As I sit in my childhood bedroom, I hear my parents argue. Bickering turns into screaming, and in the span of just a few minutes, my mom consoles me as my dad glances at me from the back of a police car.
This was a daily occurrence while growing up, and by the time I turned 7, my parents had finalized their divorce.
From long court visits to custody battles and financial dilemmas, navigating life with divorced parents has been challenging, to say the least. I always thought it would be easier to manage as the years went on, but my college experience has presented me with further challenges I hadn’t anticipated.
I always felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. I struggled to connect with my peers, who could not relate to having separated parents or financial struggles.
Every weekend I shoved clothes, blankets and a toothbrush into a duffle bag to meet my dad in a ShopRite parking lot. My family called this exchange a ‘trade-off’ because I would stay with my dad, and my brother would stay with my mom for the weekend.
In addition to social pressures, I received limited financial assistance from my father for my college education, making the financial aid process something I dread more each academic year. He has a substantial income but continues to protest his child support payments, which feels like a slap in the face.
According to the Department of Human Services, child support is defined as the financial support paid by a parent to help support a child or children for whom they do not have custody.
While I recognize my privilege to attend a prestigious institution like Lehigh, I know I am one of many students who are only able to further their education because of need-based financial aid. Yet the funds I receive from the school aren’t promised and often come with various academic and administrative hoops to jump through.
I have placed immense pressure on myself to keep my grades up so I can continue to receive steady financial aid. There is never a time when I’m taking an exam or doing a homework assignment that I’m not thinking about my tuition and debt.
This worrying has ultimately taken a toll on my mental health. The high levels of stress I experience every day are overwhelming and draining. As a first-generation college student, my anxiety and the pressure I put on myself to succeed are already heightened.
The decision to attend college was my own, with little to no guidance. As the product of low-income families, neither of my parents had the opportunity to pursue a higher education.
According to the National Library of Medicine, research has documented that divorce is associated with an increased risk for child and adolescent adjustment problems, including academic difficulties, disruptive behaviors and mental disorder diagnosis.
While divorce is generally associated with unfavorable outcomes for children, the effects of divorce are not the same for every individual.
In my experience, removing myself from a toxic household has given me the opportunity to pursue a higher level of education and take pride in being a first-generation college student while facing these challenges.
Although stressful, my experience so far at Lehigh has been rewarding. I’m learning how to be financially independent while pursuing my studies to the best of my abilities.
Now nearing the end of my sophomore year, I’ve found a community of people who I can connect with. My professors are welcoming and accommodating, and the friends I have made have helped me become more accepting of myself and my past.
I lacked stability, and I felt like I didn’t have a secure home until I became a college student. Lehigh has become a home for me and gave me the groundedness I desperately needed.