Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Total Truth Tuesday: You tell me...

For this week's edition of Total Truth Tuesday, I want to know what you think. So, you guys give me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Seriously, I can take it.

Did I waste my education?

I was having a conversation with a good friend a while back about the value of educating a woman who will eventually stay at home with her children. It was an interesting discussion, completely amiable, between a SAHM and a working mom. Both mothers of daughters.

Through this discussion the question was asked, "Is there any point in going to college and spending money on an education if you're planning to stay at home and raise kids?"

At the time, I couldn't really articulate my thoughts eloquently on the subject. When it comes to debating a topic, I know two speeds. They are: politely restrained and out for blood. Just ask my husband. He'll be glad to tell you which speed is my favorite. (Hint: It isn't restraint.)

And since this is a very good friend and truly was a friendly discussion, I didn't lock and load and throw all my effort into this argument.

But, this was certainly not the first time this conversation has come up in my life. A year or two ago I was given a child-rearing "manifesto" by a more conservative friend. In no uncertain terms, it stated that girls should not receive education beyond high school since the Bible "says" women are to raise children and care for the home. (Click here to read my opinion on that myth.)

I realize people on both sides of the educational fence could say I wasted my education. Some feminists might say I am wasting my education by staying home with my kids when I could be "contributing" to society. More conservative folks would ask why I bothered to go to school and get "educated" when I clearly should have been pursuing more domestic training.

But, here's why I think it is important for a woman to be educated whether or not she plans to stay home later with her children.

1. Things don't always go according to your plan. Have you read this guest post on Rocks in My Dryer's website? It is a beautiful and heartbreakingly honest post from a self-described "wife without a husband and mother without a child." A woman who planned to get married and have children. And a woman who found that life had other plans. Imagine if she had decided to forgo education because she planned to have kids one day.

2. There is more to learn in higher education than academics. I think higher education can mean a variety of things. I want to make this part really clear, I don't believe an "education" has to mean learning in a traditional college setting. But, I do think attention must be paid to learning things about the world outside. Whether it be apprenticing or traveling through Europe or mission trips or a traditional college degree or anything in between, learning about other people, places, and cultures is important. How can I, as a mom, impart a sense of wonder about this big huge world to my children if I've never seen how big it is? I was an English major in school. Not necessarily the most practical of degrees. But, is what I learned wasted on my time at home? Of course not. I learned about people, relationships, history, art. I got the opportunity to travel and live abroad for a short period of time. I learned self-reliance. I learned to be a part of a community. All of these things are an important part of raising thoughtful, articulate, and well-rounded children. For that reason, I cannot look at my education as wasted.

3. Perhaps most importantly, being a SAHM means so much more than just staying at home. Whether you like the term SAHM or Homemaker or something loftier, you have to recognize that this "job" entails much more than sitting on the sofa watching kids play all day. Yes, there are days when I color in coloring books or play Barbies for 80% of my day. And, of course, there are times when my days feel like nothing more than glorified babysitting. But, my job is much more like family CEO than anything. I balance the books and manage all the bills. I am responsible for finding educational and entertaining activities to keep my children happy and busy. I am a conflict negotiator between two emotionally high-strung and often irrational individuals. I am responsible for making healthy meal choices for my family (which may occasionally include cupcakes for breakfast, but, hey, I'm doing my best here!). I am wardrobe consultant, hair stylist, laundress, housekeeper, teacher, chauffer, accountant, event planner, cultural ambassador, Sunday school teacher, and more. And I am better at all of these things because I didn't simply give up on learning about the world after high school.

Perhaps what frustrates me most (and tends to make me feel the most self-conscious of my decision to stay at home) is the notion that I am "just" a mom. The notion that I am wasting my time, my education, or my resources on my children is a frustrating one for me.

And, if you're saying to yourself, "me thinks the lady doth protest too much" - well, you're probably right.

I'll admit that, some days, I am my own biggest critic when it comes to convincing myself I'm not wasting away at home. But, in my (albeit rare) moments of clarity, I know that my education ultimately contributes to my ability to be a good mom to my kids and that, in the end, the only thing I'm really wasting is the time I spend worrying about what other people think about my choices.

But, what about you? How do you feel about higher education and raising children? What would have done differently in this particular area? What are decisions are you thankful you made?


Carey said...

In my opinion - reason #1 is the most important reason that every woman should pursue an education regardless of her plans for family and children. Things don't always go as planned. Period. I went from a SAHM to a single mom. No happily married SAHM wants to think about it, but the sad truth is that marriages do sometimes end unexpectedly - either by death or divorce. Even those that don't may meet other tragedy that may require mom to have to support the family. Having an education and skills that can benefit the family outside of the home is essential. Even if you do have your happily-ever-after, at least you're prepared. I think you should be proud of your education, and even prouder to be using it to shape your childrens' lives full-time. You go girl!

kellymac said...

