CRNA 142 | CRNA Single Parent

Single parenthood and CRNA school can coexist; it’s a challenging journey, but your dreams are worth the effort. In this episode, hear the remarkable story of Ariel, a single mom who is also a student registered nurse anesthetist (SRNA). Today, she shares the challenges and triumphs of balancing the rigors of CRNA school while raising a child on her own. From maintaining self-identity to masterful planning, Ariel shares everything that has kept her sane on this demanding path. She reminds us that despite the hurdles, you can achieve your goals and provide a better future for your children. Tune in now!

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Can You Manage CRNA School As A Single Parent With Single Mom And SRNA Ariel

We have a very special guest episode. I’m excited to talk about this topic. I want to thank our guest host for volunteering on this topic because it’s something that is very rare and special. Welcome to the show, Ariel.

Thank you for having me.

We’re excited to have you. I know I’m teasing you a little bit, but you’re like, “What’s the topic?” Ariel has been a single mom for many years now. She doesn’t have any of her parents. It’s always been the two of them. She’s uniquely a veteran of the US Army where her daughter was born in Germany, which I think is cool. She also loves to work out, be a mom, read, and do outdoor activities. She was an ICU nurse for seven years prior to CRNA school.

I want to paint this picture for you guys because this is an intended pathway that she took to become a CRNA despite the fact that she has been a single mother and knowing this is going to be an incredibly hard journey. Welcome to the show, Ariel. If you want to embellish any more of your background in what led you to make that decision to go back to CRNA school.

You did a great job. You hit everything on the head there. I became a single mom when I was in the military many years ago. After that, when I became that single mom, I was like, “I have to do something different. I have to break that stigma. I don’t ever want to resent being a mother and not pursuing my dreams.” It’s cool that you can have both.

When my daughter was eight months old, I went back to nursing school. I did an Advanced Nursing degree. I got my RN. I started working as an ICU nurse, then I went back to school and got my Bachelor’s degree when she was about six years old. She has gone to school with me pretty much her whole life. I always knew anesthesia was going to be the end goal. I didn’t know when I was going to do it. During the pandemic, I experienced severe burnout. That was the time. Luckily, I did. Now I’m here and it’s going very well.

I love how you mentioned that you didn’t want to give up on your own dreams because you knew that you were going to be faced with some extra hurdles because of being a single parent. I love that, too, because now that your daughter has seen you embark upon school multiple times, that’s going to leave a very big impact on her and what she’s out to achieve for herself as well. In my opinion, you are setting a very good role model for her to look up to. That’s great that you shared that.

It’s funny back when the pandemic started, I guessed wrong. I thought they were going to see a lack of applicants because I thought everyone was distracted by what was going on. I was wrong. The CRNA schools that I have talked to and communicated with have repeatedly said that they are still seeing record numbers almost double what pre-pandemic applicant numbers were. The fact that you made it in despite being double the number of applicants says a lot. Congratulations. You said you always knew CRNA. What was your first taste of CRNA? Did you get exposed in the Army? How did you know about CRNA?

I did get exposed in the military. I worked alongside a CRNA. We got to learn directly under a physician’s assistant and then somebody who was working in the clinic overseas in Germany was CRNAs. They always had their little kit with them with all the blades that we had to take out to the field. I was enamored by it. I was like, “That’s cool. I think I’ll go that route when I’m done with being in the Army.” When I was in the army, I was a medic. I always knew that I wanted to be a nurse. I was going to do the Army route because then they would pay for my schooling. I would give back to my country and I would have purpose.

I did it the right way. Looking back, I was like, “I could’ve done anesthesia school when I was younger,” but I didn’t have necessarily the best upbringing. I didn’t have that guidance. I knew by joining the Army, I was going to get that guidance and determination and they would also pay for my schooling. It was a full circle. It is super nice. I got to work alongside a CRNA in the service. I was like, “I’m going to do that.”

That’s something very unique and special. A lot of people always ask, “How much should I share of my background?” How you discovered the role of a CRNA is an important way to share what strikes that interest, but it also shows the fact that you were a medic before. You were always clearly interested in the medical field that you were exposed to CRNA, but prior to that, you already had a very strong desire to give back in that way.

