Thursday, August 8, 2013

A High Calling

One day in college, I was talking with a friend of mine about our futures and values and dreams for what was to come after graduation. She confided in me that certain members of her family didn't understand why she was attending a very good, challenging, impressive university since they knew that she planned to eventually forgo a traditional career in favor of staying home to raise her children. The idea was that my friend didn't "need" to go to our school in order to pursue stay-at-home motherhood, so why was she there?

When my friend told me this, I remember being shocked that someone (I can't remember if it was a parent, or an uncle, or a grandparent) had actually expressed such a thing to her. That whoever it was thought that either she should be "using" her impressive degree to establish a lifelong career for herself, or that she should have gone to a cheaper, less demanding, less rigorous school if her ultimate dream was indeed to be a stay-at-home mother.

I also remember feeling supremely grateful that no one had ever said such a thing to me.

I was reminded of this encounter when I read a beautiful, calm, well-thought-out article that appeared in the latest issue of Verily. It's a lovely response to the exact attitude that my friend was dealing with in her own life, an attitude that I'm learning isn't one that's just expressed privately, behind closed doors, inside the borders of one's own family. Author Anne-Marie Maginnis begins her piece by citing another article that recently appeared in The Guardian called, "Female Ivy League graduates have a duty to stay in the workforce."

If that title alone isn't racy enough for you, here's a taste of what author Keli Goff's article is like:

Perhaps instead of bickering over whether or not colleges and universities should ask us to check boxes declaring our racial identity, the next frontier of the admissions should revolve around asking people to declare what they actually plan to do with their degrees. There's nothing wrong with someone saying that her dream is to become a full-time mother by 30. That is an admirable goal. What is not admirable is for her to take a slot at Yale Law School that could have gone to a young woman whose dream is to be in the Senate by age 40 and in the White House by age 50.

I'm trying not to get my feathers ruffled as I type this, but truly, if this isn't downright backwards I don't know what is. Here is Maginnis' thoughtful response:

This type of thinking is regressive for women for many reasons...This perspective completely disregards the inherent worthiness of educating a human mind to know the world, to think independently, to judge accurately, and to live confidently. For these reasons alone, an elite education should be available to the best and brightest minds. To concede Goff's point would be to reverse hundreds of years of progress in women's rights.

Maginnis goes on at the end of the piece to describe how valuable and meaningful her education has been in her life--as a woman, as an intelligent, creative person, and as a mother.

My point is, when a highly educated woman is home with her children day in and day out, she weaves the riches of her education into their lives in continuous, subtle, living ways. This is a priceless preparation for a lifetime of learning. This gift is the transmission of culture.

Having received the wonderful gift of an elite education, I didn’t leave it behind. I carry it with me in who I am today. It enriches my life in ways that no salary can measure. It is worthwhile in a way no measure of productivity is needed to justify. Passing on this education to my daughter, a human being whose worth I know intimately, I see even more clearly that broadening a girl’s mind, filling it with beauty, is never, to quote Goff, “a wasted opportunity.”

We call the schools from which we graduate “alma mater,” nourishing mother, and I have always been grateful to Princeton for being just that. Now that I am a mother myself, however, and as I nourish the bodies and minds of my own children, I find yet deeper meaning in those words.

Maginnis makes such a beautiful point. Who is anyone to say that women who stay out of the workforce to nurture their children have no right to an elite education? Who is anyone to say that an impressive degree is best used as a stepping stone to the Senate or the White House? Learning and knowledge are inherently good. Maginnis' lovely closing paragraphs are such a testament to just how high a calling motherhood is, a testament to the power of a mother's heart and mind in helping to shape new, young lives.

I can't imagine a more fruitful use of her Princeton degree.


