Ivory Farley


Can today’s working mothers over 25 overcome the stress and anxiety they feel when they return to a big city University, in a degree program, after years of being out of the classroom or is the stress and anxiety necessary for them to attain success.


To cope with today’s job market becoming so competitive, more and more adults are returning to the classroom. The College Planning Network reports that, "over 50 percent of the students in college today are over the age of 24." (www.collegeplan.org). And the National Center for Education Statistics predicts, "by the year 2000 students 25 or older will outnumber those younger than 25." (www.collegeplan.org). The need to learn new technology, enhance the knowledge of the craft one may know or to learn a new trade, are keeping the classrooms filled. Colleges and Universities are adapting new adult education programs. Adults are finding it necessary to continue their education in an effort to compete with younger more educated college graduates entering the job market. While returning to school is taxing on both men and women, it seems that the return in more strenuous on women especially those who are mothers. While mothers and fathers share many problems alike, mothers endure a considerable greater amount of stress than their counterparts. This paper examines working mothers over the age of 25, who return to the classroom, in a big city university, in a degree program, after years of being away from school. While some may argue that stress and anxiety in necessary to attain success, because it pushes you, my viewpoint is when a working mom returns to school, she needs as little stress as possible in order to enable her to be successful in her endeavors. In order for her to be successful she cannot have any chaos, her mind needs to be clear and focused on the task at hand. Any stress or anxiety, never mind additional, will leave her unfocused and disoriented, leaving her uncompelled to finish with school, work or any other assignment. Being in most households the mother is the backbone of the family the burden of creating family structure is always on her. She will need to constitute new boundaries, guidelines and roles with the family, so she can focus on school.

In a classical marriage or what I called the "Beavers syndrome" the father's sole responsibility was to support his family. He’d wake up to breakfast in the morning, head off to work and return home to a nice supper. It was the mother’s responsibility to maintain the house, care for the children and tend to her husbands needs when necessary. Today’s households are loosely based on this structure. With economy booming along with inflation it is not unusual to see both parents maintaining full-time employment. Women are becoming more goal and career oriented. Although family structures are changing it still remains that the women are responsible for maintaining the household and the children, even while they maintain full-time employment. Dealing with work and balancing a family can tend to be stressful and while some stress is necessary to cope in life a prolonged period of stress could have damaging effects on your health.

In the Canadian Journal of Continuing Education (1995) Dr. Hans Selye defines stress as, "the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it. The demand can be a threat, a challenge or any kind of change which required the body to adapt." (www.drkoop.com). Potential sources of stress for mothers are created when they strive to be moms, wives and employees. From birth to death women are constantly enduring all kinds of stress. "Varying degrees of stress women endure include everything from childhood, puberty, menstruation, marriage, motherhood, mid-life, menopause, the possible complications from being single."(Morse and Furst, 1982, p. 115). When adding the demands of being a student it could lead to a major overload. Once these goal-oriented moms decide to add the role of a student it is necessary for them to redefine themselves and modify their roles, as well as modifying the roles within their family. A mental preparation is necessary in order to deter some anxieties that may occur during this transition. One must learn how to stay focus on their goal and to think positively. Careful planning is essential for a working mom returning to school, otherwise she may find that she is overexerting herself and could begin to suffer from mental and emotional problems including depression and chronic anxiety.

To begin planning one must first access what one can handle. How much time will one be able to devote towards each dimension in one life. Time management is very important due to the fact that ones times will be scarce making it sacred. Turner states that, "time control and management will help you to be more organized." (1997, p. 37). The top concerns mothers have besides children is how to try to manage work, a family and college. If small children are involved it is prudent that one recruits the service of a reliable babysitter and a back up babysitter, if possible. It might be necessary for one to plan their classes based on the availability of their babysitter. If one has an older child then some of the strain is taken away if that child is old enough to watch him/herself. The need for a babysitter is taken away but it is still important to spend quality time with that child and to be involved in the child’s life in every aspect. Perhaps if the child is of school age one could set aside study time for them to have together. While interviewing Mary Cue, a working mom, whom goes to school and has two children, she was asked how she manages her three responsibilities. She responded, "my job is not very stressful. I am a receptionist so I basically just answer the phone and greet clients. However, when my boss has clients in the office he expects me to stay after hours to accommodate his guest. So my quitting time varies from 5 p.m. until 6 p.m. Therefore, when returning to school I knew I shouldn’t schedule any class before 6 p.m. Also, I depend greatly on my oldest child of 14 years. My daughters and boyfriend are very supportive, their support helps to eliminates a lot of worries I might have while in class. It allows me to be able to focus in class without needed to wonder what going on at home." (March 2000). After the needs of ones child has been accessed, one will need to address their job.

Most employers are encouraging towards people who take initiative to continue educating themselves, as long as it doesn’t affect ones work. If ones job is very demanding one may need to limit the amount of classes they take. It is important to be realistic. Since one may have an abundance of tasks to complete for work and school, it’s important to limit the disruptions at work so that one wont jeopardize ones employment. Most colleges have added on additional evening and weekend courses to accommodate working adult students. In addition, most libraries are open at least one late night and weekends so you can plan your study time accordingly. Once that you have the children, work and planned out, you will then need to consider your partner. This will probably be the one person that will feel the most neglect, after all there are but so many minutes in a day. Some partners may feel threatened or jealous about your need to improve yourself. If that is the case then its probably best to end the relationship. Hopefully your partner will be gladden by you initiative to improve and will understand and be supportive.

Having the support of ones partner and children will make for a smoother transition. Once your have their support one could delegate some of the household responsibilities to the other members of the house and make them become more self-sufficient. It is important for everyone to feel like their pitching in to help and not being dumped on. Everyone should be responsible for himself or herself first, whether its cleaning up their rooms, making sure homework and studying is done, or completing whatever chore is assigned to them. One could ask your partner to prepare dinner and play a more diverse role in the child/rens everyday activities. If one received this support it will relieve some of the anxieties one may feel while in school.

