Challenges Lead Stay-at-Home Mom Back to College


By: Prairie State College Public Relations

Jennifer Forbes
Jennifer Forbes (Image Provided)

Prairie State College (PSC) student Jennifer Forbes, of Richton Park, Ill., has always wanted to finish her degree, but her busy life as a wife and stay-at-home mother made it difficult for her to pursue her dream. That all changed in February 2017, when her education became a priority.

Originally from Gettysburg, Penn., Forbes, a mother of three, stayed home to take care of her children while her husband, Joseph, worked long hours as a maintenance supervisor. In addition to taking care of her children, Forbes also worked as a homecare provider for her disabled mother-in-law while her father-in-law works, which, she said, made going to school seem impossible.

“I talked to my father-in-law about it and he said, ‘you’re not doing that. You can’t, you just can’t. There is too much going on here’.”

The busy life that Forbes had adapted to abruptly changed earlier this year, when one morning, her husband attempted to get up and could not walk. After spending time in the hospital, they were told that, because of nerve issues in his back, it was not wise for him to continue working in maintenance. So, after 11 years of being the primary provider for their household, he was unemployed, and everything changed for the Forbes family.

“That had been our entire life,” said Forbes.  “He worked six to seven days a week, and all of sudden he can’t and we have no idea what the next step is.”

Forbes, who had plenty of sign-language interpretation experience, wasted no time in looking for work. She found several positions, but it was not long before she learned that most jobs now require at least an associate degree.

“When I was a kid, an associate degree was not something that everybody got,” said Forbes. “So, all of a sudden, I needed to finish that.”

Forbes made the decision to go back to school and follow in her daughter’s footsteps by enrolling at PSC. Forbes’ daughter, Maria, graduated magna cum laude from the college in 2016, and is now studying art therapy at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Despite her daughter’s successful journey at PSC, Forbes said she was terrified to return to school.

“I had the first panic attack of my life in the parking lot,” said Forbes. “I couldn’t get out of the car. I was gripping the door handle and crying, and I don’t do that. I’m not that kind of person.”

Jennifer and Maria Forbes
Jennifer and Maria Forbes (Image Provided)

Forbes said she called her best friend who encouraged her to push past her anxiety and take the first steps. Although returning to college was scary for Forbes, it was something she had to do.

“It was a necessity at this point in the game,” said Forbes. “Three different jobs and none of them would take me because even though I have 65 credits, they don’t count without [a diploma].”

Forbes mustered up the courage to begin college at PSC. She met with Sarah Hein, Associate Professor and Counselor, Transfer Program, and learned that she was closer to her goal than she had previously thought.

“I found out I was only seven classes away from earning my associate degree,” said Forbes. “I’m like, ok! I can do that. I can make that happen.”

Returning to college was not at all what Forbes had predicted it would be.

“I was absolutely terrified about the students being the same age as my children,” said Forbes.

But her classmates, professors and PSC staff members have made her life feel “a bit easier.”

“It’s not as hard as you think, and people are for you, especially here,” said Forbes. “There are a lot of returning adults and the professors know and understand that real life happens and they are very accommodating for that.”

Forbes considered other colleges but found that the cost and commitments are “ridiculous.” While much has changed over the last year, she is still homeschooling her two teenage children and taking care of her mother-in-law, so the obligations placed on students at other colleges and universities, she said, would have made it nearly impossible for her to return to school.

“Most of my classes are online so I can just take my work with me,” said Forbes. “If my mother-in-law ends up in the hospital, I can take my laptop and keep going.”

In all that has transpired in her life, Forbes is grateful for the opportunity to pursue her dream. The change, she said, has given her a sense of purpose and has allowed her to have something she can call her own.

For many years, I didn’t have anything that was mine,” said Forbes. “I was taking care of my mother-in-law, homeschooling my kids, and doing the exact same things but, now it is my time.”

Forbes is enrolled in the Dual Degree Program (DDP) at PSC in partnership with Governor State University (GSU), which will allow her to earn an associate degree and transfer to GSU to complete her bachelor’s degree. Forbes will graduate from PSC this fall and plans to begin her studies in communication disorders at GSU in spring 2018.

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