Juggling Books and Bottles: The Struggles of Young Mothers

Many young women are facing the challenge of balancing motherhood and education.

The rise of young mothers in our Universities has brought to light the struggles these women face in trying to further their education while raising children.

The combination of being a parent and a student is challenging, and young mothers often face a wide range of issues such as lack of support, financial difficulties, and social stigma. That has led to high dropout rates and poor academic performance.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, teenage pregnancy has been on the rise in Kenya, with an estimated 1 in 5 teenage girls becoming pregnant each year.

This alarming trend has contributed to the increasing number of young mothers enrolling in Universities across the Country.

For many of these young mothers, the decision to pursue higher education is driven by the desire to improve their lives and those of their children.

However, the road to success is filled with challenges that many of these women are not prepared for. One of the biggest challenges they face is the lack of support from their families and society at large.

Many young mothers have to raise their children alone, without the support of their fathers, who are either absent or unwilling to take responsibility for their children. The lack of support from family and friends means that these women have to bear the burden of raising their children and attending classes on their own. This can be overwhelming, especially for those who have to work part-time to support their families.

Financial difficulties also pose a major challenge for young mothers who are trying to pursue higher education. The cost of tuition, accommodation, and other expenses can be prohibitive, especially for those who have to support their families on a limited budget. Some young mothers have to take out loans or rely on bursaries and scholarships to finance their education, which can create additional stress and pressure.

The social stigma associated with being a young mother in the country is also a major challenge. Many young mothers face discrimination and judgment from their peers and society at large. This stigma can be isolating and make it difficult for young mothers to form supportive relationships with their peers.

Despite these challenges, many young mothers are determined to pursue their education and provide a better life for their children.

One such mother is Jane Wambui, a 22-year-old student at Kenyatta University. Jane became pregnant at the age of 18 and dropped out of high school to raise her child.

After a few years of struggling to make ends meet, Jane decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in education. She applied for a bursary and was accepted, which helped her to cover her tuition and other expenses. However, Jane still had to work part-time to support her child and pay for her other expenses.

Jane’s journey has not been easy, but she is determined to succeed. She says, “Being a mother and a student is not easy, but I am doing it for my child. I want to provide a better life for her and show her that education is important.”

Pauline Kerubo, who is also a mother and a 21-year-old student at Rongo University, recalls the moment when she discovered that she was pregnant.

“When the doctor broke the news to me about my pregnancy, I was greatly disturbed. My mental health was affected—as I didn’t expect that.”

Her next phase was to break the news to her parents.

“It was a difficult decision but I had to do it. They rebuked me but later accepted the pregnancy. My boyfriend and I had to plan for our child. None of us expected it.”

Pauline still reiterates that balancing motherhood and education is a daunting task, and many young university mothers are finding it hard to cope.

“The lack of support systems such as daycare facilities and flexible academic schedules is making it difficult for me to attend classes and complete my assignments. This is because I have to be there for my child who needs attention every time,” she says.

“To support young mothers like me, higher learning institutions need to provide more resources and support,” she added.

In many Universities, there are limited resources available to support young mothers who choose to continue with their studies while raising their children. For instance, there are few crèches or childcare facilities on campus, and those that exist are often not affordable or accessible to all. This means that many young mothers have to rely on relatives or informal arrangements to take care of their children while attending classes, which can be stressful and disruptive.

Men also face the rough side of Single parenting.

John Kariuki is a single father who is currently studying at Maseno University. He says that being a single father and a student is even harder than being a single mother and a student because society expects men to be providers and not caregivers.

“I had to drop out of University when my girlfriend got pregnant, and I had to take care of my child. It was a difficult decision, but I don’t regret it. Now that my child is older, I decided to go back to school and pursue a degree in economics,” says John.

The Role of Fathers

The lack of support from fathers is one of the biggest challenges that young mothers face. Many fathers are either absent or unwilling to take responsibility for their children. This puts a lot of pressure on young mothers who have to raise their children alone and attend classes at the same time.

Mary (not her real name), who is also a student at Rongo University is one of the victims. She had always thought she had a happy relationship. She and her boyfriend, Ken, (not her real name) had been together for two years and had just welcomed their first child into the world. But then Ken disappeared, leaving her and their newborn daughter behind.

“I was confused and worried,” she narrates. “I tried calling his phone, but it was always switched off. I went to the police, but they told me they couldn’t do anything until he had been missing for 24 hours. So I waited, anxiously, hoping that he would come back. But he never did.”

As time went on, Mary became more and more frustrated. She couldn’t understand why her boyfriend would just leave like that, without any explanation. She started to investigate, talking to close friends and family members.

What she discovered shocked her.

Her boyfriend had been leading a double life. He had another family in a different town with a wife and son that he had never told her.

“When his other wife found out about our affair and child, she confronted him, and he panicked. He fled, leaving both her two families behind. I struggled to come to terms with the fact that the man I had loved and trusted had betrayed me in such a terrible way. But I didn’t give up. I fought.” she concludes.

Nyanza Colleges and Universities Student Association chair, Mr. Martin Athero, highlights the need to introduce programs that serves the interest of young mothers—like Jane, Mary, and Pauline in both colleges and universities.

“One way to do this is to create programs that specifically cater to the needs of young mothers. These programs could include child care services, flexible class schedules, and financial assistance.”

“The government can also do more to support young mothers by providing more funding for education and creating policies that support the education of young mothers,” he explains.

In addition, there needs to be a shift in societal attitudes toward young mothers.

“Instead of stigmatizing them, society should support and encourage young mothers to pursue their education and achieve their goals,” reiterates the chair.

The rise of young mothers in our colleges is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive approach to address. While the challenges are significant, the determination and resilience of these young mothers show that it is possible to balance parenthood and education. With the right support and resources, these women can achieve their goals and provide a better life for themselves and their children.

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