Identity · Motherhood · Roles · Sacrifice · Vocation/Gifts/Calling

REPOST: Graduating to Motherhood

Written by Sarah, a former graduate wife 

When I graduated from my dual MA program in history and public policy, I felt relieved.  All the hard work and sacrifice of three years of intense study was over and I had achieved a major life goal.  I also felt relieved for another reason; unlike many of my fellow students who were experiencing the stress of finding jobs in the midst of a recession, I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few months.

Right at the end of my time in graduate school, I got pregnant.  To say this was “not the plan” would be misleading since I really didn’t have a plan.  I was married and we intended to start a family “sometime soon.”  Like many other women my age, I assumed that eventually I would have both a fulfilling career and a family, but I was always a little fuzzy on what would come first, whether I’d work on these things at the same time or stagger them.  So when it came time to look for that first job out of graduate school, I was relieved to have the immediate decision made for me.  In one month, I would give birth and there was no way that I could reasonably expect an employer to be interested in an 8-months pregnant graduate.

Still, I told everyone who asked (professors, friends, family), “I plan to stay home at first and see how I like it and then I will look for a job depending on how I adapt to being at home.”  I assumed that there was a good chance I would be bored and miserable staying home full-time and that I would long to get right out and “use” the degrees I had worked so hard to earn. I also didn’t see myself as the “staying at home type”, someone I envisioned as having always longed to be a mother and homemaker.  Since well before college, I had envisioned a career that would change the world.  I hoped I would eventually have some kind of important position where I made a significant impact in education, social justice, or politics.

Three years later, I am still a stay-at-home mom, now with a new baby and a toddler.  One of the biggest surprises of my life is that I enjoy staying at home.  For the first year, I struggled with serious identity confusion.  I loved being a mother, but where was the woman I had been, that all my friends and professors knew?  A lot of things hadn’t changed (my basic personality, the types of issues that interest me) but many things had.  Every time I considered a potential job, my dread would grow.  How could I leave my child at home to pursue an entry-level job that might or might not be fulfilling?  Finally, I accepted that my immediate dreams and priorities had changed.  For the first time since graduating from college, I knew exactly where I was needed most and it felt really good.

I still don’t love housework or all aspects of childcare and I certainly would never want to do those things for a job in anyone else’s home, but still, most days I feel challenged and yet completely sure of my calling.  For this season, I belong at home with my children.  I now see my life as made up of seasons in which I might focus on one dream or another.  I can envision a general calling for my whole life (the things that I am passionate about, my roles as wife and mother, my faith) and specific seasons when I respond by focusing on certain roles.

Initially, I had to let go of a serious feeling of obligation to myself, my spouse, my former professors, even to society, a feeling that I ought to use my degrees now that I had earned them.  I still have days where I worry about this gamble I’ve taken, trading in what should have been the early years of my career to focus on my family.   Will I look back in ten years and wish I had chosen differently?  To bolster my self-esteem, I seek out women who at one time took time out from their careers and who later became successful in their professions.  There are many more than most people realize.  Their examples give me hope that someday, when I’m ready, I too will make a successful transition into meaningful work outside the home.

The main way I cope with worries about the future is by celebrating how secure I feel in my identity and choices.  I used to think that once I was done with graduate school I would be the person I longed to be, the one who would change the world in some amazing professional role.  Now I see that by cultivating a secure personal identity, I continue to grow into someone prepared to make a significant impact at any time, whether in the home or outside it.

Have you had to let go of a dream for a season?  How has the process affected your identity? 

