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Parenting.001 Groups Help Families Balance Classes, Work, Parenthood

By Katie Jeffreys
STAFF REPORTER

The average undergraduate student at MIT, amid classes, fraternity parties, and cafeteria food, is buffered from what some might call ‘the real world.’ Yet some MIT undergraduate and graduate students lead a different lifestyle, focused on family, which may consist of spouses, children, or both. There are many resources on campus to assist families at MIT.

One of these groups, Spouses and Partners@ MIT, formerly the Wives Group, offers support to the wives of students, postdocs, and visiting faculty. The group changed their name this month to move the focus from simply the wives to include husbands, boyfriends, and gay and lesbian partners. In addition, the women in the group did not want to be only characterized simply as wives, and felt that their identities extend beyond that role. The group however does not target married women who are themselves enrolled at the Institute or unwed mothers.

Spouses & Partners @ MIT allows participants to “make friends and build a life here,” said Jennifer Recklet, the group’s secretary. This is accomplished through interest groups (such as cooking or movies), English lunch tables (for international members who want to learn English), and child play groups. In addition to Recklet, a social worker provides administrative to support to the group. Jessica Barton gives one-on-one consultations for depression, fertility issues, marriage counseling, and abortion advice.

In addition the group serves to refer people to resources at MIT and in the community.

Undergraduate student uses peers’ support

In the fall Noramay J. Cadena ’03 made headlines because she decided to come to MIT bringing with her a child who was born while Cadena was still in high school. Since then, Cadena has had to deal not only with the pressures of being a freshman at a competitive university but with being the mother of a toddler. Her daughter, named Chassitty, is now a year and a half old.

“Initially I got in touch with the Family Resource Center” to find day care, but since her daughter was not old enough for many centers and she has no transportation, their options were not helpful. Instead, she turned to student groups on campus, including La UniÓn Chicana por AztlÁn, Mujeres Latinas, and Society of Mexican American Engineers and Scientists. Fellow students in these organizations offer their friendship as well as babysitting.

Cadena said that they are “students like me. They know what kind of family I have.” This sort of support helps her cope with her lifestyle, which she describes as rather routine and often difficult.

“It’s really easy in the day. She’s at the babysitter while I’m at class.” However because of the cost of a private babysitter, Cadena must limit the number of hours her daughter spends there. This means that her participation in evening meetings, office hours, and spontaneous events are restricted. Cadena added that “I wait for her to go to bed before I do work, so I am up late a lot.”

“It’s hard. If students are thinking about having a kid, I would recommend not to,” said Cadena. She recognizes that her life would be different without a child in that she would be “doing better in school, maybe doing sports and extracurriculars, and going out.”

In addition, Cadena says that as a result of the media focus on her, “I feel pressured. People are watching me, and if I make a mistake, everyone will say ‘I saw it coming.’”

Graduate students use support of community

David W. Robinson G, Floor Tutor for the first floor of Baker House is raising a daughter at MIT with his wife Sara. They are expecting another child in May. Robinson says “Hanna has had an impact on the people in Baker House,” especially those who have a chance to play with her during the day.

Yet the charms of a child on the MIT campus are far reaching. “I can go walking around campus with Hannah and random people I have no idea who they are will say ‘Hi, Hanna.’” said Robinson. Students have been able to watch Hanna, now three, grow and learn over the years, adopting her in Baker House trivia games as its youngest resident.

While the family has not taken advantage of the programs offered by MIT to support families, they did live in both Eastgate and Westgate, which are MIT’s family housing. “You really get to know your neighbors well,” said Robinson, adding that this is beneficial because “your peers there are going through some of the same things. Friends in off-campus apartments don’t have the same sense of community.”

In addition to peer groups and Spouses and Partners @ MIT, there are many services offered at MIT to assist families. The Family Resource Center provides assistance child care and school information and advice on parenting and balancing work and family.

Because many undergraduates are not associated with having families, resources may be deemed applicable only to graduate students or those not taking a full course load. Rae Simpson, Co-Administrator of the Family Resource Center said that “we are seeing more undergraduates who have partners or children in the last couple years that we had in the past.” Because of this, the FRC offers support in balancing family with traditional employment with as well as classwork.

Because of this growth, Simpson says that she and her fellow Co-Administrator Kathy Simons are “hoping that any undergraduates that are considering families or have families will come see us.”