'I really miss my daughter very much!’

Gvantsa Kikalishvili (35) is a student mother. She’s doing her masters at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication. She’s a mother at a distance. Her husband and her 10 year old daughter Anano live together in Georgia, while Gvantsa is doing her master’s degree here in Rotterdam.

Gvantsa Kikalishvili skyping with her daughter Anano. Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

You live far away from your daughter. How did this happen?

“I came to the Netherlands in September. I’d been thinking about studying abroad for a while, but until this year I simply wasn’t ready. I waited for my daughter to be old enough to fully understand what this decision meant. Now she sees the value of studying abroad. As a family, we agreed that development is important and that people shouldn’t refrain from it because of their loved ones. On the contrary – they should strive forward even more. Now it’s my time to study. Next year my husband might do the same, and later Anano herself. We all acknowledge that this is normal and necessary.

Did you consider bringing her with you?

“Yes, I did. And it was a difficult decision not to bring her with me. But I didn’t want to create an unstable environment for her and disrupt her routine. I think it’s much easier now that her life has stayed mostly unchanged – the school, the city, even the food is the same. Moreover, I wasn’t aware of any university policies for student mums. So, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle two huge responsibilities with no help: my own study stress and my daughter’s well-being.”

“I really miss my daughter very much! But believe it or not, sometimes I get so overwhelmed by the study load that I don’t have time to experience these feelings. This year, I didn’t see her going to school, decorating her Christmas tree. I’m also going to miss her holiday performance at school. That’s very hard. If I’d been able to delay some of my assignments for a week, I’d certainly get on a flight to go and watch. But I’m a student just like everyone else and being a mother is my own responsibility.

What is Anano’s father’s role at the moment?

“To be honest, if it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t be able to do this. He’s adapted his entire lifestyle and routine around Anano’s. He doesn’t even take lunch breaks at work, so that he can get home early. I’m very grateful for his support. But I have to say that the main challenge for us was to figure out how to handle family affairs at a distance, because all three of us previously had our own roles in the house. So far, we’re doing ok.”

How do you communicate with Anano and what do you usually talk about?

“We’re both very busy so we came to realise that we need to set certain days when we can have longer conversations. That was a very important discovery, understanding that we’re only a part of each other’s lives, not the whole life. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to pursue our goals.”

“Yet, we do have our own rituals. For example, she sends me a picture when she’s on the school bus. That’s how we start our morning. And we always text each other about our homework.”

Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

What do you think both you and your daughter will learn from this experience?

Firstly, I think this type of a healthy detachment is extremely important, because now we both perceive ourselves as two mature, independent, equal beings.

Secondly, I think my daughter will learn from this not to be afraid of anything at all! I believe the time that we live in is the best time for opportunities. And I hope she will grow to use every opportunity life gives her.

’Motherhood made me very grateful for my studies’

Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

Kimberly Walden is a Sociology masters student, and a young mother of two – Justice (7) and Mimi (12). She says her children are very proud of their loving and hardworking mum. But becoming an exemplary student-parent hasn’t been easy. Kimberly became a mother when she was only 18 and later went on to pursue her bachelor’s degree here at Erasmus University. She has always been actively involved in academic affairs, representing students in the programme committee, faculty council and university council. Being a studying single mother has become an inspiration for her to seek solutions to all the challenges that others like her face. In fact, even her thesis is about how studying mothers navigate their way through the academic course and institutes.

Kimberly, you had your first child before you started your Bachelor. How did you manage to go back to school?

“After I had my son, I decided to go to school in order to make something of myself. I didn’t even have a high school diploma, so I had to pass exams to start my bachelor. Thankfully, I finished the bachelor in three years. I had a feeling that being a mother and a student was manageable, but I couldn’t go to parties or join student associations. I did build friendships, although I didn’t say much about my situation, because I didn’t think it was important. I needed to prove to myself that I could function just like any other student.

“Nonetheless, my fellow students were very accepting. They knew I worked as a representative, so they could come to me if they had any issues or questions. Being a parent made me more caring, I think. During these bachelor years, I got some help from the father, made good use of childcare and the possibilities to organise my class schedule conveniently. I attended morning classes so that I could be home by the evening. But the real hardship started when I became a single mother. Difficulties with studying, parenting and on top of it all – financial issues. I cried a lot. I’m now going into the fourth year of my master’s because I just couldn’t manage it all. Eventually, I had to delay my studies, but I managed to push through and this year I’ll be almost at the finish line.”

Did you get any help to overcome the academic challenges?

“I was hugely privileged to have a great study advisor. She really helped me extend deadlines for my thesis. But it’s important to know that every study advisor works very differently, because the university doesn’t have any policies for studying parents. I’m doing social studies, so my study advisor is a really understanding, social person. But if you’re studying economics, health or law for example – it could be much more difficult. I know stories of pregnant students who didn’t get any help. There’s no acknowledgment, no organisation – nothing to support studying parents at EUR. That’s why I decided to organise a meetup and connect these students, because connecting is already a form of support. I really want to let other mums and dads know that they aren’t alone.”

Despite all the challenges, do you think it’s good to be a studying mom?

“Motherhood made me very grateful for my studies. I see an immediate benefit of being an educated mother for my children. Studying has broadened my views and perspectives. I’m more aware that my children are the future of society. So I really implement that in how I raise them. I teach them to be very mindful of each other, not to take things for granted, be very grateful for the things they have.

“My children are my best friends in life. I really love them and they are my greatest investment. I really feel the importance of this, because I was a foster child – with no support from my parents, living in various homes and families. So, now I even bring my children to campus. I’m happy to see that they really like it and even want to study here. They see how I am studying and they are really inspired by this – I’m a living example to them. As a result, my daughter does her homework all by herself.

“Ultimately, I think university made me a better mother, and motherhood has made me a better student.”

“Connecting is already a form of support”, says Kimberly Walden. So she has created a Facebook page, a space where studying parents can connect and share their stories.