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The Main Challenges Student Mothers Experience to Manage Their Dual Roles

  • University of Namibia and University of Fort Hare, East London, South Africa


This qualitative research draws on phenomenological experiences of five single student mothers studying at one of the campuses of the University of Namibia. Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect data. Data was analyzed thematically. Results show that the main common challenge among the participating student mothers is the lack of time to manage studying and parenting roles. Other challenges student mothers experience include being angry, loneliness, restless and skipping lectures. Recommendations include the need for support group on campus to alleviate isolation and some stress associated with playing in both studying and parenting roles. International Journal of Advances in Psychology (IJAP) Volume 3 Issue 3, August 2014
doi: 10.14355/ijap.2014.0303.04
The Main Challenges Student Mothers
Experience to Manage Their Dual Roles
Simon Taukeni
University of Namibia Department of Educational Psychology and Inclusive Education, Namibia
Received Mar 24, 2014; Accepted May 16, 2014; Published Jun 18, 2014
© 2014 Science and Engineering Publishing Company
This qualitative research draws on phenomenological
experiences of five single student mothers studying at
Hifikepunye Pohamba campus of the University of Namibia.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect data.
The data was analysed thematically. Results show that the
main common challenge among the participating student
mothers is the lack of time to manage studying and
parenting roles. Other challenges include: being angry,
loneliness, drowsy, restless, skipping lectures, failing some
modules and failing to write the first opportunity
examination. Recommendations include the need for
student mothers support group on campus to alleviate
isolation and some stress associated with playing in both
studying and parenting roles.
Mothers; Challenges; Studying; Lack of Time; Dual Roles
The enrolment of female students at tertiary
institutions in Namibia has been reported to be higher
after the country’s independence in 1990. This
predominantly consists of mothers returning to school
or starting the university late, there are also growing
numbers of student mothers who gave birth either in
high school or during their studies (Ricco & McCollum
cited in Ricco, McCollum & Schuyten, 2003). However,
this study only focused on single student who became
mothers during their study at the University of
Namibia. Before the country’s independence in 1990,
there were many barriers that prevented mothers and
girl child from being educated. Among those barriers
was the teenager pregnancy where majority of female
students could not continue their education due to
teenager pregnancy. In 2001, the Ministry of Basic
Education, Sport and Culture approved a Teenage
Pregnancy Policy. The aim of the policy was to allow
female students to continue their education after
leaving school due to pregnancy (Shaningwa, 2007).
The policy states that a girl who becomes pregnant is
allowed to be in school until such time as she is about
to deliver. After delivery, she must stay at home for
twelve months to take care of the baby , after which
she can resume her studies (Ministry of Basic
Education, Sport & Culture, 2001). Not only that,
Namibia has also a policy on Inclusive Education in
place to promote equal opportunities and access to
education for all (Ministry of Education & Culture,
1993). Namibia is one of the signatories to the
Salamanca Statement which strives to ensure equal
opportunity for all people of the world. The
Salamanca Statement on inclusive education called on
governments world-wide to provide a more inclusive
education system that is underpinned by an
ideological position based on recognition that all
pupils should have a fundamental right and equal
opportunity to experience education in mainstream
schools (UNESCO cited in Haycock & Smith, 2011).
Although inclusive education and teenage pregnancy
policies are most often written about for primary and
secondary school levels of education in Namibia, the
author notes that inclusive education philosophy is
part of the University of Namibia policies and
guidelines as well. For instance, it was stated in the
university prospectus of 2012 that students who
requested absence from classes/tests for the purpose of
delivery, must apply beforehand (application form
obtainable from the Office of the Registrar), and
provide a medical certificate, signed by a Medical
Practitioner, indicating the expected date of delivery
(University of Namibia, UNAM, 2012). It was further
stated that students would be expected to attend
classes two weeks prior and after the date of delivery
(University of Namibia, UNAM, 2012). This is a
demonstration from the side of the University of
Namibia to promote true access for students with
International Journal of Advances in Psychology (IJAP) Volume 3 Issue 3, August 2014
various backgrounds, experiences and needs.
