop flowing as though held back by a dam…”
Only after they stepped out did the river stop flowing. I knew I had to step out and see if I could meet this challenge.
There were some potholes along the way. I was required to take the Graduate Records Exam, commonly known as the GRE. The last standardized test I had taken was eighteen years before. I had to find three open slots in daycare for three summer months in a city where the openings were few. And I had to find a place to live. I face each challenge as it came. I took baby steps of faith.
I prepared for the GRE with workbooks for that purpose. Even so, it was no easy feat for an “older adult student.” When I received the results I had mixed feelings. I had scored fairly well on all three sections. Unfortunately, they only counted two of the three, and I didn’t quite make the cut for The University of Texas Graduate School. If I chose to continue I’d have to gather letters of recommendation, transcripts, fill out more forms, and meet with the Dean in order to be accepted on probation. Not making the cut was unusual for me and required that I swallow my pride. I could have given up at that point. I could’ve said, “Maybe this isn’t meant to be.” My desire to prove the test wrong was as strong as my desire to achieve something that would change my life. I’m not sure how I expected it to change. The salary increase wasn’t that significant.
I decided to move forward. I humbly asked for letters of recommendation from my superiors, completed the necessary forms, and made another five-hour trip to The University. The meeting with the Dean was a formality. He nodded, signed a paper, and I was accepted. It was my first inkling that determination is a big part of reaching a goal.
I still would have to make arrangements for the care of three children while I was in class. Most openings in the desirable centers were not available just for the summer. Austin friends told me, “Parents pay for spots to hold them even if they aren’t using them in the summer.” The University had an office for ‘returning students’ that gave me a list of 100 childcare centers in the city. They had everything from tiny home-based centers to very large ones. There were centers that focused on horseback riding, computers, sports, and nothing at all. I wasn’t having any luck on the day I finally visited St. Martin’s Lutheran downtown Austin. My thinking was that it would be too expensive and certainly wouldn’t have a decent playground located in the center of the city as it was. I had an appointment with the director and the elderly woman cordially welcomed me and gave me a complete tour. She even introduced me to the cooks in the kitchen. She pointed out that the new playground built among huge oak trees had received a national award and then asked, “May I sign up your children?” Stunned I asked, “You know I have three children?” She said she did and I was able to enroll all three in one of the highest quality daycares in the city.
The last piece in the puzzle was housing. It was too late to qualify for university housing and I lived too far away to do the research needed to locate summer living facilities. Carliss, a lifelong friend lived in Austin, and she began to search for me. Time was running out. I had a deadline for getting any of the down payments for tuition and childcare back. We had posted on bulletin boards in every place Carliss could think of. Shortly before the last week to cancel all applications Carliss called, “I’ve found an apartment that you can sublet. It is in a quaint complex in the Clarksville area of Austin. A young lady lives there and will leave her things. You can lease it for the summer.”
It was going to happen. But how would I manage the day-to-day routine and all the changes for the kids! I wondered.
The shuttle bus system runs like a spider-web across the city and The University campus. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the bus stopped at the corner by the apartment and drove directly to the corner of St. Martin’s Lutheran. I could pick up either of two buses from there and would be taken to the front of the education building where all my classes took place. This was truly amazing considering that The University of Texas in Austin covers 431 acres.
The odds of me figuring all that out and making it happen in my own power are slim. But one baby step at a time taken in faith blazed the trail and prepared the way for me.
After three summers when we were on our final trek home my children put a poster on the back of our station wagon: “Hurray, hurray. We’re happy as can be. Mom just finished at UT.”
Education is something that can never be taken away from you. It is about more than the degree. It is about expanding your reach, being exposed to new ideas, developing self-awareness, and building self-esteem. It is about the journey. Along the way many experience enriching relationships and unexpected doors of opportunity open.
The decision to go is the first step. Here are a few guidelines or baby steps from a tough ole bird with a soft spot for single moms.
- Collect information as you would for a vacation. Selecting the university or community college that is right for you may be as simple as surfing the web. Classes can be taken by correspondence, via Internet, and in distance learning programs.
- Learn about the college, look at maps, and determine the cost. Obtain as much written information as you can, including catalogs from the various schools. If you want to know whether the school’s credits transfer to another institution, always check with the institution that will receive the credits.
- Only rely on what is in writing, not what is told to you orally. Read the enrollment agreement and catalog carefully.
- Prepare a budget. Make sure you clearly understand the total cost of the program, including books, supplies, transportation, and parking fees. Seeking financial assistance is often a deterrent for single moms who wish to go to college. However, there are many sources of aid. Finding them requires effort and research, but the payoff is worth it.
- Envision the experience.
If you cannot possibly go to college at this time, do not lose sight of the future possibility.
Be courageous. Every step will take you to a new destination.
I raised three children as a single mother before I remarried. I have experienced the potholes, pests, and perils of being the single head-of-household. As an educator in regular and special education for twenty years I know a great deal about child development and how to handle kids. I am the founder of SMORE for Women, a nonprofit whose goal is Single Moms, Overjoyed, Rejuvenated, and Empowered. I'm a Certified Professional Coach and my stories have been published in several books and magazines. My book, Living Learning Loving is available on Amazon.