  1. Kate, I admire your passion for this subject. I wholeheartedly believe that every individual who earns acceptance to a prestigious university deserves to attend, regardless of whether they plan to stay at home with their children, find their calling as a barista in a coffee shop or become the next great literary mind of our time. Your interest in this subject, and frequent discussion of the value you gained from attending an elite university, makes me question whether I should have had higher aspirations for my own education. I think the experience of renowned university, or even a small, liberal arts college, where the emphasis is on a full, well-rounded college experience, would have been a great addition to my life. While I appreciate my state university education, I feel I will encourage my future children to explore all possibilities. Nonetheless, I choose to educate myself daily so I can impart that knowledge to my children, whether I am fortunate enough to stay at home with them, must work full-time or my best-case scenarios, work part-time or from home. Thanks for sharing your take on this, and exposing what I feel is a shocking aim to discriminate against and intimidate women who choose to forego traditional employment in the best interest of their families.

  2. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Kristin. I agree with everything you wrote, and I think that this argument isn't just for women who got "elite" degrees--it's for all women. Getting an education at a state university is wonderful too--it's inherently good to learn, gain knowledge, to work hard and achieve something valuable. I went to a state school for my masters in music and I wholeheartedly believe that I couldn't have had a better experience (for my particular goals) had I gone to Juilliard. It sounds like you've really thought about the future and your ideal mothering/working situation, and that's so wonderful! I'm glad this post resonated with you today :)

  3. Wonderful post, Kate!

  4. Loved the Verily article!
    The only thing worth considering, for women who attend expensive universities, is that if they want to become stay at home mom's that they don't take on too much debt in the process of earning the degree. I have heard of and met women who took on huge student loans to then not long after become married and have children. They want to stay home and raise their children but they are burdened with overwhelming debt and are forced to stay in the workforce. If you have parents that can pay, scholarships, unique situations, etc. then fantastic but a financial burden can negatively alter the way you aspire to raise your children and lead your life. For some, there can be a price to pay for an elite education.

  5. Sarah, this is a very good point. Finances are definitely something to consider and I agree with you there. And you can certainly get a great education at less expensive schools. What I find so horrible is just the suggestion that stay at home mothers don't need that elite degree, or even that they don't deserve it because they're aren't "using it" in the traditional way. That is such a bad message to be sending to women. I think if you can afford the school of your dreams, if you are accepted and are up for the challenges, then you should go, whether or not you want be a career woman or a stay at home mother (or a mix of something in the middle, which is what so many women are).

  6. I can't imagine this not being the main goal of any woman (or man, really) who wants to be a parent. My mom always said that she felt pressured to "pick a career, pick a career" when all she wanted to do is have the career of "mom" and some people couldn't understand why a college educated woman who had already had 10 years of miscarriage after miscarriage would still put any potential high level career on hold. Well, she did and she ended up with 3 of us and she always tells me that it's fine to feel funny about not wanting to "use" your college degrees. She always says the same thing- you will be using them. Every day.

  7. How ridiculous to think that anyone should have to choose between education and parenthood! College, graduate school, law school, medical school, etc. should never be reserved for those who can commit to decades in the workforce determined by their degree. That's a frightening thought. Why can't people just learn for the sake of learning? I love how the article you cited mentions how being able to share that education with children is not a wasted opportunity, but rather a beautiful experience. Education is too important and too beautiful for anyone to be deprived of simply because she wants to be a mother.

  8. Yes, I totally agree with you that the suggestion of stay at home mothers not needing an elite degree because they aren't "using it" is horrible. I personally think that our schools and country would be a lot better off if stay at home mothers were well (or more) educated and could help raise a generation of children that were eager to learn and curious about the world in addition to being respectful, kind citizens. A lot of impact can happen without working from the white house. As a teacher I was amazed at how much a parent's attitude towards school, learning and other people was directly mirrored in their child's behaviors.
    Well, Kate, thanks for posting these articles. Oh, and I think that what I wrote earlier about student loan debt would be more suitable as personal advice to women I know, not public policy! :)

  9. Hi Kate, This is Emily Dore, one of your former dormmates in McGlinn! Not sure how I came across your blog initially but I'm really enjoying the reflections.

    It's sad that our society has almost classified being a stay-at-home mom as demeaning. Almost as though you are chained to your home, as others get to experience great, worldly adventures around you. And I admit (sadly) that I used to fear this. But then one day it struck me, "Wait, as a mother, I will have the most important job: educating a future generation." Who is educating the future generation of senators, lawyers and doctors that the Guardian author mentions? So in that respect being a mother is a career... a full-time teacher.

