Balancing Family Responsibilities
- Provide an opportunity for students to reflect on balancing family and college responsibilities
- Provide tools and resources that might help students improve balance between home and college life, if applicable
- Utilize resources available on campus and online to better communicate with loved ones about their college experience
- Build skills and confidence in talking about college with family members
- Schedule (work, school, family)
In many ways, earning a college degree is a test of balance. Students learn how to manage their time, study effectively, build a network, and gain both technical and soft skills all at the same time. Add in outside influences from family and friends and sometimes, despite the best intentions, that balance can be disrupted.
It may be hard to identify students who are struggling with family responsibilities and pressures of home. These students may be doing well in classes and progressing from one year to the next, and then all of a sudden leave school without any apparent reason.
Colleges provide a lot of resources to students to help them with obvious struggles: time management, study skills, specific tutors for specific courses, etc., but have a harder time identifying when students might be struggling internally with pressures or guilt that they feel because of their choice to go to college. Issues like:
- Parents who want nothing more than to have their child earn their degree, yet are unwilling to share the tax information required for the student to do the FAFSA.
- Students who want nothing more than to please their parents by becoming a doctor, but are failing out of math and science classes.
- Families that don’t understand why their student who only has classes in the mornings stays at school to study instead of coming home to help out with the chores.
- Friends who opted not to go to college, and now are pulling away from the student
Significance for College Possible Students
The reason that we highlight this topic for our College Possible students is because many of our students have a foot in two worlds—the college environment and the home environment. Sometimes supportive parents don’t quite get why their student can’t help out as much with family obligations, or why the student can’t work full-time, or must be studying so much out of class. We have seen that parents and families can put pressure on career choices that aren’t necessarily aligned with the students’ interests or goals. For students and families alike, communicating about these topics can prove difficult. The purpose of this module is to help students identify tools and resources that will help in marrying the two worlds together.
- Review supplemental resources and get familiar with the material.
- Spend some time thinking about how your family impacted you throughout college.
- What were some things that they did that were helpful?
- Are there things that your family said or felt that didn’t feel supportive?
- How did you navigate this relationship?
- Investigate what resources exist on your campus(es) that are available to students to help navigate this conversation.
- What does the counseling services office provide?
- Where is the multicultural resource center on campus?
- Is there a student group or organization for first-generation college students on campus?
- Residential Life/Housing
- TRiO/Student Support Center
- Multicultural Office/student groups
- Counseling services
This topic is best suited for an individual conversation or a small group discussion in a safe environment. Use the prompts below to open the door to the conversation, but be prepared to proactively reach out to students individually based on responses or other conversations you’ve had with the student.
Outreach Ideas & Examples
Post on Facebook and/or email the link to the ‘family responsibilities’ video from the First in the Family website, encouraging students to respond with their own advice or experiences.
Follow up by posting on Facebook and/or emailing the link to the “I’m First” website (see link in resources section), a site dedicated to first-generation college students.
Social Media: “Life is complex. If you are feeling pulled in too many directions, let’s talk. Maybe we can find a way to manage and balance all areas of your life so you can be happy and successful!”
Social Media: “Do you ever struggle to balance school and home life? You’re not alone! I found a lot of support through I’m First, an online community of first-gen students: www.imfirst.org. Check it out, and know that I’m always here to talk.”
Use targeted outreach to follow up with any students who indicated that they could use additional support balancing family and college responsibilities. Challenges are often most acute during students’ first year when both students and families are adjusting to the change, so consider reaching out to first-years and new enrollees specifically.
- Connect with your campus allies to learn about the campus resources that exist to help students with these sorts of conversations. For example:
- TRiO office
- Student Mentoring programs
- Special programs staff
- If possible, work with this office/person to host a ‘workshop’ conversation with a group of your students about being first-generation college students on the campus.
- Plan small discussions/focus groups that will not only give the students a space to have this conversation with each other, but also might help the college know what they could be doing to better support low-income, first-generation college students.
