Diaper changes, babysitting, zoom classes

SPU student parents juggle family responsibilities, classes at home

Angela Ide, Opinions Editor

a woman with two young children
Erin Scharf with her two children, Brianna (left) and Ellie (right) (Photo courtesy of Erin Scharf)

With her final year coming to an end, Erin Scharf has taken on yet another challenge as a single mother, finishing up a Bachelor’s in Sociology and raising two girls. As she signs onto her lectures and Zoom class sessions begin her mind is often divided between her education and her children.

Scharf’s brother watches Ellie, her one-year-old, in the other room, as Brianna, her three-year-old, colors at Scharf’s feet while she watches her lecture and scribbles notes. As difficult as this situation always is, she is trying to be present for her kids while working towards their future.

It is a constant struggle to make sure she is able to provide for her kids’ future while still supporting them in the present.

“It’s become more of a juggling act to figure out a time to study,” Scharf said in a phone interview.

This is a new normal for Scharf and many other parents working towards degrees since classes went fully online at the start of this quarter. With classrooms closed and an inability to physically meet on campus, Schraf’s home in Maple Leaf, a small town 10 minutes south of Seattle, has become a dual-service study hall and daycare overnight.

Instead of having the ability to spend her time between classes studying in the Library or in Weter Hall while her parents watch the kids, Scharf now sneaks to her study spot in hopes of keeping her school life separate.

Scharf explained the difficulty of finding the space to do work, especially when her kids are with her and she wants to be with them.

“I’ll tell you, it’s super distracting and hard when my one-year-old is up against my bedroom door and hitting on it, and she just learned how to say ‘Momma,’ so she hits on it and goes ‘Momma!’”

But Brianna and Ellie are also what keeps Scharf going and working towards her degree even though it is hard.

“I decided to go back to school because I realized I’m going to be a single mom, I need to provide for them, and this is the best way I can set up a good life for them,”  Scharf said.

Judith Ndiwane is another mom in Kent, Washington, working to put her children’s future first while she finishes working through the SPU nursing program this December. She is celebrating her graduation this June. Ndiwane’s two kids, ages twelve and eleven, are going through the same struggles of maintaining class Zoom schedules and turning their home into study spaces.

For Ndiwane and her household, the hardest part of school right now is that she has suddenly been thrown into the role of teacher.

“There’s bonding, but they need to learn, I need to teach them,” she said in a phone interview.

On top of working on-call for as many hours as she can, and her husband working full-time, it is hard for Ndiwane to keep her kids stimulated.

“They are physically bored,” she said.

As much as she and her family try to take walks, watch movies together and work on school work together, the interaction of a classroom and the activities done at school which have helped grab her kids’ attention are no longer an option.

But what both mothers expressed most clearly was thankfulness for the flexibility of their professors under these circumstances and the time they do get to spend with their kids.

“I do get more time with them,” Scharf said. “I get to be more involved with their day, in some aspects.”

“But the bonding helps,” Ndiwane shared.  “If I was going to school, I was going to be out there most of the time, I’d come home from and I’d be tired. I can’t spend time with them … It’s good and it’s bad.”