Advertisements
Inspiration

You’re My Home

home

credit

-written by Keeley, a current (but soon to be former!) graduate wife

As I was listening to this song by Billy Joel on the way to work this morning, it struck me as particularly appropriate for the Graduate Wife journey. I feel sure that it wasn’t written in that context, but I literally teared up thinking about all the places my husband and I have lived and all the unique experiences we’ve had over the course of two graduate programs. Billy Joel evidently feels the same way about his companion:

Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike

Indiana’s early morning dew

High up in the hills of California

Home is just another word for you

I think about my friend K, who, along with her husband, grew up in Oklahoma then moved to Nashville, then to Princeton, and will move who-knows-where next. I think about C, who grew up in New Jersey and has accompanied her husband for nearly four years while earning her own Masters degree, partially online because of an unexpected move to Atlanta. And M, from Kansas, whose husband is from Minnesota, and how they live in Tampa because of his calling after completing her, and then his, Masters programs in Princeton. And L, who has been with her husband for over half their lives, moving from Missouri to North Carolina to New Jersey.

Certainly, it’s true of our generation that we simply move around a lot, and that relocating is an essential part of our social skill set. However, I am grateful for a companion who helps to make any place feel like we belong there, because of the history and love that we share. As I listen to this song, I picture the knee-deep snow of Boston, our “special” nights out to Qdoba during his Masters program, and the poor little Christmas tree we carried to our apartment after a ride on the T bus. I picture our favorite ice cream parlor  in downtown Princeton, visiting the Christmas window displays in New York City, and picking blueberries, a summer tradition in Hammonton, New Jersey. I see snapshots of beautiful stone edifices in Cambridge, London, and Edinburgh, where he has done research and had conferences, and remember the feel of the soft moss under my shoes as we hiked along the shore of Loch Ness. I see the red hills outside Kampala, Uganda and taste delicious barbecued goat, while hearing the first storm of the February rains on the tin roof of our cottage, or feeling the wind through my hair as I rode “side-saddle” on a motorcycle taxi in a bright turquoise dress. All of these have been “home” to me, not least because Jason and I have been there together. I wonder how it will be to live in the dry, arid climate of Phoenix as we move there this summer to embark on his career as a professor, times zones away from our families, but feel peaceful that it will work, because we have each other (plus one, due in June!). These words resonate like a benediction as I contemplate the past, present, and future of our time together:

If I traveled all my life

And I never get to stop and settle down

Long as I have you by my side

There’s a roof above and good walls all around

You’re my castle, you’re my cabin and my instant pleasure dome

I need you in my house ’cause you’re my home.   

As a graduate wife, what does home look like to you?

 

Identity · Motherhood · Roles · Sacrifice · Vocation/Gifts/Calling

Graduating to Motherhood

Written by Sarah, a former graduate wife 

When I graduated from my dual MA program in history and public policy, I felt relieved.  All the hard work and sacrifice of three years of intense study was over and I had achieved a major life goal.  I also felt relieved for another reason; unlike many of my fellow students who were experiencing the stress of finding jobs in the midst of a recession, I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few months.

Right at the end of my time in graduate school, I got pregnant.  To say this was “not the plan” would be misleading since I really didn’t have a plan.  I was married and we intended to start a family “sometime soon.”  Like many other women my age, I assumed that eventually I would have both a fulfilling career and a family, but I was always a little fuzzy on what would come first, whether I’d work on these things at the same time or stagger them.  So when it came time to look for that first job out of graduate school, I was relieved to have the immediate decision made for me.  In one month, I would give birth and there was no way that I could reasonably expect an employer to be interested in an 8-months pregnant graduate.

Still, I told everyone who asked (professors, friends, family), “I plan to stay home at first and see how I like it and then I will look for a job depending on how I adapt to being at home.”  I assumed that there was a good chance I would be bored and miserable staying home full-time and that I would long to get right out and “use” the degrees I had worked so hard to earn. I also didn’t see myself as the “staying at home type”, someone I envisioned as having always longed to be a mother and homemaker.  Since well before college, I had envisioned a career that would change the world.  I hoped I would eventually have some kind of important position where I made a significant impact in education, social justice, or politics.

