Methods: Data were drawn from a study of 67 in-depth individual interviews with students seeking BSW and MSW degrees from a social work program in the midwestern United States. This analysis included all student mothers from the initial sample (n = 16). Participants were recruited through an email to the student body. Interviews were conducted via Zoom, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed in Dedoose. Qualitative description was the primary method of analysis given its utility in describing experiences and events in “every-day language”. In qualitative description, researchers may incorporate “hues, tones, and textures” from relevant methodologies. We chose to incorporate elements of phenomenology because of our focus on mothers’ lived experiences and meaning-making.
Findings: Three themes emerged from the descriptive analysis. First, participants described navigating uncertainty and the need to make tough choices for their families. Participants struggled with balancing messages from multiple sources and feeling uncertain when trying to ensure safety: “Am I over-reacting? Am I under-reacting?” Second, participants’ narratives illustrated the burden of responsibility they felt for ensuring the health and wellbeing of their families. This theme illustrated a felt tension among mothers between wanting to ensure the physical safety of their children while balancing emotional and social wellbeing. As one mother asked, “My daughter will only turn 13 once. Is [a birthday party] worth the germs?” Third, participants struggled to balance education with others’ needs, such as in instances where they were participating in online courses while assisting their children with homework, emotional needs, and accessing their own virtual learning platforms.
Conclusions/Implications: Given the gendered nature of mothering roles and responsibilities, which were intensified during the pandemic, supporting student mothers is an important equity issue within our profession. Social work administrators, faculty, and staff can ensure structural and procedural supports to foster student mothers’ learning.