  10. Kate, thank you so much for sharing this! My husband and I are six months away from being finished with school, and then only an internship will separate me from a career. This has been on my mind a lot. I have always wanted to be a mom first and foremost and stay home with my kids. Now that we are actually having serious discussions about when we want to try, I have been questioning my reasons for getting this degree in the first place. But I think you are absolutely right-- what you learn about yourself during college is often more important than what you learn in the classroom. I have grown in ways that never would have happened if I had entered the workforce right away.

    Another thing to consider is how you plan to support those kids if something happens to their father. The future is so uncertain, and in our society it is hard to find even a well-paying entry level job without a degree of some sort. I have known multiple women who have become single mothers unexpectedly, and it could happen to anyone.

    Thanks again for your thoughts on this subject. It's incredibly encouraging to read about other women who value mothering as much as I do!

  11. Kristyn @ Milk + CrownAugust 9, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    What an interesting article! I love Maginnis's points. Honestly, I have repeatedly been made to feel as though I have to become something big in the professional working world or my college years were a wasted investment. It's frustrated me for some time, but I never knew there could be a counter-argument. I've just always felt this guilt for wanting to be a wife and mother, and I feel it even now for wanting to write stories and run a jewelry shop full-time. This is so encouraging to me. Definitely something God knew I needed to hear :) No matter the path we choose, expanding our minds is never a waste!

  12. I agree with you 100%. I never felt I gave up anything or wasted my time on school, knowing that I would be a full time stay at home mom.
    The "mommy" wars drive me nuts. I grew up in a home where my mother stayed home (and so did my husband). We both knew that that is what we were going to do with our children (as long as we could). We also knew, that once the kids were in school full time and were a bit older, that I would do something part time that worked for our family and still gave any and all home time for the kids to be with one of us.

  13. Definitely. That's so inspiring. I can't believe anyone would suggest that an education is suddenly useless once you become a full-time mother. Good for your mom.

  14. I know! Frightening is right. Learning shapes your mind, teaches you about the value of hard work, expands your understanding of the world. All intrinsically good things.

  15. Hi Emily! Great to hear from you and I'm thrilled you found my blog. Thanks so much for these thoughts. I so agree with you. What could be more important and valuable than instructing, nurturing, loving, guiding, little ones? I always appreciated that at ND the motto was that we were being educated of both mind AND heart. It really helped me to understand that I was being shaped in ways that would influence me all my life long, and that there was always a higher purpose and sense of morality behind our learning.

    I hope you continue to read and comment! :)

  16. I'm so happy to hear this was encouraging for you, Hannah. I'm encouraged just reading all of these comments! I've found so few women in my "real life" who value being a full-time mom as I do, so it's really rewarding to know I'm not alone.

    Congratulations on being so close to getting your degree. I'm sure you will be so glad you have it and that you will find creative ways to use it even while making motherhood a priority.

  17. Kristyn, how sad that in our society there's guilt associated with putting our marriages and children first. I know exactly what you mean, and (sadly) I think the criticism mostly comes from other women. I think it's beautiful that you want to focus on your writing and jewelry. I've similarly felt so blessed that my passions (music and writing) fit so nicely with staying home with children. Just because we aren't going to a 9-5 job doesn't mean we aren't challenging and stimulating our minds, and the minds of our kids, and being creative. It's a noble path and I hope you never feel ashamed of it.

  18. Thanks so much for this comment. I'm so with you--as I mentioned above to Kristyn, I find that it's mostly other women who are criticizing women who prefer to raise their children full time. How sad! Women should be lifting each other up. I'm so encouraged to read such great feedback on this post. :)

  19. And en it's the breast feeding wars after...I remember that Newsweek article last year that sparked an uproar...about if you are "mom enough" to breast feed for an extended time or at all.

    Again...I think that is a personal see the sides for both and like the stay at home debate....we should be lifting women up...not tearing the, down for decisions on their children's well being.


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