One of my readers sent me a link to this post, which left me deeply touched and disturbed after I have read it. It is a story told by a young woman who grew up in a very conservative household, who feels, as I gathered from reading her thoughts, that her personality was suffocated and repressed, and who ultimately wishes she had had the opportunity to pursue higher education.
Now, I think I should start by saying that I believe it is good and right when a daughter contributes to running of the household by doing age-appropriate tasks, and helps to care for younger siblings – the mother thus gets a pair of helping hands, and the daughter benefits from important training in skills which will lay a foundation for her future as a wife, mother and homemaker. Neither do I think it is amiss for sons to lend a hand too, only boys will often be more naturally inclined to do outdoor tasks such as garden work, construction projects, etc. Girls are more gentle and nurturing, but of course both boys and girls should be trained up to become valuable helpers, not idle immature creatures who never lift a finger around the house.
Furthermore, I can imagine there may be situations when adult children take over most of the household chores for a short fraction of time (such as, when a new sibling is added to the family) or a more extended period (such as, in sad instances when the mother is disabled), and if that is done voluntarily it’s a very kind and noble thing to do.
Having said that, I don’t think it’s right and appropriate that the day of a teenage girl, even if she is the eldest child in a large family, should resemble the day of a stay-at-home Mom, and include little more than washing dishes and changing diapers. The teenage years are a precious time – the perfect time for a young person to read, develop as a personality, think, try a variety of pursuits. Helping around the house is important, and personally I wish I had learned so much more about homemaking in my teens and early twenties before I was married; but if I had a homeschooled teenage daughter at home, and if I had seen than my daughter does little more than housework – no reading, no learning, no broadening of horizons – I would think my home education program needs some serious re-evaluating.
And of course, no young woman should be coerced to feel guilty about pursuing talents that aren’t strictly related to homemaking, gardening or crafts. Hobbies should not be categorized into “potentially useful for homemaking, and thus allowable” and “useless around the house, and thus to be discouraged.” Just as hard-working men often have hobbies which have nothing to do with their jobs (my husband, for example, loves his aquarium fish), a homemaker isn’t “wasting time” if she takes it upon herself, for example, to study a favorite historical period or learn a foreign language – and of course it’s easier to start such projects when unmarried. What a valuable enrichment this can be to the woman’s perception of herself as a thinking, intelligent being! How much it can enhance her conversation with her husband; and how valuable it is for a homeschooling mother especially! When children see how their mother delights in learning, they will naturally develop active, curious minds as well.
I don’t think the decision should necessarily be in saying yes or no to a full-time, expensive professional degree. Neither am I saying that higher education for women should not be an option; there are online courses and study programs, local colleges, and of course self-education. A university degree might seem very desirable to someone who wasn’t allowed to obtain it, but we mustn’t forget the drawbacks.
Many young people (especially, but not necessarily women) are duped into thinking that a degree, any degree, is worth obtaining. I have met people who have a B.A. in psychology or a B.Sc. in biology, and when I ask what is to be done with such a degree, the answer is – virtually nothing. Even an M.A. or M.Sc. might not be worth much, ultimately, to someone who doesn’t see his or her future in the academy. The cost of tuition and living leaves many young people with heaps of student debt at the end of college, without the means of paying it all off as soon as they imagined they would be able to.
For women, this can carry even more bitter consequences, because the end of college is logically a point when many young women get married and start families. I didn’t take any surveys, but when I browsed the Facebook profiles of my friends from university, I saw that there was a baby boom in the year after we graduated. However, that’s also a time when young college graduates have a double incentive to work hard: to forward their careers, and to pay off their student loans. How many of them were able to afford to stay with their babies for more than a couple of months, remains an open question.
Another thing that is sometimes difficult to imagine is how motherhood changes one’s perspective. I can’t even count the number of stories I became familiar with through this blog, both in comments and in personal email, which went along these lines: “I never thought I would like to stay at home, at any point of my life, but all this changed when I saw my firstborn. That was 10 years ago, and I’ve been a homemaker ever since. Of course, paying off the college degree I never used was a burden for the first several years, but I don’t regret my decision of staying home for a moment!”
This happy ending has a less cheerful variation: “I couldn’t afford to stay home with my first baby, because my husband and I both agreed I must work until my student debts are paid off. You don’t know how many times I wished I either had not gone to college, or was more prudent in financial matters while I was a student.”
I have no intention of proposing a “cookie-cutter” solution to the dilemmas of every young woman. But I do believe young women ought to ask questions. Such as: do I ultimately desire to get married? What will I do if I happen to start my family in the middle of, or shortly following college? How do I imagine my future family, and how much time do I ultimately want to devote to my children? If I am pursuing a profession, to what degree is it compatible with family life?
Looking into the future can be sometimes so vague, so hazy, that it seems that the future – marriage and children – will never come. However, for most women, it does come, and so I believe it is wise to presume one will be married, and will become a mother, when planning ahead.