Mindset And Mentorships

Seeing that subspecialty more advanced but utilize some of the same critical thinking skills that you would use as a medic shows that you have had a long-term pursuit and passion for this type of career path. Thank you for sharing that. Did you always think CRNA was going to be achievable once you realized that this is what you wanted to do as a single mom?

I did and I didn’t. I fell down the rabbit hole of the Reddit threads. They were very negative about being a parent in anesthesia school, let alone a single parent. I researched. I looked up YouTube videos, podcasts, and everything that talked about being a parent in anesthesia school. I was like, “I’m not going to be able to do this. There’s no way. Nobody else is talking about it. It can’t be done.”

I have a girlfriend of mine and she went through anesthesia school as a completely single mom. I was like, “I know people can do this.” I changed my mindset. Instead of saying, “I can’t do it. Everybody’s telling me I can’t do it,” a negative mindset to more of like, “If I want it bad enough, work hard enough and get into school, I will make it happen.” It’s making that switch in my mindset and I was like, “I can do this.”

It’s like quieting the critics. I don’t know if you know the quote by Theodore Roosevelt, The Man In The Arena. I love it. In fact, it’s back here on my desk. It’s one of my favorite quotes. What it’s telling you is when you’re the one in the arena, you’re the one doing the things. You’re going to have people throwing apples and bananas at you, booing at you, and saying you can’t do it, or portraying their own insecurities onto you and saying, “I don’t think that’s possible. Therefore, you shouldn’t think it’s possible.”

You have to learn how to quiet the critics and naysayers and do what you believe to be true to yourself, give yourself the chance to succeed, and know that failure or obstacles don’t mean that it’s never going to happen, that your outcome’s not going to be achievable. It means it’s going to be a growth experience along the way. I love that you took ownership of your future and said, “I don’t care what other people have to say or what they think is possible. I’ll give myself the opportunity for a chance to do what I want to achieve,” and it worked out.

It’s important to remember that. As a society, we always tell mothers that they can either be good moms or good at their jobs. I want people to know like, “You can do both alone.” It will still be fulfilling in all aspects.

Women are superheroes personally because it is hard to juggle both. I know dads have this, too, I’m not poo-pooing that. I know dads have dad guilt, but a lot of it comes down to feeling like, “Maybe I owe it to them to be the mom,” versus also being a career woman or doing things for myself. It’s shifting personally back from many years ago, thank goodness. You knew it could potentially create resentment. Your children want you to be happy. Speaking for my own parents, I want them to be happy. If that means they’re going to have a hobby or something that’s going to fulfill them, then fill up their cup because you can’t pour from an empty cup.

A woman standing in a room with her shadow cast upon the wall-. The shadow is made to look like a superhero.
CRNA Single Parent: Women are superheroes because it is hard to juggle both.

I love that you realized that early on, which led you to be determined to keep pursuing it and then having a friend who you equally saw them do it. That’s also key in this story. That’s why mentorship is powerful and why I’ve seen it change lives because it is about having someone else who you can relate to, lean on, answer questions, and be your cheerleader who says, “You can.”

That makes a big impact so that friend of yours who was ahead of you, in a way, that’s the type of mentor that you looked up to that you said, “I can. You did it, I can too.” Everyone needs someone like that in their life where they can look down that path and see themselves there. What did you do early on after you got over the Reddit threads that would essentially ensure that you were able to continue to pursue CRNA despite not knowing what was going to be in store for you?

Planning Ahead

I’m a big planner. One of the biggest things that I did was plan ahead. I found a nanny ahead of time. On top of the nanny, I found a backup nanny. On top of that, I’m very fortunate that I have grandparents who live close by and they’re both retired. I communicated with them about school on how busy school is going to be. They are on my daughter’s emergency contact list for school. If something happens, they can come and pick her up.

I talked to my sisters who have lives of their own and multiple children of their own, but I wanted to plan ahead. That’s the biggest thing that I did to prepare for school. I also had those conversations with my daughter. We’ve had daily conversations about school leading up to it. One of the biggest things that I did before anesthesia school, which is not related to school at all or prepping for school, but I took a vacation with my daughter.

