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Teen mom to single parent to college graduate: A journey worth making

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Returning to college with children is never an easy decision. As a parent, our main job is to nurture someone else’s well-being. Finding time to even take a bath alone without little ones knocking on the door is impossible. Finding the time and confidence to return to school as an adult seemed intangible.

I had, over the years, often thought of what life would be like if after high school I had gone away to college. Would I be in a different industry? Would I live in another city? What would my life be like? Of course I wondered if I would have made more money, but because I was a teen parent my life had gone in a different direction and crying about it was useless. So thoughts of college would just fade away and life continued.

By the time I was in my early thirties, I had a family and my responsibilities had multiplied. I would often jokingly tell my coworkers at the end of the day that I was going to what I referred to as “my real full time job”, that of a parent. This is when the hardest yet most rewarding part of my day began. Time was never on my side, and at this point in addition to all of these responsibilities, I was a single parent.

Whether it was that I was ready, or that the opportunity had arisen at the right time, when the chance to finally go back to school came I took it head on. For one, I simply could not be competitive any longer in my industry without a degree, and secondly, I wasn’t sure anymore that the industry I was in was actually what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was hungry for new ideas and experiences. Being passed by for promotions because I didn’t have credentials, and, quite frankly, I just wasn’t experienced. While I have never really believed that a piece of paper defined a person, at this point in my life, I knew it would make things easier. I was ready to work smarter, and not just harder.

My seven-year journey started as a race to finish my BA before my oldest graduated high school. I chose to attend a private women’s college because I was sold on the fact that I was not alone. College in many ways was what exactly as I had expected. There was a great deal of homework, and the readings were endless. For many years, my friends and I would joke that those school text books were the only form of reading that I did. My “real job”, that demanded me to have excellent time management, problem solving skills, and attention to detail….. was suffering. The race that I was in had become somewhat of an obstacle course.

There were, in those early days, many nights where home-cooked meals were replaced with pizza or other forms of fast food. The laundry baskets that I prided myself in always being empty suddenly were always full and overflowing. The hardest part was getting home, only to kiss sleeping angels whose lights had been dimmed, and missing more than one baseball game. But…the time that my family had together became more precious and priceless.

During my time at The Women’s College at University of Denver I learned so much more than philosophy, or how to research. I learned to share ideas, thoughts and most importantly, to question. I had living examples all around me of other women who, like me, were at various points in their own race. Some were in a rush, some were just enjoying a class at a time, but they all were all really enjoying it. I never was alone in my thoughts or feelings of juggling.

We live by example, and while I still am a nurturer, I have also learned to nurture myself. I have entered other races and acquired a Master’s degree this last spring, and in 2012 will begin my PhD.

Returning to college as a “nontraditional” student is not an easy undertaking. Whether it is for career advancement, financial gain, or personal growth the prize is more than a piece of paper, it is a great journey. Work, family, and school all seem to find their time and place. The intangible is waiting.

Guest blogger Elina Martinez is the group’s co-Managing Director of Highlands Mommies. She has a master’s degree in education and is a proud single parent to four children ranging from 2 to 20. Photo

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  • comment avatar Amanda July 21, 2011

    Thanks for this! I am 23 and yet not a single parent, still struggling with life with a 4month old. I tried college after HS and quit because of family tragedy but I’m ready to get on the horse, next step is getting financially stable enough to let someone watch my daughter while I go to school and work pt.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson July 21, 2011

    What a great journey, Elina. As busy as I am, I often wonder how single moms do it. To add seven years of schooling on top of that? Guaranteed, you are an inspiration to your kids!

  • comment avatar Lee July 23, 2011

    Congrats to Elina! I am also a graduate of The Women’s College and will start work on my Masters in September. It’s never too late and absolutely anything is possible!

  • comment avatar Stephanie October 9, 2012

    This is really inspiring. I am a single parent to a beautiful two year old boy. I am currently attending CSUB and it is the hardest thing I have ever done. Being a single mommy and sticking with college is scary and I am grateful to know that it is possible to hang in there. I want the best future for my son and i just hope that I have your will and faith to keep up the hard work. I am also going for my PhD and hopefully, if I still have it in me, my MD. I want to be a therapist. Thank you for sharing your story, it truly gives me hope.

  • comment avatar Rebecca May 13, 2013

    Teen mom to single mom to college student here. I am 36 and a single mother of two, 18 and 10. My youngest is special needs and I found myself working double the hours (some at home) for half the pay in January of this year because my employer knew I needed the job and the flexibility (if you call 60+ hours a week flexibility). When my son was admitted to a special needs school 30 minutes away that required pick up and drop off, I was canned. I was no longer able to be on call 24/7.

    After wallowing in my panic and self-pity for a couple of weeks, I decided to run with the opportunity and enroll in college and I finally found a job close to my son’s school that allowed me to work only when he was in class. I may be pretty close to poverty, but I’m happier and more hopeful than I’ve ever been!

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