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Being student and a mother : exploring the experiences of motherhood among university students.

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In most African societies, care and nurturing of a child is the woman’s responsibility. When young mothers are unemployed and attend university full-time, their experiences are different to those of other students. This study explores the experiences of motherhood among university students at a selected campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. The sample comprised of 20 undergraduate student mothers between the ages of 20 and 24. This was a qualitative study that used semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions to generate data. The theoretical framework used to bring meaning to the data was drawn from social constructivism and from theories of gender and power. The main findings reveal that student mothers face various challenges when parenting their children while attending the university full-time. Furthermore, it was discovered that student mothers staying at home with their children spend more hours travelling, this mean they spend less time concentrating on their assignments, group work activities and other school work. The findings also revealed that financing the living expenses of their children was a major issue when student mothers come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The findings also revealed that student mothers’ emotional attachment to their children was the greatest motivation to continue with their studies at university. Student mothers experienced various degrees of support. However it was discovered that there was a lack of support from the university and from the child’s father, whereas support from friends at university was reliable. Beyond them, the student mother’s family were the greatest supporters, financially and generally. Moreover, the study reveals that student mothers used various strategies to manage both roles, of being a student and a mother. Student mothers believed managing both roles is vital. This study concludes by highlighting the experiences of student mothers as both favourable and challenging. It highlights the support they receive from various parties to progress with their studies, and the strategies they use to cope with their studies and motherhood at university.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.