Laughing, Weeping, Living

Life happens. You laugh about it or cry about it, sometimes both.

Follow Up: Masters Degree

I wanted to clarify from my post the other day.

I am reacting to something. Several years ago, I signed up for a bundle of magazine subscriptions, one of which happens to be Cosmopolitan. Now, I am not a “fun, fearless, Cosmo girl,” but when the magazine arrives, I read it. I skim the icky pieces, read the interesting ones, and discerningly evaluate the fashion and beauty tips. Sometime early in 2013, the magazine featured an insert about careers authored by Sheryl Sandburg, former Chief of Staff for the US Secretary of the Treasurer, former top exec at Google, current CEO of Facebook. She is also a wife and mother to two school age children. She did write the book on women and careers with the 2013 publication of Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Cosmo magazine has adopted Ms. Sandberg and her Lean In movement as the ideal to strive for. I see “Lean In” in nearly every issue of Cosmo and it is starting to bleed over into other women’s interest magazines I sometimes (okay, monthly) read (subscribe to), such as Glamour and possible even Everyday with Rachel Ray. The movement emphasizes engagement with your career, gunning for extra duties and projects, really making a place for yourself at the office. That way, when you do decide to start a family, you are less tempted to leave for good. Ms. Sandberg says you should not back away from your job because you know in a year or so you will have a kid; rather, she advocates for the opposite. I do not disagree with these ideas, in and of themselves. I think this is solid career advice.

However. I read Cosmo and get an intimate look at the big picture, idealized lifestyle young women like me are supposed to desire for ourselves. We are supposed to get out there and do something we are passionate about, fulfilling our potential to make a big impact on the world. So far so good. We are supposed to lean in during the first few years of our careers, and make five or ten year plans for our advancement, promotions, and possible career changes. We are supposed to do what we want, and not let a partner hold us back. If we’re dating a man who is uncomfortable with us being successful, career-oriented women, we are supposed to let him go; he is not the one for us. We are supposed to date a lot, I guess after those long days at the office. We are supposed to choose from among the available long-term birth control options because right now our career is our baby. And then later, sometime in the future, when we are ready, when we find the right guy, when the timing is perfect, we can start a family. But then they play on women’s fears: what if when I am “ready” is too late? Then there are articles about banking your eggs to use later during rounds of IVF. There are articles about women who choose not to have children ever, and aren’t they brave for standing up and admitting to such an unconventional decision.

The ideal life for young women portrayed here is one of professional success first, family later. Family, maybe. We are told that it is acceptable to have a family after you have the career, and you are allowed to have a family and a career together, or you are allowed to have a career only, but it is not acceptable to have a family only.

I think these are all troubling trends. I know I am not the only woman who invested emotionally into my job, and I tend to finish what I start. For many women, starting a career and mapping out a five or ten year plan for work is a pretty big commitment that demands to be “finished.” It’s a human tendency to want to confirm and reinforce prior behavior. If a young woman is gung-ho about career for the first few years, she will feel guilty about changing her loyalties to a team (her family) that appears to be her career’s opponent. Like I did when I was faced with the decision to leave my career, a young woman may feel guilty abandoning all the people at her company who have come to rely on her. It happens again and again, evidenced by the booming egg-banking business and IVF treatment facilities, mothers who are older and older at the birth of their first child.

So, this is what I’m reacting to. There is an overwhelming cultural pressure on young women to choose career over family, and glamorization of the powerful career woman as a feminine ideal, and finally an effort to normalize childless marriages. All these things led me to write my other post.

So, I definitely don’t want women to forsake their own interests and avoid going to college or grad school, or to even avoid starting a career. I just want women who are of a mind to start a family to be aware that that will happen, and to not get locked in to a ten year career plan that absolutely will be derailed when kids come along. Because, you will want to quit your job to be with your children. You will want to leave behind those work colleagues who depend on you. You will want to sacrifice yourself and your happiness at least a little bit, because that’s what mothers do for their children.

I just want women to know that they don’t have to be mothers who do everything. It is okay to be only a mother. That is more than enough, and it is the best career of all.

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Close to a Turning Point

Today marks six months since Agnes joined the heavenly choirs. It is difficult to think about that time passing. On the one hand, it feels like we had her only last week, and on the other hand, it feels as if she has been gone for much longer. We think about her every day, and Stephen too. We recently uncovered a few blurry snapshots from Agnes’ time in the NICU at the bottom of a stack of papers in our desk. Stephen saw the pictures and said, “Ooooh! It’s Baby Ang-is!” We are trying to let Agnes show us how to live out her legacy.

It is on my mind that we are near to a turning point in our journey of life after Agnes. Next month she will have been gone for as long as she was alive. In September she will have been gone for longer than she was alive.

That is difficult to accept. We have become accustomed to coping as a family that recently lost a child. After she has been gone for longer than she has been alive, we will become a family that once lost a child. It will be a change we have to navigate, a change I am not looking forward to.

