Catherine’s Journey: Profile on a Student Parent at U of T

(3-minute read)

February 2024

By E. Walczak, Workshops & Programming Assistant, Family Care Office, University of Toronto

The Family Care Office had the privilege of interviewing graduate student Catherine, who is currently enrolled in Women and Gender Studies at Woodsworth College, about her experience as a student parent.  

Question (Q)1: Could you please give us a bit of background about yourself? What is your connection to U of T; where you are at in your learning career?  

I’m Ugandan and I came to Canada… 19 years ago, so I’ve lived in Canada for a while. I came as a refugee and was pregnant with my son at a very young age. I came to U of T through a program called Transitional Year Programme, or TYP, which basically gives a pathway to mostly black, indigenous, other people of color; individuals who don’t have the opportunity to go to high school here– it’s an entry point to the university. I went through the program for one year, then I joined U of T through Woodsworth College and graduated [with my undergraduate degree] last June. Then I got funding for Women and Gender Studies and entered the master’s program. So currently right now I’m doing my master’s program in Women and Gender Studies.   

Q2: Could you please tell me more about your family life and your parenting journey?  

I am a single mom of two. Outside of university I have the job of being a mother, of parenting, so I have [responsibilities] between school, and writing, and parenting. It has been a very challenging journey trying to be a mother, and sometimes you’re a student. It has been quite challenging. I have been so fortunate; my kids are quite understanding knowing that I have to go to school and have to be at the library for long hours. The one thing that really challenges me is the timing of picking up my daughter later, and I have a late lecture or need to go back to do an assignment or go to the library on the weekends. Those are the things that challenge me, but I did it.  

Q3: What successes or challenges have you faced as an individual who is both a parent and a student at U of T? 

Most student parents, the challenges they face are daycare (someone taking care of your child) and the financial part. You’re a full-time student, you work because you have kids, and you have full-time studies. The financial part becomes an issue for us. It was lucky for me because I was an A student, I used to get scholarships from Woodsworth College, which used to fill up those gaps and help my financial burden, but not everyone gets that. Not everyone is going to get a scholarship from a donor, it’s not a story for everyone, just one or two students who might fight a little bit harder. I was an African Alumni Association senior coordinator, within my community I was running community engagements, school engagements, and then being a student and then being a mother. If you asked me today if I enjoyed it? I did what I had to do. 

Q3: What resources has the school provided, if any, that have made you feel that you have support on campus? 

The financial part was a good support for me; I didn’t have a huge financial burden on my shoulders because I used to get really, really generous scholarships from Woodsworth. The writing center is another great resource that I used a lot. The equipped libraries… and the support from my professors and mentors, stuff like that. I appreciate the support I used to get from my professors and TAs. Those were all great resources that allowed me to thrive in my education journey.  

Q4: Do you feel that professors tended to be flexible if you told them that you had family responsibilities and were going to be missing assignments?  

Yes, they were. They were really quite helpful. If I asked for extensions, maybe because my child got sick, and I had to be away for a week to attend to my child, and I had an assignment due… they used to be very understanding and supportive. And then in class I had accessibility services for exams, which was another resource that was really helpful. 

Q5: Has anyone supported you in your learning and parenting journey? If so, who, and how did they support you? 

With my kids, my son is a little bit older than my daughter, so he used to help step in with my daughter and take care of her when [I was] at school. A few friends would step in. I didn’t get so much help from the university when it came to my parenting. I had to find time and be quite flexible. My son was the most helpful for my education journey.  

Q6: What advice do you want to share with post-secondary student parents and/or other students navigating their academics while also balancing their family responsibilities? 

I think, especially, get time to rest. Juggling between parenting and being a student is something that is quite daunting. Taking self-care is very important for mental health. Also, get financial help for daycare—Toronto is very bad sometimes when it comes to subsidized daycare. For a little bit older kids, it becomes quite difficult. You’ll need more financial help—anyone joining the university has to be prepared that it will be costly when it comes to care expenses. And then find the time to juggle between parenting and school. How do you prioritize that, when it comes to your kids and your education? Everybody has to make that decision, what comes first, but to me, it was 100% my kids came first.  

I think time is everything. And then planning and then just being very organized. I planned so well throughout my undergrad what to do first. So, when I know my daughter is at school, I have to use my time to prioritize my school. I used to spend a lot of time in the library, and wouldn’t let myself leave until I had written a page or two because I knew when I went home I wouldn’t be able to focus on productive academic work. You have to give up on other distracting things like social media. I used to use the time at the university mainly for school, schoolwork, or community engagement so that way when I’m home I’m a mother. I didn’t like to do schoolwork at home, unless I had to. My kids knew this too, so like when my bedroom was closed that meant it was Mom’s time for schoolwork—no distractions. 

The University of Toronto’s Family Care Office encourages students to take advantage of our workshops and programming to help engage with community members and experts in the field for balancing family life and academic life. Please visit the family care office website or reach out to family.care@utoronto.ca for further information.