Elizabeth Eckert is a single mother of four children in her fourth year of an AU Bachelor of Arts — Psychology degree program. She grew up in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, but now resides in Red Deer, Alberta — a friendly city with less than 120,000 people and all of the amenities nestled among trees, rivers and lakes. Her hope in sharing her story is to inspire other mothers and students with disabilities that it is possible to reach their educational dreams.
Why did you choose to study Psychology?
I have always been fascinated by peoplethe way they think and why they do the things they do. I come from a difficult childhood and carried with me many troubles into my adult life. I want to understand my own behaviour and the behaviors of my family, and now my own children. I have worked with children and adults with disabilities for many years, and learning Psychology has made me a better mother, teacher, and person.
Now that you’re almost done your degree, what would be the course you would, without doubt, recommend other students to take?
Honestly just about every one of the Psychology courses I have taken would be of a huge benefit to everyone! The behavior modification course was particularly great for learning to change behavior and biological psych with personality psych both help you understand the origin of those behaviors.
How have you balanced being a mother of four with your studies?
To be truthful, juggling my children, dogs, and my health has been a huge and ongoing challenge. Although two of my children are on their own, I am still a huge part of their lives. My youngest son has multiple disabilities including hydrocephalus, epilepsy, autism and low vision. We attend many medical appointments and he requires a substantial amount of care. We don’t have any family or back-up in our new city and I feel a lot of stress being the sole financial, medical, mental/emotional, and physical provider for the boys. However, I have made it to my 4th year while maintaining a GPA of 3.5 (or higher) so I must be doing something right!
When you are a student with children, especially a single mom, you also feel guilt for taking time away from your children, or being stressed and tired from exams and assignment deadlines. You also need to be able to have uninterrupted time to retain what you are reading, which is very difficult with children. Booking exams is a challenge when you cannot promise that your child wont be sick that day or have an appointment that they must attend. There is also the guilt you feel for not dedicating yourself to your studies, passing in a paper when you know you could have done so much better if only you had more time, organizing your assignments around riding lessons, medical appointments, and volunteering. You want to succeed to show your children that dreams come true, that success brings much joy, and that you can become a mom with a great career, but you also do not want to miss your childrens achievements, practices, fun days, and family time. What a challenge.
For me, I have to add on worry about missing out on a crucial symptom that might show me that my son’s shunt is malfunctioning, his tumors are growing, he may have another seizure, or the super important teachable moments where I can help him learn to socialize, learn, achieve, and make natural supports. I worry I am not giving him the attention he so desperately needs, that I am not researching enough new ways to help him see better, feel better, and better cope with his many disabilities.
What are some other challenges you have faced in your studies?
I also have to cope and function with daily chronic pain, numbness, fatigue, and many other challenging symptoms that complicate studying, writing exams, learning, concentrating, making friends, or being needed in relationships and for supports, and that bring persistent fear that I will not reach my goals. Dozens of doctor appointments, surgeries and unpredictable emergencies for both myself and my son have made me want to throw in the towel multiple times. I have had to medically withdraw and retake courses, apply for many extensions, and beg my tutors to grant me just a few more days to finish an assignment I have yet to read the unit for.
What is the hardest part of distance learning with AU?
I think the hardest part is the lack of socialization with like-minded students. The ability to form relationships with my peers, tutors and having people to bounce ideas off and study with.
What is the best part of distance learning with AU?
The best part of distance learning is I actually have the ability to further my education as I am unable to attend a classroom full-time. AU provides many great courses, many great tutors, and a fantastic assistance to students with disabilities which allows me the flexibility and allowances needed to complete my degree.
If you were a box of cereal, what would you be?
Wow, tough question. I think I would be a random combination of fruit, fibre, dark chocolate and quinoa. Haha. As a person, I have many desired and not-so-desired pieces, but as a whole package I think I am pretty well-rounded!
Do you prefer the book or the movie? I like both. I would prefer the book if I had to time read anything but textbooks, but then again some movies wouldnt be as great as a book.
If you had to watch a movie on repeat, which movie would you choose?
Tough choice! Although there are so many great movies that speak to me, I would have to choose Gone with The Wind. I very much relate to the main character (Scarlett O’Hara) and the story is fascinating, real, raw, and from a time that I would love to visit.
What’s your favorite way to cool down in the summer?
I like to take the kids to the beach and put my feet in the cool water, but when we can’t go anywhere I usually use a cold washcloth, haha.
Once you have completed your program, what are your next steps?
I am not positive what my next step after graduation will be, but I do know that whether I complete a Masters of Counselling or become a nurse, I will keep pushing forward so I can support as many people as possible with my experience and education for the rest of my life. That is my goal for myself and my children!
Laura Nelson is a marketing analyst by day and a bibliophile by night. She is in her final stages of completing her BA with a major in English through AU.