Our grief counseling has been going well up to now, and we plan to continue. We will be meeting our new counselor next week as our current one is leaving the facility to pursue another area of her field. We are learning to cope with trigger moments and redirect our attentions to help manage overwhelming emotions. We are making progress on the road to healing, but the road is not straight. Sometimes there are back tracks or loops, but we are on the way. The next few months will be telling, but hopefully we will be able to find our way through with the help of our support network, and the grace of God.

Baby Agnes, pray for us!

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My Masters Degree

Hi everyone, I realize it has been an unforgivably long time since my last post, but I guess life was just happening.

Since we returned from our lovely trip to California, we’ve been full speed ahead with Jeremy’s new quarter for nursing school; it’s his busiest one yet. We have also been coping with a flea infestation that the kitties somehow caught, even though they are indoor-only. I know it can happen, but I wish it hadn’t. We’ve also been getting our life routines back in working order, producing a house cleaning schedule that I can follow on a weekly rotation, as well as a stockpile of slow cooker meals portioned and ready to go in the freezer. All they need is defrosting. Also Stephen had some follow up for his lingering quasi-illness. When he was sick with an infection a couple months ago, his tonsils became inflamed and swollen. Well, even after the infection cleared, his tonsils are still swollen and causing some minor discomfort. An x-ray revealed his adenoids are also swollen, so we are supposed to monitor for breathing obstruction. Plus now he has some kind of viral infection that is making him pathetic.

So, we’ve been up to stuff. But the main reason I’m writing about my masters degree is recently my next door neighbor hired me to clean her house. She, being awesome in many, many ways, admitted that she is not an awesome house cleaner. And she noticed that we are living on a part time income, goodwill, and the grace of God, so she offered to hire me to clean her house. This was very thoughtful of her to do, and I find that I really enjoy the work. Don’t you all get ideas; I don’t think I can handle more clients! But in the midst of some satisfying moderate to difficult labor, I reflected on where I am in life.

Here I am, a homemaker and stay-at-home mom, who is now a hired house cleaner, with a masters degree. Obviously I am not belittling house cleaners, but you don’t need a degree to do it. I am happy doing it, and I am happy being a stay-at-home mom and housewife. Was my degree a waste? Why did I pay for that schooling?

I reflected on these questions, and I know that no, I do not regret getting my masters. If I hadn’t gone to grad school, I would not have met my wonderful husband! I would not have moved to Montana to meet all the wonderful people we knew there. I was employed in the field of my degree for five years. I am still thankful for the knowledge I gained, when my church choir needs a substitute director, or when the community choir I joined needs someone to lead warm up exercises, or when I give a voice lesson. I do not think my degree was wasted. It is entirely possible I will use my degree again later in life, when my children are older.

Some of you may be aware of a movement among professional women centered around the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg. he idea here is for young women to dig in to their careers and to not avoid professional opportunities because they may take a break soon to have kids. Go for the extra projects, gun for the promotion. Then when you leave for maternity time, your boss will be eager to have you back, and you will be less likely to quit after mooning over your newborn, because you have excited projects waiting for you at the office. It sounds fine, but the idea is built on the assumption that young women can have it all, and more than that, that they should have it all.

I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and all I can offer is advice based on my own experience. I had a full-time career, and during my pregnancy I thought ahead to how I would maintain my full-time career and take care of my new baby. After Stephen was born, I quickly quickly discovered that maintaining two lives was absolutely the last thing that I wanted. I couldn’t give either job the attention it deserved. Soon I downsized my career to part-time, ten to fifteen hours per week maximum. Even that was sometimes a strain. My advice is: you don’t need to have it all. Do you want to live your life at a frantic pace, always feeling that you are desperately needed elsewhere, no matter what you are doing? That life sucks. Trust me, I lived it.

Young ladies, decide what your priorities are. If you think you want to have kids, plan to focus on child rearing and don’t count on maintaining a full-time career at the same time. I promise you, unless you are comfortable telecommuting while you breast feed, and funneling nearly your entire paycheck into daycare fees, a full-time career while you raise young children is not worth the heartache. Then, since you know you will take time off a career, decide if you really need that masters degree now. Don’t just go to grad school after college because it’s the next thing to do. Most careers can start with a bachelors degree only. Then you’ll take time off for kids, then maybe you won’t even need to get a higher degree. Or you can get it when the kids are older and you have more time to do stuff for yourself.

I’m not advocating for women being uneducated, or that a woman’s place is in the home, or any of that. I’m advocating that a woman who feels that her main job will be raising a family should be free to choose that without having to defend her decision to forego higher education and a high powered career track.

Consider it, and save yourself the cash you will shell out to pay for a degree you won’t use for twelve years. Use that time and money to get a head start on your family, and go back to school when you and your children can really afford it. I did my schooling all back to back, and while it is true that I do ┬ánot regret that choice because of the positive outcomes, there are lots of routes to a fulfilling life and you should be aware of what you ultimately want from your life before you choose the way you want to go.

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