Meanwhile, Kelly (2000) sees the importance for
young mothers as the ideal of including a wide variety
of students, particularly those who have been
traditionally excluded, either formally or informally. It
appears that research in Namibia did not seek the
experiences of student mothers in more detail, the
author thus wish to fill this existing gap. Duquaine-
Watson (2007) asserts that there is a conspicuous lack
of attention to the experiences of women who are
pursuing degrees while raising children on their own.
This is not something that a mother who is not a
student will experience and it is not something that a
student who is not a mother will experience (Lloyd-
Smith & Tarr, 2000).
Research Method
This research is informed by feminist theory. Nelson
(2009) argues that feminist theory ensures the equality
of opportunity and individual freedom can ensure that
all members of a society may fulfil their potential.
Green (2007) asserts that feminism analyses the
diversity of women’s specific experiences. Similarly, in
the development of this research, the author strove to
balance a focus on common experiences among
student mothers while also acknowledging differences
in their experiences. Feminist researchers typically
used qualitative research methods to generate in-
depth understandings of women’s experiences and
put women’s diversity at the centre of the analysis
(Reid, 2004). Within this framework, the author
adopted phenomenological research design.
Data Collection Instruments And Procedure
The author used semi-structured interviews to collect
data. Interviews were conducted at Hifikepunye
Pohamba Campus and lasted for about an hour long.
Before the interviews, participants were asked to sign
a consent form to participate in the study. Included in
this process was a request for permission for
participants to be audio-recorded for the purpose of
written transcripts and the permission was granted to
use the voice recorder. Five undergraduate single
student mothers enrolled in the faculty of Education at
the University of Namibia were invited to participate
in the research and all agreed to do so.
Recruitment Criteria And Ethical Issues
The recruitment process was done purposively,
targeting single student mothers. Only the students
who gave birth whilst at the university were invited to
take part in research. Throughout the research process,
every effort was made to acknowledge and protect the
rights, interests and sensitivities of the participants at
the same time. This research gained approval from the
Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Education and the
campus Director. Participating student mothers were
offered a copy of the transcripts of their interviews.
They were encouraged to review, clarify, or correct the
transcripts to prevent misquoting or falsification.
Data Analysis
Thematic analysis was utilized by the author to
analyze data. The responses for each question were
grouped together and themes were identified through
common responses. The data analysis and interview
stage occurred simultaneously in that the author
continuously reflecting on and coding participants’
stories as he was interviewing them. Common
experiences were grouped together and placed under
respective themes.
Participant Demographics
Overall, the author interviewed five single student
mothers; three in individual interviews and two in the
group interview. Participants’ age ranged from 20 to
23 years. All the participants were undergraduate
students doing their Bachelor of Education Honours
degree in the Faculty of Education. The main research
question was: What common challenges do student
mothers experience to manage their dual roles? Below
the author presents the results of the study.
The author wanted to find out the challenges facing
the participants in playing in their dual roles of
parenting and studying. They related how difficult it
is to be a mother at one hand and student on the other
hand. Here is what participates had to say:
Ndapewa: It is not easy, sometimes when I want to
plan during my SBS (School-Based Studies) the baby
is crying or I need to change the nappy. I do not have
much time to do my role as a mother because I leave
for home late around 4:00 PM where I find the nanny
already wash him and change him. I only used to be
with him during the weekend. It is not easy to be a
student mother, you start to lose some friends but you
just need to focus on your study. It is not that you lose
them but they will not want to walk with you. When
you walk alone and people are looking at you it is not International Journal of Advances in Psychology (IJAP) Volume 3 Issue 3, August 2014
easy. I am lonely and it is not easy. My plan was to
have a baby after my study. Ndapewa further revealed
that she somehow manage to find the balance with the
support of her baby’s nanny, her boyfriend and her
father who help meeting her half way. Here is what
she said in that regard:
Ndapewa: When I come to school I do not need to
think about him. I only stay with my baby during the
night and weekends. I could leave my baby with the
nanny to go to the library to study. My boyfriend is
really my source of support. He told me to study hard
and not to worry about the baby. My father is also
supportive of me and my situation. I told him first
three months there at home and he advised me that
you know you were studying. he was not angry with
Here is what other participating students had to say:
Pombili: There is no balance between the two roles, I
play fewer roles in parenting because I am studying
and my mother is the one doing more parenting. I am
coping very well because my baby is with my mom. I
don’t worry much because she is safe with my mom. I
don’t see her often because of the distance. I can only
see her like once every month.
