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Freshers’ week

Single parenthood and nurse training: do they mix?


Caroline was a single mum of two little boys and a baby daughter before she started her nursing course. She wants others in her position to understand the realities of starting again as a student nurse.

I was living in a council house on income support when I started my course, wanting to find a way to give my children a better future. I wanted them to go into education and have opportunities and I didn’t want them to end up like me. So I put on hold the most important thing in my world, my time with them, and I started to study. I really have enjoyed it, but being a mother has meant I also have to deal with the guilt of juggling family life with studying.

The past few years have gone quickly but have taken so much from us all. My boys have autism, so find my working shifts exceptionally difficult to cope with. I have little energy, few friends outside of the course, and a lot of washing to do. My whole life revolves around assignments, placements and exams, and it can be a very lonely experience. But the university is supportive, and the staff are always prepared to help - you just have to ask.

I think any student nurse will understand when I say that we fit in nowhere. It is difficult to be working on a ward where all the staff are permanent and we come and go like ships in the night. And then back at school, you revel in seeing your cohort friends, but they too have the commitments of family and part-time work.

As a single parent, you face opposition from people who think you should stay at home to care for the children you made – a view I feel is now modelled by the government, despite them telling us the opposite a few years ago. Other parents in work tend to respect you for trying, but you are still not quite one of them while you are still a student nurse. It is a case of being trapped between the two worlds, between social classes with too much knowledge for one but not enough for the other. It is a long, hard struggle.

I am writing this as a third year student, starting the last lap of the course. I am on the home straight. My children have become people who I can talk to and who can talk back. My daughter starts school soon and I look back to when she was a baby and my sons were little boys. I have missed a lot of their experiences, I have missed school events and thought about them on placement when they are walking to school in the rain. I find the winter nights hardest, when I have to pick them up from the childminder when they really should have been in bed a long time ago.

I often wonder if I am doing the right thing. After all, I will never get back the time I am missing.

But I tell myself that all good things require sacrifice. The time I have missed will indirectly improve their work ethic, their exam results and their employment prospects. By making sacrifices now, the future can be better for us all.

Life is hard for any single parent. And to anyone who is considering nursing, I will be truthful: it is exceptionally difficult on you all and you must be prepared for a real slog. But it is a slog that is worth it, which will be driven by a passion for good care and will result in children who know what hard work means.

If I could go back three years, I would still choose to become a nurse. I won’t mention how messy the house will get though.. That you will find out yourself!


Caroline Estrella is a third year adult branch student at Nottingham University


Readers' comments (2)

  • I completely agree with Caroline in her statement.I was on a part time access course for two years, working in the day, college at night, finding that time with my children was hugely sacrificed. My children were always late going to bed after I had finished college, then I'd start studying,sometimes without even having time to read a bedtime story to my three year old. I was feeling extremely guilty about this being a single parent as my children only have me, and the thought of this carrying on while I went to University for 3 years, deeply concerned me, so much so I decided I would call it a day. Meanwhile I got a job in a hospital, hoping I could train within the hospital although I realise I won't get to be a staff nurse, which I am gutted about but I had to do what I felt was right for my children and right now, I feel it was the right decision. I feel for Caroline as far as lost time with her children are concerned but to give up now, on her third year, would be so wrong.

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  • People don't understand how hard it is for single parents studying for a degree in nursing. I become a single parent before returning to uni from maternity leave, yet at times it's almost like 'well you chose to have a baby'.
    I am exhausted, emotional, fed up. The work load is so heavy and its difficult to find or make time to do my assignments and revision let alone reflection when I'm so tired from placement.
    I miss my daughter although we live in the same house, it feels like I haven't seen her for days, weeks.
    Some people I have met during placement have been rude and not supportive. Someone suggested going to Social Services for help with childcare for night shifts.
    The thing that really winds me up is how on placement I have been asked by my colleagues if I'm still with the father and if he see's my child (usually before I know them).

    It's so much harder than I had ever anticipated. I have however had brilliant support from my university lecturers and tutors

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