A day in the life of a student parent

From escaping domestic violence, to creating a secure life for her daughter & going on to study for a Master's degree, Jessica Morris is a parenting inspiration. And she's only 22.

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Hello readers. I’m Jess, the student journalist who has recently been working behind the scenes for Cat at The Freelance Parent

Cat has kindly let me take the reins on this week’s newsletter to share my experience as a student parent, and tell you a little about what life has been like for me before and during the pandemic. 

Becoming a parent is life-altering to say the least. For me, as an 18-year-old first year student with big dreams, the prospect of it was downright bewildering. I found out that I was accidentally going to become a mother halfway through my first year at uni. I saw the two lines on the pregnancy test just two weeks before I was supposed to be booking my accommodation to study in Paris the following year. Dreams= dashed (at least, that’s what it felt like at the time).

What made this harder was that I was also facing domestic abuse by my then-boyfriend. It had been going on for two years, since my final year of A-Level studies. When I found out that I was having his child, I hoped things would change. They didn’t. They just got worse. 

But when my daughter was born, I knew something had to change. So when she was 10 weeks old, on White Ribbon day, no less, I somehow managed to wrangle up enough courage and postpartum strength to get us out of that situation. 

Of course, a whole mess of madness followed including around a dozen trips to court, months of antidepressants, and counselling sessions. But all in all, I got through it. After a transfer to a university closer to my family home (which I had to move back into), a course change, and with a lot of support from my family and friends, I went on to get a first-class degree. I’m now studying for my second degree, an MA in Journalism. Most importantly, I now have an amazing, vibrant, and smart three-year-old daughter.

Over the past few years, like many of you, I've become somewhat of a master at balancing my family life with work. I admit some days it still feels like an uphill struggle, in which I have no idea if I’m doing anything ‘right’. 

I worked as a waitress in the first year of my daughter's life and filled the rest of my time with baby massage, playgroups, messy plays, and baby sensory sessions. Since becoming a survivor, I'm the type of person who has to have a full schedule: a habit that has definitely become part of my parenting style too (poor thing). Despite what I went through, I loved the time I got to spend with my daughter in that year. 

I returned to being a full-time student, straight into my second year, just after my daughter's first birthday. I was extremely lucky to be surrounded by dozens of my dearest family and friends - small town life has its perks - who were more than happy to babysit while I studied. When she turned two, and I began my final year of studies, I made use of the government’s Childcare Grant and enrolled her into her lovely childminders for a few hours a week. Until the pandemic, this worked well for us. 

When the first lockdown was announced back in March 2020, my dissertation was due just four weeks later, along with other assignments and remote exams that I was to sit at home. Thank goodness I live with my mum who helped me with childcare on her days off from work as a key healthcare worker. If she hadn’t, I simply wouldn’t have done as well as I did, or managed it at all. Both her home and work environments must have been so exhausting at that time. She really is my hero. 

I planned to waitress again last summer to keep my income steady, but of course that plan was sunk by the pandemic. After failing at numerous job applications, luckily my alma mater was running a paid internship programme. I managed to secure a month's work as a PR and communications officer which really was a dream come true, as it gave me valuable experience as well as an income. By this time, childcare had thankfully opened back up to those of us who were not key workers.

I started my master’s studies at the end of October, but this was still mostly online. I’ve been winging the student-parent-pandemic balance ever since. Somehow, I’ve managed to complete some great work experience with Cat (the author of this amazing newsletter), secured a couple of work experiences at news organisations for early this year, and I'm on the right track with my studies. 

This past year is the first time I've experienced discrimination as a parent. There is no childcare grant for postgraduate students, childcare itself has been rocky since the start of the pandemic, and the ‘childcare bubble’ rule came late in the day.  Without my grant from the NCTJ’s Journalism Diversity Fund, I wouldn’t have been able to afford the childcare I needed to allow me to do the course. It has been challenging to say the least. 

If someone would have told me we would still be living under restrictions almost a year on from the start of this thing, I wouldn’t have believed them. But I’ve been through worse and I'll get through this. I’m grateful that my loved ones are safe and healthy. Although it hasn’t been The Year of The Student Parent, most of the time, I still feel extremely lucky. 

The new year may not have got off to the best start, but let’s manifest amazing things for the following months. My main hopes for 2021 include: getting a decent grade in my MA and NCTJ, getting a great job in summer when my studies are complete, moving into my partner and I’s new home, and successfully settling my daughter into a new childminder and nursery (pray for me on that one). I also really hope I get to hug my grandparents.

Thank you so much for reading.

Jess x

Follow Jess on Twitter and find more of her work at jessmorrisportfolio.com.

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Until next time…