Talahole: When I am at school I do not put my mind
on my kid and when I am at home I do not think about
school. I think it has been working well for me so far.
Sometimes I do call them at home but not every day.
The father of my kid is providing support to me and
my kid. My mother has been encouraging that I
should not be discouraged by people who like talking
irrelevant stories about having a kid at school or
something like that but rather to follow my heart. ...
We never planned to have a baby but it just happened,
I just accept the way it is.
Kambweshe: It is like when I am at school I do all my
school work , I go to the library and finish all my
work. And when I go home I spend time being with
my baby. I manage to find balance because I have
loving friends who help me. My sisters also help me to
balance my roles. They come sometimes over the
weekend to stay with the baby and say I should have
some time to be myself.
Ndinelao: This is something very easy; when I am in
class I don’t think I am a mother. My baby is home
taken care of by a nanny. The father of my child is
paying the nanny. My baby is in the ocean of support.
I can go anytime to see my son anytime I want. Even
yesterday he was brought here to see his mom. It is
not far. See the guy you are sleeping with. Studying
should always be the first thing. Study for your baby.
Don’t think about aborting your child. At university
you are a big girl, not like high school. First of all
becoming a mother was not my first choice, I was
thinking I would be a young lady teaching without a
child but once I became one I am a proud mother
today. The results also showed that most of the
participating students did not find it easy to manage
their academic responsibilities at the time they were
pregnant. Below is what they had to say:
Pombili: Sometimes you can be restless and you do
not have time to study. Sometimes you are not in the
mood for people. Sometimes you have an
appointment to see the doctor and end up skipping
lectures. The queues were always long.
Talahole: It (pregnancy) did affect me, like for the
first week I did not attend the lectures, I was just in the
hostel. I was not feeling well, I was feeling weak. I
failed some of my modules at the end. I failed some
modules like Integrated Media and Technology
because other students made a practical task that I did
not do.
Ndapewa: I did not feel good because I was afraid
what other people would say about me. It was not
good news. Even to my father it was not easy. Even
some people especially boys in our group were
laughing at me but I did not worry so much about
them. I was not affected by the boys’ remarks I just
ignored them because I went to the class and I knew
that boys were always like that. The first three months
was not easy… It was not easy to come out of the
room. It was not easy at all. I did not attend classes. I
chose to be in the room because I was angry. Also,
other students when they saw you they would be
like…laughing. When you saw someone looking at
you, you would think what was this person saying,
that kind of feelings. It was not easy at all.
Kambweshe: I was very angry, yeah I was very
frustrated and I did not want to talk to anyone. I
insulted my boyfriend, saying things to him and I
asked him if he knew anything about it. He said no
and he had no idea. I said if I really confirmed it I
would kill myself. That was how I felt , I felt that
anger like I wanted to end it all, to end my life.
Nothing changed between me and my boyfriend it
was only that I was angry at the beginning. Yeah like
drinking I used to drink, I drank a lot. I told the other
friend of mine in the third year he was telling me
about this guy who was staying other side, who could
International Journal of Advances in Psychology (IJAP) Volume 3 Issue 3, August 2014
get something like weed I was thinking like that. But
my friend stopped me. I really wanted to take the
weed and forget about the pregnancy thing for some
minutes. Telling my parents was also not easy.
Ndinelao: The only thing I was concerned about was
telling my mother. I could not sleep, she did not send
me here to come and have a baby. Can I send her a
text or can I call her or just go and tell them straight
out to speak to them at home. I keep on saying I am
not feeling good... I sent my mother a text I know it is
disrespectful to text your parent but that was the only
option I found easy for me. She replied politely that
did you tell the boyfriend and all that. She asked me if
I will lose my school. I promised her to study hard and
that is what I did, I studied hard.
