Student mothers: Joys, Hardships, Misconceptions


Senior journalism major Brittany Watson goes down a slide with her daughter Haelo, 2, at a McDonald’s playground in Sycamore on Sunday.

By Chelsey Boutan

On April Fools’ Day three-years ago, Brittany Watson got a phone call, but it wasn’t from a prankster.

A nurse was calling to give her news that would change her life.

“The results from your blood test came back,” the nurse said. “You’re pregnant.”

Watson was stunned and told the nurse “thank you,” as she hung up her cellphone. She ran out of class and walked to the classroom next door to get her boyfriend.

“We just stood there and looked at each other,” the senior journalism major said. “It was kind of exciting and a little scary all at the same time.”

Watson was 21 when she found out she was pregnant. She said her family was supportive when she told them, because she has been dating her boyfriend, current senior industrial technology major William Kennedy, since she was 14. At the time, Watson’s only worry was how she would finish school while raising a child.

Students like Watson, who had a child at a young age, face a unique set of challenges, as balancing college and parenthood can be overwhelming. Despite this, Watson and other young parents don’t have any regrets and are more determined than ever to graduate.

Looking back with no regrets

Watson is happy she had her daughter Haelo, 2, earlier in life. She said motherhood helped her become more responsible.

“You know, as a college student, you just don’t really have any kind of responsibility,” Watson said. “You’re just kind of wild and everything. I guess it just helped me realize what’s really important, and it helped me focus on school more.”

Junior meteorology major Kari Gale, 24, also doesn’t regret having her daughter Juliana, 4, when she was 19. Gale said she dated Juliana’s father for eight years, and they planned their pregnancy.

“After we had her, I noticed I kind of grew up a lot quicker and there were some things he didn’t want to change about his lifestyle,” Gale said. “We just had different goals in life, and it was kind of a mutual breakup. I don’t regret anything that happened, but it does make me sad that I can’t have our idealistic family, because we both planned this – ideally we would still be together.”

Even though the relationship with Juliana’s father didn’t work out, Gale still sees many advantages to being a young mother. For one, Gale said she and her daughter will be closer in age and will have a closer relationship. Also, Gale believes that they will have more things in common and will spend more time together.

“Because I had her early in life, we’ll be able to spend that many more years together, granted nothing happens,” she said. “I’ll have that many more years together with my grandchildren when the time comes.”

Being a mother/student brings about challenges

Finding the time to sit down and do homework during a typical day is difficult for Watson and Gale. Watson said it is overwhelming at times.

The key to keeping her cool, Watson said, is finding something to keep Haelo’s attention while she does homework.

“I just sit there and lay on her bed and read my book while she’s painting,” Watson said. “I won’t get all of the reading done that I need, but over time you just learn to set standards for yourself.”

Between classes, Watson and Gale do homework. After picking their children up from day care, their evenings are spent watching their children. Sometimes homework has to get pushed back until their daughters are asleep; by then, the moms are exhausted. They said motherhood has definitely taken time away from their campus life.

Gale said she is part of the American Meteorological Society, but has only gone to a few meetings because they start at 5 p.m. or later, and she has to commute an hour to her home in Rockford and then cook dinner.

“I can’t really do any internships, and anything after school I really can’t do,” Gale said. “So I think that almost hinders my college experience. I can’t hang out after class. Most people meet their best friends in college, and I’m so wrapped up with everything else that I don’t have time to socialize with other students.”

Watson said she has less time to hang out with friends because she can’t come and go when she wants. Watson lives in DeKalb, which is a two hours drive from her family. She said she can’t always get the extra help that she needs.

“You probably won’t really see me a lot,” Watson said. “That’s what I’ve noticed a lot of people say. My friends are like, ‘Where have you been at? Where have you been at?’ And I’m like, ‘You know I have a child now so I can’t be at every dance competition, every modeling [event] or fashion show.'”

Gale said she juggles multiple lifestyles as a full-time student and a full-time mom. This does make her feel disconnected from campus life, she said.

“Having a kid does bring about a lot of struggles, but I think life in general is a lot of struggling,” Gale said. “I don’t necessarily think having a child at a young age is bad as long as you are responsible and continue to go to school.”

“It was all about having fun”

Both moms recalled how their lives before motherhood were much different then they are now.

“It was all about having fun,” Gale said. “I hung out with friends a lot and was able to do whatever I wanted. I was very carefree, adventurous, and now I almost have like constant anxiety. I don’t think about doing things for myself anymore, because I’m always concerned about [Juliana] and what she’s doing. She’s always on my mind.”

Watson said she used to work two to three jobs, but she realized that she needed to spend more time with her family after she had her daughter.

“So it set me and my priorities in terms of what’s first,” Watson said. “Family’s first and then everything else will fall into place. Yes, you need money to live, but you can’t have anything without your family.”

Watson said she had definitely cut back on partying since she had a child. She said she doesn’t get to party on “Wasted Wednesdays” or “Thirsty Thursdays” anymore. She’ll attend a party once every two weeks, but she said she has become more of a “low key drinker.” Instead of drinking vodka, Watson has a glass of wine.

They are still living out their dreams

Watson said the main misconception people have about young mothers is that they will not be able to achieve their goals in life. For Watson and Gale, that just isn’t true. Both women said they are going to graduate college, which has been their long-time goal.

Watson will graduate in May and will move to California with her daughter and Kennedy in July. Going to California to pursue a freelance writing career and later become a magazine editor has been Watson’s dream since she was 18.

“You just have to be wanting better for yourself,” Watson said. “You can definitely achieve your goals, but it will be harder.”

Even though Gale has changed her major three times, she said she has always been set on graduating from college. She is happy to be majoring in meteorology, because it is something that she loves.

“I’ve just basically sat back and realized that I’m going to do what I want to do, because I want to be happy and I want [Juliana] to be happy,” she said. “I want to teach her that whatever you do, it should be something that you want to do.”

‘We’re very close’

Gale and Watson both said they love spending time with their daughters and feel a special bond with them.

“I basically get to share my life with someone else,” Gale said. “She funny and she’s just an all-around awesome person. She’s my favorite person by far. She’s hilarious, too cute and too funny. I get to share all of my experiences with her. I teach her what I learn in school and I love just sharing those everyday laughs with her. We do a lot together. We’re very close.”

Watson said she loves being there for her daughter, because she gets to see her learn something new every day. She said the bond she shares with her daughter is the most rewarding part of being a mom.

As she sat watching her daughter at a McDonald’s indoor playground in Sycamore late one afternoon, Watson smiled.

“Mommy!” yelled Haelo as she proudly peeked through the holes in the netting on the playground’s bridge. She waved her tiny hand and said, “Hi Mommy!”

Watson laughed and waved to her daughter.

“You’re all the way up there!” Watson said. “Hi! I see you!”