The juggle is real: studying full-time as a single parent

12 Sep 2022
Being a student and a parent is not for the faint of heart, according to Claudia Wilson.  
The postgraduate student is completing her Advanced Masters of Applied Anthropology and Development at The Australian National University (ANU) while living off-grid and homeschooling her two young children as a single parent.
Her home in Queanbeayan, which runs entirely on solar energy, is in a mobile reception black spot and has no wifi, but Wilson has still found a way to study full-time without setting foot on campus. 
"This has been a new experience for me," she admits. "But I'm no stranger to discomfort or making sacrifices. I've had to be creative with how I use my time."  
Although ANU has largely returned to on-campus study, Wilson says it is the availability of remote learning that has made pursuing her passion for anthropology possible.  
"All the classes I wanted to do have had online options, but realistically it would have been very difficult for me to study if that was not an option."  
The lack of Internet at home means Wilson and her children Felix and Téa spend a lot of time out and about during semester.  
"The kids are with me along for the ride in everything that I do," Wilson says. "We have to find places that have reception, where I can comfortably be in a Zoom meeting for up to three hours." 
On sunny days, they venture out to parks in and around Canberra. The Fadden Pines playground is a particular favourite. The kids take advantage of the play equipment, the bubblers and the convenience of the public bathrooms while their mum participates in tutorials and downloads lectures and other study material so she can access it at home. 
When the weather is miserable, the family moves indoors - on one memorable occasion, they found themselves at an indoor trampoline park.  
While Wilson loves living the kind of bohemian lifestyle that enables the family to travel  - they've recently spent time in Adelaide and on the Gold Coast - she admits the realities of balancing parenting with her academic ambitions can be difficult.  
"It's tough, but sometimes you just have to miss a class or take a five per cent late penalty to be able to cater to family as well."  
In addition to completing her degree, Wilson wants to make life easier for other parents undertaking study at ANU. She is campaigning to be elected to the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA) and is standing for the role of Parents and Carers Officer. 
"Being a student and a parent means you face a whole extra set of challenges - this is a demographic that deserves nothing but the highest respect for everything they've done to be where they are today," Wilson says.  
Having finished the final essays of her undergraduate degree at indoor play centres, Wilson would love if parents studying on campus could access a similar service.  
"I'm already in conversation with PARSA about supporting an amazing initiative to facilitate supervised study time on campus with children, and it's a project I feel I can contribute to if I'm elected." 
Her advice for other student parents is to get creative and prepare for some initial discomfort.  
"It can help to brainstorm different strategies that might work for you as a student and for your children," she says. "Ultimately, a semester is such a short period of time to tough it out. Think about ways you can organise your day, your routine and your sleep schedule." 
Story by Amanda Diaz.