Results of this study reveal that being a student
mother is difficult to find enough time to navigate
between studying and parenting. Lidgard (2004)
asserts that significant difficulty for mothers who are
students is lack of time to spend with their children,
partners, extended families and friends, and to study
and complete assignments. Mitchell (2003) argues that
unfortunately, as dedicated as single mothers are to
both their children and their education, in the end, the
time crunch can have devastating effects on the
relationship with their children. Students face many
challenges during their studies, some of them describe
skipping lectures, feel weak, drowsy and lack
consideration in classes and one of the students fail
her module. Levine (1993) notes that the university
culture tends to assume that students have time to
attend classes without other responsibilities. Students
can treat their education as their primary
responsibility, as if their higher education is the centre
of their life (Levine, 1993). Despite that, it is evident
from the results that participants have their friends
and family members supporting them to manage their
dual roles. Griffiths (2002) concurs that having
available people who positively support them in this
respect, including extended family members, friends
and partners, seems vital in determining how well
mothers cope with these experiences.
The research concludes that single student mothers f
face many challenges which have potential to disrupt
their academic success and performance. The main
common challenge student mothers experience is lack
of time to manage their dual roles. Other challenges
emerge from this research areas follows: lack of time,
being drowsy, weak and lonely. Even though family
and friends provide support some of the students still
fail their modules, skip lectures and fail to write the
first opportunity examination. The author strongly
recommends that there should be student mothers’
group support within the university student support
services on campus in order to alleviate some of the
stress, isolation and loneliness expressed in the
research. Like what Bruns (2004) found that having a
support group on campus for student mothers
reduced their feelings of isolation and provided a
space where mothers could express their fears and
trepidation about their experiences on and off campus.
Due to small sample size and other methodological
implications of this research, the results should not be
generalized to the entire population of student
mothers at the University of Namibia. Results
however should be viewed as part of creating
awareness on the common challenges student mothers
experience and thereby find ways to address their
specific challenges.
Bruns, D. Support groups for single mothers in college.
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Dr. Simon George Taukeni (BEd, PGSEd, MEd, Ph.D). His
research interest is in the areas of educational psychology
and special education, namely school psychology, guidance
and counseling, orphans, student mothers, emotional and
behavioral disorder and mentoring.
... Achieving this can be difficult because motherhood is self-sacrificing, with mothers expected to always put their children's needs above their own (Mamhute, 2011). Students who are mothers are thus likely to drop out of university, as they cannot balance their dual roles (Mamabolo et al., 2009;Taukeni, 2014). ...
... Although many studies have been conducted on the lives of students who are mothers (Barnes, 2013;Funiba, 2011;Mamabolo, Langa & Kiguwa, 2009;Shefer, Bhana & Morrell, 2013;Taukeni, 2014), few have focused on the experiences of these students in Namibia. As such, additional research in the Namibian context was necessary to explore the experience of mothers who are students in local tertiary institutions. ...
... It emerged from this study that all participants faced the dilemma of taking on motherhood responsibilities while pursuing their studies. This concurs with a study conducted by Taukeni (2014), which revealed that being a student and a mother is difficult, especially when it comes to finding enough time to manage studying and parenting. This finding is in line with that of Mamabolo et al. (2009), who reported that one of the greatest frustrations for young mothers seeking a degree is the enormous barriers to entry, including a lack of childcare. ...
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... This was because there was an increase of single parents attending college as higher education offers more opportunities. Researchers highlighted that being a student mother is a difficult role (Taukeni, 2014;Barnes, 2013;Funiba, 2011;Estes, 2011;Mayer, 2009). Student mothers' responsibilities outside the university have an impact in their experiences (Grenier & Burke, 2008). ...
