Married with GPAs: Students juggle school, work, families

Getting passable grades and maintaining a social life are what most college students worry about. However, the everyday reality for some college students includes juggling marriage and children along with school.

Christopher Bahr, a 41-year-old second-year law student, is married with four children.

There are both difficulties and benefits of having his own family while going to school, he said.

“You’ve got kids that you want to spend time with, that you should spend time with, and helping them with their education and getting parent-child time,” Bahr said.

Law school can cut into some of the time that could be dedicated to a spouse and children, he said.

“That’s something that’s always a challenge in trying to balance, especially law school compared to what you want to do with spending time with your family,” Bahr said.

However, there is the upside of not having to worry about dating and searching for “the one,” he said.

“You’re not worried about a lot of the things that students who are single [are],” Bahr said. “They’re worried about a big social life, they’re worried about meeting a significant other.”

Before ASU, Bahr graduated from Brigham Young University in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

After working at Intel for more than 10 years and earning his master’s degree in material science at Columbia University at the same time, he decided to go to law school.

“I guess the opportunity to continue my education was the primary reason [to pursue a law degree] and the secondary reason was to have a little more control over my career,” Bahr said.

During his undergraduate years, he went on a mission for his church in France for about two years, and because of this experience, he is going to study abroad for a semester with his family in Paris.

Since Bahr is bringing his children, he has to find them a temporary school and a suitable living space, among other challenges.

“Probably the biggest challenge is making sure that we were able to afford it,” Bahr said.

Without studying abroad, there are still many expenses associated with having a family, which makes a part-time job necessary.

“If you had enough money that you could just study all the time, especially for law school, obviously that would be the ideal situation,” Bahr said.

Sometimes there is a loss of sleep and stress, but Bahr said he is dealing with it. The stress includes finding a decent job after graduating to support his family.

“It’s not easy, and it’s been really stressful, but we think when we’re done, we’ll look back and it’ll be an example to our kids of how important education is,” Bahr said.

Dottie Fitzpatrick, a special education senior, 27, is married with two children.

Her children have autism, Asperger’s syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and Fitzpatrick said this led to her decision to go to school and study special education.

“I thought how we needed a lot more support in our school system than what we had,” Fitzpatrick said. “I thought, I’m pretty decent at what I’m doing [with my older son], maybe I can help out.”

Right now Fitzpatrick is taking 18 credit hours, has a 4.22 GPA and is the president of Kappa Delta Pi, an education honors society on the Polytechnic campus.

Her husband works while she is at school, and Fitzpatrick hired a provider to help take care of her children at times so she can complete her homework.

“My children are always here with me and I don’t lock myself up in my bedroom and forget about them,” she said.

However, Fitzpatrick said it’s nice to have some help so her homework isn’t interrupted for minor situations, and that’s how she keeps her grades up.

Although there is still stress because her children require a lot of special care, Fitzpatrick said her situation has helped her.

“My experience with my children has made me more successful in school,” she said.

Fitzpatrick said she has more background knowledge from dealing with her children and the education system.

“I have come home with a lot of really valuable things that I have been able to successfully implement with my children,” Fitzpatrick said.

Jennifer Cisneros, a 34-year-old 2008 transborder chicana/o and Latina/o studies graduate, studied abroad in Mexico during the spring 2008 semester with her 11-year-old son.

As a parent, there were more expenses because Cisneros’ son went to a private school in Mexico.

“The most difficult thing probably was the transportation in Monterrey was horrible,” Cisneros said.

Her son’s father also went and he had to buy a car because of the transportation issues.

Cisneros said she had an unplanned pregnancy, which delayed her college plans. Because of this, she dropped out of college at NAU and began working at Charles Schwab.

“I was doing well as far as making good money, but I just wasn’t happy and I wanted to go to school,” Cisneros said.

It was challenging to help her child while also balancing her homework, but her son also motivated her, she said.

“I wanted to show him how important college is and it doesn’t matter what age you go back and get your degree,” Cisneros said. “I felt that it’s important to have a college degree.”

Reach the reporter at reweaver@asu.edu


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