We were there for six weeks on vacation. I was a mom for six weeks. I took that time to bond with her, be with her, and let her know that I was going to be there for her. This is the last vacation that we’ll have for years. It is these little things to make her know that I’m still there for her, but it’s going to be a very different and busy time.

That sounds wonderful. I hope you guys all took notes because you mentioned a couple of things. You not only have a nanny but you have a backup, which is great. I’ve been in the childcare circuit myself. We’ve had some people come to our house. While nannies are great because they come to your house, they’re not always as reliable as daycare because they can be sick or have something come up.

You’re like, “What do I do?” Daycare is a little more reliable. There are positives and negatives to both situations. I love the fact that you plan for a backup. I also love that you had grandparents that you could have nearby that could be that backup for if your kid got sick. I know you know that kids get sick often or they have something come up at school where they got hit in the eye with a soccer ball and their eye swollen. Now they get picked up or random things.

You’re in the middle of clinical. It’s not like they’re going to say, “Go ahead. Go home and get your daughter.” You’re going to be expected to have someone else do those types of things. You’re talking about a support system, whether that be sisters, friends, and other types of family, aunts, uncles, or cousins. It’s important to get everyone involved that you possibly can and not feel bad. For one time in your life, you need to ask for help. That shows a lot that you’re willing to ask for that extra support even though they had busy lives of their own. You put it out there that you’re going to need some extra support over the next few years. Talking to your daughter is huge.

You cannot feel bad for the one time in your life when you need to ask for help. Click To Tweet

She was 9 or 10 when she was understanding all this was going on. She’s older now. That’s a critical age because they’re coming into their own. We have younger children. Everything has to do with them. Meaning, if something goes wrong in your day, they think it’s their fault. You’re like, “What?” You forget where that mindset starts young and you’re like, “No.” For example, our daughter has gone through the worst of the phase, but I was mad because she wouldn’t do something.

At first, she goes, “Do you love me?” I’m like, “I love you. I’m just mad at you.” I had to frame it like, “Does your brother get mad at you?” She’s like, “Yes.” I’m like, “Do you think your brother doesn’t love you?” She’s like, “Good point.” She is taking it harder because I’m her mother. You have to realize where your child is in their own mindset when you do communicate with them. It takes a lot of frequent reminders.

As an adult, you think, “I can tell someone one time and they get it.” Not as a child. That’s important that you stretch that out over a period of time and reinforce it along with giving her time for you and her to bond. That’s phenomenal. That allows her to know that she truly is number one in your life, but prepping her for like, “This is going to be a long road until we get to do this again, but it’ll be worth it.” I loved that. That’s great. How did she feel? How was her reaction to all that?

For school, I don’t think she understood. She was very happy and excited. She keeps telling people that her mom is going to be a doctor. I’m like, “Kind of.” I’ll have my Doctorate degree. It’s cute because she’ll say like, “Anesthesia.” She says it right. She’s very proud and she tells everybody that she talks to. She’s like, “My mom’s going to do anesthesia. She’s in anesthesia school.”

You can tell she’s very proud of me, and that makes me feel good. She’s been happy and good. I still, to this day, will have to remind her like, “I don’t have this free time anymore.” Oftentimes, I’ll be sitting in my office and waving at her from the window. She’ll be outside playing and is like, “Five minutes.” I’m like, “I can’t study.” Overall, she’s taking it very well.

It’s going to be harder on the parent than it is on the child. Kids don’t realize. You try to hide things as an adult. You don’t want your kids to see a completely emotional mess most of the time because you’re worried that they’re going to feel that way, too, but then it becomes harder on you because you’re like, “How can I get some release emotionally?” I’d love to ask you. How has it made you feel? How have you coped with that emotional tug of knowing that this is what you need to do and have to do with giving time to your daughter?

Balancing School And Family

It’s gotten busier for school. The mom guilt has been setting in very heavily. I make it a priority to spend even one hour with her on Sundays. We’ll meal prep together and be present with her. I’ll take her to the park, on a hike, and do something with her so then I don’t feel as guilty about it. I remind myself like, “This is short-term. It’ll be over in two years and then we will be able to spend all the time we can together.”