... Secondly, time management which three out of four student mothers reported as a challenge. Lidgard (2004) and Taukeni (2014) found that lack of time management to expend with children, partners, families and friends, and studies are the significant difficulties that mothers face. Student mothers carry a heavy role in studentship and being involved in early motherhood increases the hardship they experience. ...
... This is concurred by our study that student mothers are getting financial, physical, emotional and moral support by their teachers and classmates or friends, partners, and parents and relatives. Taukeni (2014), Boutsen andColbry (1991), andBruns (2004) suggest that institutional leaders, instructors can support them as a means to reduce and relieve their stress, loneliness and isolation. ...
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... In addition, being both a mother and a student can cause anxiety around finances (Nikolaeva, 2018), time pressures (Sallee, 2015), role conflict (Home, 1998) and physical or mental pressures (Kreischer, 2017). Student mothers may also feel angry, lonely, restless, and generally perceive a lack of time to fulfil both mother and student roles (Taukeni, 2014). ...
... In Iran, for example, student mothers talk of sacrifices to their academic work to care for their unwell children, having ultimate responsibility for the planning of alternative childcare (Moghadam et al., 2017). In Namibia, student mothers report feeling they don't have enough time to study and parent, resulting in other aspects of life being shunned, such as medical appointments or seeing friends (Taukeni, 2014). Work with First Nations mothers in Canada highlights difficulties in being a student mother and the value that having close family support can provide (Rowe, 2017). ...
... Studies in this context have focused on undergraduates (Taukeni, 2014), postgraduates (Sallee, 2015;Utami, 2019), or a mixture of both (Moghadam et al., 2017). Postgraduate student mothers, however, may face distinct challenges related to the nature of work/life balance. ...
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... In addition, being a mother and a student can lead to financial anxiety (Nikolaeva, 2018), time pressures (Sallee, 2015), role conflict (Home, 1998), and physical or mental pressures (Kreischer, 2017). Additionally, student mothers may experience anger, loneliness, restlessness, and a general lack of time to fulfill both mother and student roles (Taukeni, 2014). ...
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... According to [22] social expectations are that their motherhood status is incompatible with being in school and are therefore often pushed-out, denied admission or they themselves self-select out of school. The student mothers tend to have overload of domestic chores and child-care roles, besides undertaking intensely high-pressure demands of academic work [23]. ...
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The study investigated the academic challenges of student mothers in tertiary education, its implication for inclusiveness and counselling. The study adopted the mixed-method design. The purposive and convenient sampling procedures were used to select 20 student mothers from Alex Ekwueme Federal University Ndufu Alike Ebonyi state Nigeria. Data were collected through focused group discussion and a semi-structured questionnaire. The study found that the majority of respondents go through serious academic challenges such as inability to attend lectures regularly because of tiredness, sickness of child, taking baby to the hospital and insufficient funding. To cope with the challenges respondents relied on paid house helps, keeping children at daycare centres, and relying on husbands and friends for support. The study recommended the Counselling Unit of the University to intensify education on inclusive practices, best motherhood practices and problem-focused coping strategies and for an inclusive approach through the provision of daycare centres and remedial school counselling services for student-mothers.
El rol femenino suele ser estereotipado, sin embargo, con el paso del tiempo la mujer ha adquirido progresivamente mayor empoderamiento y protagonismo en la sociedad, lo que ha permitido el desempeño de diversos roles al tiempo, tales como, estudiante, trabajadora, madre y cónyuge. El objetivo del estudio es identificar la percepción de mujeres frente a la multiplicidad de roles y su impacto social en la actualidad. Se realizó un estudio cualitativo, fenomenológico y hermenéutico, con una población de 19 estudiantes. Se aplicaron entrevistas semiestructurada sobre aspectos sociodemográficos y experiencias de las estudiantes en sus roles. La experiencia de sus roles fueron calificadas como duras, complejas, difíciles y le atribuyen significado de responsabilidad, compromiso, sacrificio. Se encontró que prevalecieron los sentimientos de dolor, tristeza y frustración. La sensación que más experimentan es la satisfacción y el empoderamiento; y percibieron muy escaso su tiempo. Las experiencias de las mujeres en el ejercicio de los roles, resultaron complejos y cargados de sentimientos encontrados y efectos históricamente marcados por el género, sin embargo, la satisfacción que genera en su crecimiento personal prevalece. No obstante, en el imaginario de las mujeres la repercusión social que esto genera recae en el descuido de la crianza de sus hijos.