Three years later, I am still a stay-at-home mom, now with a new baby and a toddler.  One of the biggest surprises of my life is that I enjoy staying at home.  For the first year, I struggled with serious identity confusion.  I loved being a mother, but where was the woman I had been, that all my friends and professors knew?  A lot of things hadn’t changed (my basic personality, the types of issues that interest me) but many things had.  Every time I considered a potential job, my dread would grow.  How could I leave my child at home to pursue an entry-level job that might or might not be fulfilling?  Finally, I accepted that my immediate dreams and priorities had changed.  For the first time since graduating from college, I knew exactly where I was needed most and it felt really good.

I still don’t love housework or all aspects of childcare and I certainly would never want to do those things for a job in anyone else’s home, but still, most days I feel challenged and yet completely sure of my calling.  For this season, I belong at home with my children.  I now see my life as made up of seasons in which I might focus on one dream or another.  I can envision a general calling for my whole life (the things that I am passionate about, my roles as wife and mother, my faith) and specific seasons when I respond by focusing on certain roles.

Initially, I had to let go of a serious feeling of obligation to myself, my spouse, my former professors, even to society, a feeling that I ought to use my degrees now that I had earned them.  I still have days where I worry about this gamble I’ve taken, trading in what should have been the early years of my career to focus on my family.   Will I look back in ten years and wish I had chosen differently?  To bolster my self-esteem, I seek out women who at one time took time out from their careers and who later became successful in their professions.  There are many more than most people realize.  Their examples give me hope that someday, when I’m ready, I too will make a successful transition into meaningful work outside the home.

The main way I cope with worries about the future is by celebrating how secure I feel in my identity and choices.  I used to think that once I was done with graduate school I would be the person I longed to be, the one who would change the world in some amazing professional role.  Now I see that by cultivating a secure personal identity, I continue to grow into someone prepared to make a significant impact at any time, whether in the home or outside it.

Have you had to let go of a dream for a season?  How has the process affected your identity? 

Beauty and the Budget · Inspiration

Geborgenheit

I read a lovely book once by a lady named Ingrid Trobisch and in the book Ingrid talks about the idea of creating one’s ‘geborgenheit’.  Geborgenheit is a German word that means safety or security.  After some reflection, geborgenheit to me means a place to laugh and a place to cry.  A place where there is space to be quiet and also a place that makes room for noise.  A place of retreat at times and at other times a place of welcoming others in.  It means a place of fulfillment and also vulnerability, a place of creativity, a place of continuity, and a place of peace and familiarity that can offer me comfort from a long day.

Funny how we find ourselves in many different places on our grad wife journeys.  We live in rented flats with other people’s furniture around us, we live in college family dormitories with carpets that haven’t been updated since 1975, we live in huts in the jungle for field research and we live in suburbia with small cookie cutter houses.  This journey may take us near or far, but we can almost all be certain it usually takes us to places that we might never have otherwise chosen to call ‘home’.

I can’t really begin to describe how much our ‘geborgenheit’ means to our family here in Oxford.  Our place that we call home, that we feel we can welcome others into and our place we feel restful and at peace within.  It’s not my dream home in any way shape or form…but I guess in some ways it kind of is just that.  It is a small, cozy flat that my daughter learned to walk in and that my husband finds refuge in from his demanding work.  It’s a place that I work ‘from home’ in and it offers me a warm corner that I can curl up and relax in with a cup of tea.  It’s not perfect, but it has become something beautiful and it offers a sense of continuity that is essential on this graduate wife journey.

I’ve heard it said, “We are only here for a year…I mean what can I really do?”  Or things like, “It’s just so hopeless I wouldn’t know where to start trying to make this place feel like home….I just don’t even like being there.”  Or even, “I want to wait for the ‘real deal’ to really invest in making my house feel like a proper home.”  All of these comments make me sad.  Sad, just because I realize the incredible power that a comfortable and inviting space can offer a tired soul and what it can do for one’s perspective and attitude.  I don’t want to sound too cheesy, but go create your geborgenheit!  Create a place that offers a sense of safety and continuity and peace.  Look at some of the Beauty and the Budget tips or scour pinterest and google DIY home décor ideas to find millions of amazing ideas that can help enhance your space without much effort or money. Don’t get overwhelmed.  Just pick a project here or there. It’s worth it.  I promise you it is worth it.