Frank Bruno examines adults returning to college in Going Back to School. (1995). He determined that the number one fear of returning adults is oral speaking and goes on to quote a student saying, "when I have to talk before a group my mind goes blank." (1995, p. 112). I can personally empathize with this fear, because although I speak before groups of people at work without difficulty I have trouble speaking before the class I feel as though I am out of my element and I have a hard time verbalizing what I know. Bruno also listed test taking, writing a term paper and math anxieties as some additional fears that adults have. While some students may retreat back to test taking with ease others may need to redevelop this skill. In some cases these adults might revert back to the anxieties they had in high school, causing them to do poorly on exams. One’s self-development needs to be molded in order to adapt new study skills and overcome test taking anxieties.

Anxieties, as described by The Anxiety Disorders Association of American, is when persistent unrealistic worries that become a habitual way of approaching a situation. In other words it’s more than "butterflies in your stomach". (www.adaa.org). Excessive worrying may lead to an Anxiety disorder in which one will also feel physical and emotional difficulties. It is important to create small goals to give oneself a sense of accomplishment. Therefore one would be less likely to be so frustrated when looking at the big picture. Dealing with children, bosses and professors can tend to be very frustrating. Everybody wants and needs something from you, leaving you virtually no time for yourself. You have to go from being totally giving to somewhat selfish and although you may know that you can ultimately do it, it’s very frustrating to deal with it all at the same time. Nonetheless, some levels of stress and anxiety are needed and is normal in life. Moderate amounts of anxiety can be helpful by motivating people to prepare for an exam, complete work assignments, of deliver an energized speech. (www.adaa.org). However, if the stress and anxiety becomes persistent if could lead to disorders including depression enabling you to fulfill responsibilities will work, school and family.

Finding positives ways to cope and/or eliminate these anxieties is important. While some colleges provide assistance with childcare, beyond this service there aren’t many resources available to help working mothers cope with their responsibilities and stress. Without a support group these women may adapt some negative coping methods. Prolonged stress and chronic anxiety could lead to disorders such as, "alcoholism, drug addiction, caffeinism, chain smoking, obesity, anorexic, and nervosa." (Moore and Faust, 1982, p.359). In addition, it could "spur you to abandon healthy habits such as, exercising and eating well and affects your concentration, making you perform poorly at school or on the job." (Dr. Nancy Snyderman. wwwdrkoop.com).

An online support group designed especially for mothers returning to school would be a wonderful positive coping method. During my extensive Internet search I have not found one online community dedicated solely to this cause. In light of this I am proposing to develop a web site designated exclusively for these working, student, moms. The one crucial aspect the Cyber psychiatrist will offer is a place where you can go purely to vent and tell your frustrations of how you just want to be selfish and think of only yourself for once. Being able to let go and unwind without thinking of what prior commitment need to be taking care of. Its very frustrating feeling like you need to accommodate everyone and you always have to come last. If you let these feelings of frustration feaster inside you will become emotionally unstable, because these feeling need to be release but in a positive way. The site will offer services on things such as: Time management consulting (finding ways to help you balance school, work and family), financial and debt management (helping you find the means through financial aid, scholarships, grants and student loans), coping skills (giving positive solutions to dealing with anxieties and stress through stress management, relaxation/meditation, exercise, healthy eating habits and humor). The site will also give you advice on study tips (maybe you and your child/children can study together), test taking strategies, disciplining yourself (women tend to take errors personally and are more likely to let them affect self-esteem), career choices, and goal setting. In addition, it will have links directing you to seminars, online courses, social service organizations, and career opportunities.

As a working mother in college I feel the need for a support resource like this one. The demands of work, school and my daughter are often overwhelming and it would be great to have an outlet such as this one just to know I am not alone and to give me ways convert any negative feeling I may be experiencing. Also, because it would be online it would be easily accessible and I can use it at my convenience without the worry of needing to find a babysitter. I would be able to post questions to a bulletin board, enter a chat room or find information that is relative to me, such as college child care programs. Best of all, the cyber shrink venting room would be extremely helpful, because it will allow me to shed some of the negative feeling I have and say just how disgruntled I feel sometimes.

A coping mechanism such as a web-site is crucial when a working mother is returning to school. Without an outlet, to release frustrations as well as obtain valuable information, she may end up with an unhealthy state of mind, leading to depression or some other undesirable mental health problem. Even though very minimal amounts of stress may be necessary in order to push one, whatever additional stress she receives must be converted from negative to positive otherwise, it could lead to being unhealthy and detrimental causing her to fail in motherhood, her career and her education.




Donald Roy Morse & M. Lawrence Furst. (1982). Women Under Stress. New York. Van Nostand Reinhold Company

Laverne L. Ludden. (1996). Back to School: A college guide for adults. Indiana: Park Avenue Production

Frank J. Bruno. (1995). Going back to school: College survival strategies for adult students. New York: Simon & Schuster Macmillian Company

Collen McDonell. (1993). Guide for adults thinking about going to college. New Jersey: National Association for Adult College Students

Rapee Barlow .(1991). Chronic Anxiety. New York. The Guilford Press

B. Silverstein, D. Perlick. (1995). The cost of competence. New York. Oxford University Press

Harry Turner. (1997). You can do it: A guide for the adult learner and anyone going back to school mid-career. California: Merritt Publishing

Electronic Sources











Cue, Mary. (2000, March). [Interview with Mary Cue, working mother and student raising two children].




Survey. (2000, March). Anonymous survey of ten women who work while attending school and rearing children.

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