Especially in the summer, she did have daycare, but in the evenings, I prioritized my time. If she had daycare from 6:00 to 6:00, then I would study from 6:00 to 6:00 and get it done. In the evenings, I will spend that time with her. My mom guilt doesn’t feel bad. There are days that it is not realistic and she will end up coming and watching a movie in the closet to be close to me. I feel sad, but I keep reminding myself and her like, “This is only temporary. It is going to be hard now, but I’m doing it. I’m making it work and it’ll definitely be worth it.”

CRNA 142 | CRNA Single Parent
CRNA Single Parent: “It is going to be hard right now, but I’m doing it. I’m making it work and it will definitely be worth it.”

I love how you’ve made dedicated time. We can feel better if we say, “We’re going to try to study and watch the kids. We’re going to try to do this and do something with the kids.” You’re not giving your all to either one activity, meaning you’re not getting good studying done or good work done and you’re also not getting good quality time with your loved ones. It’s important to set that boundary of, “This is when I’m 100% on for school. This is when I’m 100% on for you.” That will allow you to have more quality time and have them also feel that too. That’s smart that you have made that choice to be deliberate with how you spend your time.

There are going to be times when it’s not possible and you have to have a good mindset around how you can take that. You mentioned this is temporary. “This is going to be a hard temporary position but the long game is the fact that this won’t be this way forever.” That’s a great mindset to have. Thank you for sharing that. You mentioned childcare, which is great. Have you ever noticed that your daily time and workload are different compared to your classmates? Has that come up or have you noticed anything? How so?

In the beginning, I felt guilty about comparing my journey to even other people in my class. I would be like, “It must be nice to be able to get all of that studying done and I’m going to meet the teacher after class,” or anything, then I was like, “Hold on. Their journey is different. My journey is completely different.” My priorities are different, but there are other people in my class who have children and it’s nice because then I can relate to them in a sense, then we’re all like, “We have to do all this studying, stay up late, and wake up early.” I am the only one who’s doing it alone.

I don’t have another parent who can take on the laundry, cooking, bedtime, school pickup, or drop off. It’s all on me. I don’t think anybody would disagree that my daily tasks are different than other people because I’ll wake up at 5:30 and go to CrossFit. It’s like, “I have to schedule the time. When can I go for the day?” I will bring my daughter to school or daycare and then I will go to class.

If I’m in clinical for the day, the nanny will come over early in the morning and then she’ll bring her to school or daycare. It’s a juggling act. Half of the time, I’m like, “I need to get through the day.” My to-do list is different than other people, but I’m still managing. It’s not impossible. I am an early-morning person. I’ll wake up at 4:00 AM and get studying done instead of staying up late. It’s different, but I’m still making it work within the 24 hours that we have in a day.

Time Management

Do you block your time? How do you stay organized? Do you create a calendar with blocking on certain things every day?

I have never gotten into a tech calendar. I am still old school and I’ll write everything out. I’ll even put in there like, “I can go to the gym at this time. This time, I have to get it done.” I will put any appointments, anything like that. On my wall, it has the school and daycare closure dates. I plan for the entire year ahead. That way, I know like, “Daycare and schools close this day, I need to get additional care. I need to figure something else out for that day.”

I also have little to-do lists that I make every single week. I’m like, “I need to get this done for homework purposes.” There’s so much juggle and work it seems like, but it’s not because then I stay on track with everything. I’m not overwhelmed and falling behind. I’m not missing appointments or anything. I write it all down and I’ll tape it to the wall so that I’m looking at it every day and I’m like, “I have this to do.”

It sounds like a very good structure. You’re structured and very organized. You plan ahead for the entire year or as much as you can. Sometimes, it’s one week at a time, but you also look ahead. That’s key as well for those of you reading that it’s possible, but it does take a lot of strategic planning, organization, and essentially looking far enough ahead to where you can help yourself out before you get in panic mode.

