Sunday, August 28, 2011

Post-secondary education - wishes, regrets and suggestions

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.


Anonymous said...

Anna, I know a few families that follow the teachings that the young mother's family did and honestly it can be disturbing. The daughters have been taught that their worth is determined by how good their housekeeping is and by being a mother. One time we were playing a board game where you had to pick a profession and one of the girls (who was about 10) said she wanted to be a doctor; she was told she could pretend to be a doctor's wife but Christian women shouldn't become doctors. All I could think was what if God was calling her to be a doctor? What if his plan did not include a husband and children? I think any decision about schooling and career should be approached with much prayer and a eye to what you think God is calling you to in the future (medicine may not be the best choice if you know in your heart you want to stay home with your children). But raising children to believe that a girl should ONLY be a stay at home wife and mother and if she isn't, she is going against God is dangerous. There will always be women called by God in a different direction then the home and they should not be chastised or made to question their calling because it doesn't fit with the more traditional role.

Anonymous said...

I too am quite sad after reading this lady's blog post. I agree with you that young ladies should learn about who they are by taking joy in learning and developping a passion for a few hobbies. There is a myriad of ways to learn at home, as well as alternative education options.

I just believe that feminism caused so much harm...A lady such as the blogger who grew up this way might end up resenting her homemaker role just as much as a woman who grew up being told that she is worthless without a job and that her children belong in day care! We cannot do everything well at the same time and we should thrive for balance in our lives.

Katy M. said...

This is a very powerful testimony about what can happen when we follow after the religious ideals (cults) of men instead of following God. God bless and keep this young woman. I wish her heart were not so burdened.

A Young Lady said...

Hello Miss Anna,
I really enjoyed your article. I am a 20 year old young lady who has been raised in the way of daughters staying at home under their father's authority until the day the Lord brings them a husband (should it be His will). I have been blessed to able to study at home and 100% from home getting a BA. Personally, I don't really have any desire to get a college education and I'd really rather get married and raise a family. It saddened me to read the young mother's story and her wish for college. I am the eldest of seven and I love being with my siblings and helping them out as I look forward to the day when I will have my own family. I would give up all of my college studies in a heart-beat to be able to have a family!

Thank you for your thoughts!

Carol said...

For a culture to assume that a woman must have a professional career . . . or for parents to assume that a young woman can have no role outside the home . . .

Both of these extreme viewpoints are wrong. In a family that honors the Lord, children should be nurtured to develop their gifts, their strengths. The goal is to live a life that seeks wisdom from God.

God created us an individuals. One of my daughters is married, is expecting her fourth child and stays at home with them. The other daughter is married, doesn't have children yet and is practicing as a pediatric nurse practitioner. She loves her work.

Whether at work or at home, women will encounter challenges. We need to depend on God to help us.
Sometimes we need to forgive human parents that have made mistakes.

Jo said...

I have read the blog link and can relate to this as I was brought up in a very conservative home were the rules were strict and we were so different to everyone else (who wasn't related to me). The first thing I wanted to do (and did) was leave home and be FREE. I wanted to be worldly and naughty, I wanted to do everything I wasn't allow to do. It was liberating. And I had no intentions of becoming a stay-at-home mum.

In the end I married and had two children (now adults) - I have worked full-time and have been able to successful combine motherhood and employment. It may not work for all, but it can for some.

For those who do bring their children up in very conservative homes, please remember that your daughters may not agree with you when they grow up and they may decide to do something you don't agree with eg find employment and not be a stay-at-home mum. But don't judge them because they aren't doing what you wanted them to do. They are an individual person and has a mind of their own. I have read too many blogs where mothers have mapped out their daughters futures - it often leads to misery.

Just my few words.

Lady Anne said...

I had to chuckle a bit a CPass's posting about "Christian women not being doctors".

I read a blurb in "The Anglican Digest" many years ago written by a young lady who had gotten a job as an au pair to help pay for her college education. She called home to tell her parents, and her dad asked what sort of people she was working for. "Oh, Dad, they're great! One is a surgeon and the other is an Episcopal priest".

"You know, honey, I guess I'm just old fashioned, but I can't get used to the idea of a woman in the operating room."

"Don't worry, Dad. She's not!"

It took me a long time to get used to a woman in the pulpit (i.e. I hated the idea!), but it works. The caring and nurturing that comes naturally to most women is a great assest to a member of the clergy.

Go where God leads you. He knows some great long cuts, and the ride is heavenly!