- If there is an existing workshop series or you are hosting your own, advertise to this to your students in multiple ways:
- Make a Facebook event and invite your students to it
- Send out emails and ask students to RSVP to you for the workshop
- Post a sign up on your desk/door
First Year/New Enrollees
- The transition to college isn’t just a big step for students— it also directly impacts their families! Students may not feel fully prepared for how complicated this transition can be, so normalizing that experience and offering tools for successful communication are critical.
- Post-graduation can also bring big changes: moving back in with family or perhaps moving farther away for a job. Encourage students to be thoughtful about what these changes will mean for families too and how they might communicate with loved ones about them.
Community & Technical College
- Students who attend community and technical colleges are more likely to be enrolled less than full time, and family responsibilities may have already been a factor in that decision.
Outreach Ideas and Examples
Use the Facebook college groups as a way to make this conversation smaller and as a way to build community among your students at the same institution.
Direct Message: “Hey [student], you mentioned that you’d like to move out of your parents’ house last time we spoke. Is this still your plan and if so, have you talked with your family about it yet? Call or text me if you want to talk through it.”
Email: “Hey [student]! Hope your new classes are going well! Were you able to talk with your family about your study needs over winter break? Let me know how the conversation went.”
Balancing family responsibilities is a topic that is worth touching upon briefly, especially for first-year students, and raising proactively with students who have either expressed concerns or experienced challenges in the past. A best practice is to open up this topic broadly and allow for the students to come to you. Make it clear that you are open to the conversation and part of the support system, but be careful not to pressure students to talk about something that may not even be a concern for them: be careful not to assume certain situations apply to all your students.
We want to encourage students who may be feeling various pressures from home to know that they’re not alone, seek out resources, and begin having these conversations with their families.
COMMUNITY/TECHNICAL COLLEGE NOTE
Enrollment patterns for students who attend community and technical colleges tend to be a mix of full-time and part-time enrollment. Family responsibilities may have already been a factor in a student’s decision to attend a community and technical college or enroll part time. Also, since most community and technical college campuses are not residential, more students may be living at home, possibly making it harder for their families to grasp the transition from high school to college.
- Sometimes students and their families are in total alignment, and sometimes not.
- College is a big change for both students and families, and it is normal for there to be some tensions with such a big change—they are not alone in experiencing that.
- There can sometimes be misalignment in students’ and families’ understanding of the best path to a degree and the opportunities such a degree will afford in the future.
- Don’t take for granted that a student’s relationships or responsibilities are the same as the last time they had a coaching session–family responsibilities evolve over time.
- Family responsibilities can have a direct impact on academic performance.
- Communication is key to successfully navigating family responsibilities, however, sometimes a student’s family responsibilities cannot be negotiated and the coaching they require may be centered on successful time management instead.
Questions for Students to Consider
- What is your current living situation—are you at home, on campus?
- How often do you talk to your parents/family about school? How have those conversations been going?
- Has your relationship changed with your parents/family now that you are in college? What do you like better about your relationship with your family now that you are in college and what is more challenging?
- What kinds of things are you responsible for at home? How has it been going trying to manage both school and those obligations?
- Do you feel pressure to declare a particular major or to get a certain job once you graduate? How do you feel about that?
- Do you have a mentor or someone that you can talk to about balancing home and school?
Pell Institute Study, Straight from the Source:
Fact Sheets and Reports about student parents
First Generation documentary website
Locating quality child care
Affordable housing provider
First in the Family, advice and stories
I'm First, online first-gencommunity
Tips for student parents
Other modules you may want to reference and consider when working with your student include:
Update the student record in Salesforce, including notes and follow-up items from your conversation.
For students who share a personal story with you, make sure that you respond and continue to build the relationship.
For students who offer advice to others through Facebook or email, be sure to send a follow-up thank you note.