Great post. I think you've articulated it pretty well. Odd thing to me about the feminist counter-argument is that I always thought feminism was about broadening the options women have, not limiting them. In the short time I've been doing the SAHM thing, there are plenty of moments/afternoons/days when it's not all it's cracked up to be, but I always intended to work until I started a family and then spend some period of time at home, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to do so.

katie said...

The idea that women have to choose between intellect and motherhood is insulting to me.

Staying home is a much greater sentiment when you have the option to do something else, when it is a decision, not "what you wound up with".

Fiona said...

I agree that one doesn't have to choose, and also that there are good reasons to do both.

My favorite reason was articulated by the Founding Fathers. They (and their female family members) believed that women needed an education so that they could help to raise the next generation of citizens. Citizenship, in that view, is a role that requires a man (or woman) to understand how to operate rationally, honorably, and within the strictures of the Constitution.

Mothers are in a unique position to help children learn to be whole people - citizens and scholars, friends and companions.

So for me education is a necessary tool for any mother, and something any woman can embrace if she wants it.

Bravo to you for a post that was pointed but really measured in its tone.

Tiffany @ Lattes And Life said...

EXCELLENT post! I've heard a lot of flak about my choice to stay home as well. My only wish is that I hadn't racked up so much in student loans getting a degree I'm no longer using. But that was 9 years ago...I had NO CLUE I'd ever be a SAHM.

I don't see the education as wasted, for the same reasons you list. I was exposed to so much more than books when I was in school. Plus, the work I did with my degree touched a LOT of lives...So I know I made a difference while I was out in the workforce. And in the future? I plan to homeschool....so I WILL be using my degrees again, just not in my actual field of study.

Education is never a waste. And it's really sad that some people think it's wasted on those of us who choose to raise our children instead of punching a time clock.

Anonymous said...

I have no articulate response except that katie (as always) is so so right.

The premise of this discussion is that education is worthwhile, so long as it is put to work at a job and I think that pop culture has made millions off of shows/movies that make us laugh at the absurdity of the workplace. And, we laugh because we can identify with jobs that make us turn OFF independent thought and education - Working for the family lets you use your education however you choose; working for the man can be so much more limiting and so much less worthwhile - not to come down on myself :) ekw

Halie said...

Well said!

Rachel said...

I think that it's insane to think that a stay at home mother should forego higher education because she's going to be taking care of her children. That's the perfect reason to get a higher education degree. At least you can answer a lot more of the "Why?" questions your daughters throw at you. Like you stated, college teaches a lot more than a skill, you learn a lot about other people, and yourself - including your dreams and goals in life. Just because you aren't in the traditional workforce, doesn't mean that you should be considered "just a housewife." You are raising your daughters, and you can teach them that feminisim is about doing whatever they choose to do in their future. It's about women being able to make their own decisions rather than having someone dictate to them what they should be doing.

Your degree is absolutely NOT wasted.

Maile said...

I will always be grateful I graduated from college before I started having kids. I loved getting an education and it has absolutely changed me for the better.

I recently read a book called "I Am a Mother" by Jane Clayson Johnson. She went from having a prestigious career in broadcasting to being a SAHM, and she loves being a mom. I love a quote she shared by Maria Shriver: "How do we get women to stop saying, 'I'm just a mother.' Or, 'I used to be such and such, but now I'm just a mother?' We need to market motherhood. So I came up with a saying: 'Motherhood: 24/7 on the frontlines of humanity. Are you man enough to try it?'" I love that!

Crayl said...

Well stated, intelligently argued. I have a BA. I also have student loan debt. I also "stay home" and raise my own kids, and educate them. But I also volunteer, work part time, and use my degree in my community. I use it at home as well, just as you have so finely stated. I am also using that knowledge to do things God called me to do, which includes caring for my family, but is not limited to that. Why would someone ever put God in a box and say that's the only thing He could possibly call us to do? (Good thing those women in the bible didn't think like that) I learned about myself, the world, and what path I was going to take. I wasn't ready for all of it at 18, but I went back, and that degree helped me while I was a single mom, a VERY NOT PLANNED part of my life.
I sometimes regret the loans heavily, so now, while my daughters are 19 and in school, we urge them, NO LOANS. The education is worth it no mater what your path, the loans are not. I am so glad you brought this up. Now I have to go read all these other comments!