College Females as Mothers: Balancing the Roles of Student and Motherhood

Article excerpt

Abstract: As more female college students are involved in sexual relationships their risk of conception increases. However, when pregnancy occurs it is only the woman who bears the burden and risk of the pregnancy and in most cases child care. Female college students who become pregnant are then faced with, not only the risk of the child birth but also the responsibility of their education and childcare. This study describes how the women in situations like this cope with their experiences. In their own words the participants will suggest how they handle their responsibility of school and parenting. Five themes are associated with this study: (a) mother's unconditional love; (b) relationship with the child's father; (c) responsibility for education; (d) family and friends involvement; and (e) the learned lessons. These themes are used as a guide to get an understanding of what the females go through when faced with these responsibilities.

Key Words: Students and Motherhood, College Females

A large and growing literature in the United States suggests that college students engage in sexual intercourse (Abler & Sedlacek, 1989; CDC, 1997). Recent empirical research suggests that approximately 12% to 23% of college female students become pregnant (Elliot & Brantley 1997; Willey, James, Funey, & Jordan-Bel ver, 1997). African Americans represent a large proportion of college students who are sexually active (CDC, 1997). Consequently, for most African American female college students, pregnancy creates crisis situations that require difficult decision-making. The decision of whether to continue the pregnancy and raise the child or terminate the pregnancy is a difficult decision. Probably the greatest challenge facing female college students who find themselves pregnant is finding accessible and acceptable childcare. These two elements are important, but the most immediate concerns are availability and cost of childcare. This means that female students who come from affluent households can continue their education while those from less affluent backgrounds cannot continue.

Research suggests that kinship care is one of the strengths of African American families (Gibson, 2002). More importantly, African American grandmothers frequently take on the role as mothers and therefore become the primary caregiver (Gibson, 2002). Despite the increasing shift in care from mothers to grandmothers, many mothers still play an important role as childcare providers, yet little research has analyzed female college mothers' experiences in their new maternal role as the primary caregiver. It is interesting to note that there is a virtual absence on literature of the experience of first time mothers as full-time college students. The purpose of this study is to describe the college women's experiences as mothers while continuing to go to school. The current research adds more detail to our understanding of college mothers' experiences by describing the mothers' experience as the primary caregiver while pursuing a college degree. The study, however, did not investigate any other problems they may have faced during pregnancy.

A major motivational factor for this research was essentially personal. The first author is a first time mother, the result of an unplanned pregnancy, continuing her college education. Another reason was to examine the way other females have coped with being a full-time mother and a student at the same time. The purpose of this study was to enhance our understanding of mothers' everyday experiences as the primary caregiver and as full-time students in a historically Black university.

LITERATURE REVIEW

The highest percentage of unplanned pregnancies is among the age group 18-24 years, the ages of the majority of college students. Previous research suggests that 46 percent of students who give birth attend college and raise a child (Fallon et al., 1999). Caring for a child is considered a full-time job and may be very stressful on female college students if pregnancy is unplanned. …