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Feminist action research is a promising, though under-developed, research approach for advancing women"s health and social justice agendas. In this article the foundations, principles, dimensions, promises, and challenges of engaging in feminist action research are explored.
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This paper presents a comparative study of two groups of student mothers from a teacher training course in the UK at the start and end of the 1990s, with a focus on gender issues. The study investigated the extent to which the women students could draw on their experiences as mothers to positive effect in their training, combining public and private spheres, and how far their domestic responsibilities created problems for them on the course. All the women possessed considerable skills, particularly in working with children, which were an attribute in their training. Although both groups faced similar difficulties, such as the double burden of domestic and course work, and changes in family life arising from their status transition, it was found that the more recent students could cross the boundaries between public and private roles more quickly and easily than those at the start of the 1990s. This was partly because the recent group had greater prior work experience and had already negotiated boundaries between private and public identities, and partly because some structural constraints had diminished by the end of the decade, at least at a local level. It is also argued that, although pressures on trainee teachers in general intensified during the 1990s, some effects of the changes were beneficial to student mothers. The findings are analysed within the dual frameworks of gender in higher education and initial teacher education.
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The present study considers the relationship between college mothers' academic achievement goals (both learning and performance) and the mothers' attitudes toward their children's schoolwork as well as the relationship between each of these sets of characteristics in mothers and their elementary-school-age children's attitudes about learning. Results indicate that a mother's adoption of learning goals in her college education is positively related to the endorsement of a process/indirect focus with respect to assisting and evaluating her child on academic tasks and is associated with more personal satisfaction with providing homework assistance and greater optimism concerning the benefits of such assistance. Results also suggest that college mothers with more of a learning goal orientation and/or more of a process/indirect focus have children who display a similar concern with learning and a positive attitude about homework. Mothers who adopted more of a person/product focus with respect to their child's schoolwork had children who were less likely to interpret homework and other school tasks as opportunities to learn.
Feminist analyses of the “chilly climate” have documented the ways in which women have been and continue to be marginalized within institutions of higher education. Yet there has been little attention to the relationship between the “chilly climate” and the lived experiences of particular populations in specific educational settings. This article attends to that relationship and draws on a two-year ethnographic study that focused on single mothers attending a community college in the Midwestern United States. Situating their experiences within the particulars of post-welfare reform America and the dynamics of the institution they attend, I argue that the educational climate these women face is particularly chilly, something that is evident in the various attitudes, practices, and policies they encounter in their interactions with faculty, staff, and other students. In addition to analyzing the ways in which the “chilly climate” influences both academic and social aspects of single mother students' experiences, I offer specific suggestions for ways in which colleges and universities can create a more welcoming and supportive environment for members of this particular student population.
This paper examines teachers’ perceptions of their working relationships with learning support assistants (LSAs) when seeking to incorporate young disabled people and pupils with special educational needs (SEN) within mainstream physical education (PE), an area that has been a largely neglected aspect of research in inclusive education. The findings indicate that teachers spoke positively of these relationships when LSAs were perceived as making a positive contribution to the development of pupils’ learning and when they supported teachers as they did in other school subjects. Conversely, when LSAs and other support staff failed to provide teachers with information that was related to pupils’ needs in PE, and when LSAs did not possess the required skills, knowledge and expertise of the subject, teachers were rather critical of their relationships with them. In this regard, LSAs were seen as placing a particularly significant constraint on teachers’ ability to meet the needs of pupils in PE lessons. It is concluded that teachers’ perceptions of the constraints they experience from working with LSAs to help support pupils, and the extent and quality of support they receive, cannot be understood adequately unless they are located within the context of the relational constraints experienced by teachers.
A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master in Education. Thesis (M.Ed. (Education)) - Rhodes University, 2007.