A typical day for a student? Classes, readings, presentations to prepare, revisions to expect. But for those expecting a child at home, this already busy schedule is only the visible face of the daily schedule. “When I get home, I still have to cook dinner, bathe my three-year-old son, play with him so he can spend time with mommy. When he’s in bed, I’m very tired… It’s impossible to add more time to study in the evening, says Larissa, 25, a literature student at the University of Lausanne (UNIL). And luckily, breastfeeding ended before my first year… At the rate of one feed per hour, I would probably have to give it up.»
The publication of the class schedule is closely followed by a young mother who wants to optimize the time spent with her child, even if it means giving up certain interesting subjects in order to adjust the schedule: “Some classes are non-negotiable, but for seminars, the agenda is more flexible. I try to avoid those that start too early and those that end too late. Back to the wall, I’ve already made requests to change the schedule. As soon as the student has free time between two classes, rest is prohibited. “It’s the only time I can get down to business without questioning letting them slip away.”
Thanks to the crèche in Unilo, where her son spends five days a week, Larisa does not have to overload herself with childcare. “Sometimes his grandmother is there, but she still works. The nativity scene is a great relief.” Nevertheless, he recalls with nostalgia the almost happy days of covid, when the courses were held remotely and could be followed later. “I was able to listen to lessons with one ear while taking care of my son, which was extremely convenient and saved me a lot of time,” she sighs. I know it’s complicated to set up for teachers, but ideally I’d like to find this system again.
Extremely rare among under-24s
Larisa is far from the only one who leads this “double life”. The universities of Geneva and Lausanne claim the same proportion: about 5% of all students are parents. A stable trend since at least 2006. On a European scale, Swiss women have one of the last average years of birth of their first child: 31 years. But at a time when studies are getting longer and when professional “bumps” are more frequent, it is not surprising to see parents among students.
“Student parents are usually older people who already have a professional degree and are reorienting themselves. While only 1% of students under the age of 24 have a child, this figure rises to 14% for 25-34 year olds,” explains Carine Carvalho, Head of the Office for Equality at UNIL. Today, universities provide part-time studies. “And there are always possibilities of absence in case of force majeure,” continues the delegate for equality. Previously, we received messages like: “I’m pregnant and in the 4th year I will have to drop my studies…” Thanks to the new scheduling options, these situations have fortunately become less frequent.”
“It’s hard to have a social life”
Even when a part-time job is separated from the desire for as “normal” a course as possible, there remains a strong feeling that you are out of step with your classmates. “We can’t talk about injustice, but of course I’m at a bit of a disadvantage compared to the others,” notes Larisa. I can’t afford to spend as many hours on revision as they do for the exam. As for grades, I need to revise my ambitions down a bit.
Karla, 29 and mother of a 10-year-old boy, worked in sales for a long time before turning to studying psychology. A student at Unilo for two years, she also feels a certain social disconnection. When, after class, her classmates head to a bar to decompress, the young woman rushes home to find her son. “We have very different lives… It happened that my friends were doing revision days all together and I couldn’t be there. I try to keep student social life to a minimum, but it really has to be organized in advance. Even the slightest spontaneous initiative puts me on the sidelines.”
During the exam periods, which are very long, it is increasingly difficult to take on the role of mother. “My son can feel it… Even when I’m with him, I’m mentally absent, completely engrossed in studying,” says Karla. Then, during the holidays, a new puzzle: “I don’t have the same as my son and I’m struggling to find solutions… Unlike nurseries that are open almost all year round for young children, the ones that are educated are harder to keep.”
Higher dropout rate
Larisa and Karla receive a scholarship that saves them from having to work to meet the basic needs of their family. Both want to go to the end of their course, but do not rule out that their ideal overtakes reality. “Even if it’s hard and sometimes you feel underwater, it’s important to do what you love, insists Karla. On the other hand, if I see that I am really exhausted and notice that my son needs my presence more, it is not impossible for me to decide to slow down.
Unfortunately, statistics confirm these fears. “We note that parenthood reduces, overall, by 22% the probability of obtaining the desired degree”, analyzes Jean-François Stassen, scientific manager of the Observatory of Student Life at Unige. “It also emerges from our various surveys that parents of students clearly feel less morally exhausted, but a little more physically exhausted.” Despite the fatigue and prejudices, most of them succeed. In Switzerland, which is very much tied to the linearity of study-course-work-kids, perhaps there is something to revise the codes of good success.
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