Sometimes, life does happen. You can’t plan for everything, but if you’re already structured from the beginning, I can imagine you’re going to cut way back on these, “Oops,” occasions. That’s all great advice. Thank you for sharing that. I know you mentioned meal prepping with your daughter, which is great to get her involved with that. That probably saves you time during the week as well. If you’re not comfortable talking about it, we can skip right past it, but financially, has this been hard on you? Have you been able to find that you’re able to get enough loans to cover living costs and things like that?

Loans And Healthcare Coverage

Loans have been great. I haven’t had any extra additional stress for financial purposes. I wasn’t one of the people who saved up $300,000 before I started school. It wasn’t realistic. I did travel nursing for two years before I started school. That was how I was able to take that vacation with my daughter for so long. Instead of thinking about like, “How am I going to do this? How am I going to pay it back in the end?” I knew that there were options. There are loans available. You can apply for state assistance and childcare assistance. If your children are young enough, you can qualify for WIC. There are different options that a lot of people don’t talk about and they don’t know about.

If you look at whatever state you’re in, assistance for school in general and a whole list will come up. You can get utility assistance and things like that. Finances have never been something that has been a stressor to me in the program. I am looking at a hefty student loan bill when I’m done, but I know that in the long run, I’ll be able to pay it off. It’s not something that I’m like, “I’m going to get through school and I’m never going to be able to make these student loan payments.” It’s something that like, “I’m going to get through school. I’ll be able to make the student loan payments and I’ll be able to enjoy my life.”

I know some schools will allow you to have a student medical plan, but is that also something that has been factored into like state assistance type of thing?

For healthcare, insurance, and dental, it’s included. For additional stuff, I go through state health insurance, which has been great. Those are options available too. They do offer healthcare and dental and they do offer that for families as well. That wasn’t something like, “I was going to get it and then she wouldn’t get anything.” She definitely got included in it. It was nice.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that schools have options like that for students and even dependents. That is something that hopefully can alleviate that fear as well because that could be tricky and stressful to navigate. Last prying about your daily activities, but do you have to limit school activities? I don’t know if your daughter’s into sports. How does that all work as far as juggling school? You mentioned your chores. You have to block times that you’re able to do those things.

Asking For Help

For chores, we have a cleaning crew that will come two times a month. They take a huge load off of both her and me. I found in the beginning that would be an added stress. My house is getting messy and I didn’t have the time to do it. I was getting more stressed out. I didn’t want that. We hired a cleaning service. They’ll come twice a month. They do everything. That has alleviated so much extra stress. For school activities for her, she does a rolling art club. I’ll sign her up for that. Her school is amazing where she will get shuttled to and from the art club after school and then she goes to an after school daycare.

I don’t have to do anything. My hands are washed and dried with that. Luckily for me, I was done with class or clinical before the daycare closed. It works out perfectly. We do meal prep for the entire week. I don’t run into any issues, like midweek I run out of food or anything like that. Another activity for her that first year was basketball, and it was a traveling basketball. Every weekend, we were going to tournaments. I don’t know realistically if these next few years that is going to be something that I’ll be able to keep up. We might try it. Networking is a big thing. There are a bunch of moms who I’m friends with, like on her basketball team who would be willing to take her up for the tournament for the weekend. That might be an option for me too.

I love how you’re already thinking like, “I might not be able to be as present as I was before, but maybe there could be someone who could help me out,” that you know who’s on those travel teams that could take her if she still wants to do it. I love that. You mentioned when daycare closes. That is definitely something to think about for those of you who may have different situations with school clinical hours. My clinical hours were pretty straightforward. They’re usually eight-hour shifts. There are some schools that do different types of clinical hours like where I worked. Those students had all kinds of funky hours. Even where I work, sometimes the students come in at 11:00 to 7:00 or they have these 16-hour shifts and I even did 24-hour shifts as a student sometimes.

It is knowing that could be a possibility or a stressor as far as I don’t get out of clinical till 7:00 PM at night. It is having some thought process around what would you do if that was the case and maybe talking to your faculty about that. That would be a good question to even ask in your interview as far as what are the typical clinical hours, especially if you’re worried about a situation where you’re not going to have childcare. To summarize this, what advice do you have for those reading who are feeling that fear or anxiety around going to CRNA school as a single parent?

Advice For Others

The biggest advice is telling them they can do it. They can make it happen. You have to have a level of determination and perseverance. Planning is a big thing to do. It’s going to be challenging for sure. It’s hard. The mom or dad guilt or parent guilt in general will be a reality. Try to focus on that end goal. Know that in the end, you’re going to have a better work-life balance. You’ll have better finances. You’ll be able to provide arguably a better life for your children and you. Don’t feed into the Reddit threads.

Realize that there are people who are doing it who are single parents and maybe they’re busy and then they’re not talking about it. It’s hard and not a lot of people do it, but it’s something that you can do as a single parent. I don’t want people to think because they have children, it’s not a reality and it’s not even an option for them. I want them to know that you can still have your cake and eat it too. You can still fulfill your dreams and be a good parent. It’s all possible.

I love that. That’s great advice. Something fun to end the show is what are the 2 or 3 mom hacks that have saved you some sanity? I know you mentioned going to the gym and I love the fact that you’re still going to the gym and making time for that. What are some hacks?

I wrote this question out and it’s a thick one. I’ll skim over it, but the gym. Let’s say you like to read and you love reading a book a day or something. That’s probably not going to happen, but get in three pages every night. For you, even if it’s 3, 5, or 10 pages, do something that makes you feel like a human being and feel like you because your schedule is going to be all over the place. It’s going to be crazy. You’re going to lose all structure for the most part. You still want to do the things that make you feel happy because if you lose yourself, then you’re not going to be like a present or a good parent. You’re going to be struggling in school and everything’s going to feel like the world’s crashing in and you can’t do it.

If you maintain some sense of normalcy, for me, it’s the gym, that’s never something that I’ll compromise on because I know that it’s there for my mental health. It makes me a better mom and smarter so my brain works better. It’s 20 minutes to 1 hour a day I’m getting to the gym. That is the biggest piece of advice that I could give to people. You already feel a loss of self as a parent in general and then especially as a solo parent.

It’s nice to maintain anything that makes you feel like you and keep that up through school. Even if you’re not getting 6 or 7 days a week, try to get 3 or 4 days instead. Try to maintain a sense of your own self because it’s going to be hard. It is going to be easy to make those excuses and like, “I don’t have time for myself,” but you have 20 or 30 minutes and you can dedicate that time to lock yourself in the bathroom and take a bath or do something. Another thing is to stay organized as best as you can. Plan ahead. Have a backup for your backup even because if your child gets sick or hit with a baseball or something at school, your world falls apart. You need to have some level of support because you don’t have that other parent. You need to have somebody there.

It's nice to maintain anything that makes you feel like you. Click To Tweet

Even if you’re not around family or even if you don’t have family, then you can find a trustworthy nanny, and then find a backup to that trustworthy nanny, a reliable daycare, or friends and your community, anybody that can help. Talk to your children about it, too, and prepare them for what’s to come no matter how old they are. It’s important to make them feel included in the whole process because it’s better for everybody if they’re like, “Mom or Dad got to study and then we get to go on a walk and it’s exciting.” Try to do things for you. Stay organized. Prioritize your time. Those are the biggest things.

A woman holding a cup of coffee sitting at a laptop with an alarm clock nearby
CRNA Single Parent: Stay. Pray. Organize. Prioritize your time.

I love the fact that you mentioned having a backup to a backup plan. Even neighbors could be a huge help if you have a relationship with your neighbors to pick up your kids. They’re right next door to all things to think about. One of the things I struggle with a lot is this, and I still have to catch myself doing this. Sometimes I feel bad asking for help, but then you know your loved ones want to help you and they will help you, but you have to swallow your own pride and accept the fact that you can’t do it all.

A big part of it is this is a temporary time in your life where you can’t do it all and getting someone to clean your house is okay. Even if they don’t clean it the way you clean it, it’s going to get done. Thank you. This has been wonderful. For those of you reading, I hope this gives you hope. She mentioned perseverance and determination. Don’t give up on your dreams. You can do it. I believe in you. I know Ariel does too. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you much.

Thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate this.

Important Links

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