When I was in college, I volunteered some nights at a rescue mission for battered women.  The place was amazing and I would help babysit kids while the women went to career training classes.  The name of the place was called ‘bread and roses’ and it has forever stuck with me.  I honestly believe we need ‘roses’ (i.e. beauty and order) in our lives, just as much as we need bread for our souls to truly survive and thrive.  I encourage you to stop waiting for something better to come along or for some other opportunities.  Make the most with what you have.  Be creative. Buy a £4 scrap of fabric and make a table cloth or runner.  Pick up some daffodils outside and put them in a vase, light some candles, cook some yummy meals, turn on some music that moves you.  If you see a quirky trinket at the market that makes you smile, buy it.  You don’t have to do a ton, start with a corner or nook and try to make it feel peaceful, orderly and comfy.

I have shared bits of this before in some of the beauty and the budget pieces, and I felt like highlighting it today because recently our lives have seemed really busy.  If anyone asks, ‘How are you?’, my immediate response is almost always, ‘Gosh, I’m just really tired’.  We’ve been traveling, visiting and working a lot…and in the midst of it all I’ve been reminded how incredibly powerful it is for me to come back to our geborgenheit.  To light candles at our dinner table, to sit and eat together, to unwind and to be present and at peace.  My home has greatly affected my sanity on this graduate wife journey (and my husband’s as well) and I hope the concept can affect your life too.  Try to pick up some roses next time you run out for some bread and see what it does for you.

 Do you have any tips that you have picked up on how to make your temporary house a home?  What does geborgenheit mean to you? Do you have a favorite spot in your home that offers you sanity and peace?

-M.C.

{Disclaimer: I suppose the word ‘geborgenheit’ doesn’t have to refer to physical space, maybe an object can offer that same sense of security, but in the book Ingrid highlights the idea of creating an actual space for oneself and that is what I chose to go with here.}

Community · Expectations · Family · Moving · Sacrifice

There’s No Place Like Home

         Written by Amberly – a current graduate wife

Another year of holidays, family celebrations and special events have come and gone; and here I sit 900 miles away participating via Skype. Don’t misunderstand me; I am grateful for Skype every time the computer rings, but it is not quite the same as being in the same room with my family. Isn’t it everyone’s ideal Thanksgiving to stay awake until midnight just so you can see your family as they gather around the table eating foods you can’t even find in your local supermarket? (As a side note – did you know that you can make cornbread dressing with maize meal or that not all turkeys come with their internal organs already in a bag? This southern girl learned both lessons in 2006 when I attempted to make my first solo Thanksgiving dinner!)

This past Christmas was the first Christmas we didn’t go home. We had just returned to the UK in October and it didn’t make sense to fly back to Atlanta so quickly. When we made the decision, we thought it would be a good opportunity to begin our own traditions. We decorated and bought presents. Our families shipped so many gifts that we could barely walk through the living room without tripping. It all seemed to be going well until Christmas Eve….carols played on our computer, and we sat looking at each other realizing that we were alone. No amount of presents or tinsel could change the fact that our families were gathering together and we weren’t there to be with them.

Of course, it is not just holidays that can be hard; I’ve missed weddings, baby showers, funerals, birthdays, beach vacations, and family portraits. My little sister will graduate from college in two weeks, and I won’t be there to give her a hug that only a big sis can give. I don’t want to miss that day or my other sister’s 16th birthday, or when my brother brings his new girlfriend to meet the family. But, we aren’t the only ones missing things. Our families don’t have the daily privilege of seeing their only grandchild grow up.

With all of this in mind, you might be envisioning me writing while curled up in a ball under my duvet with a quart of ice cream. And I would be remiss if I lead you to believe that I don’t have days when that is exactly what I feel like doing. I am happy to say that those days are far and few between, and along the way I have learned a few things that might help someone else trying to come to terms with being separated from family.

Make a plan. With the busyness of life, it is easy to wake up one day and realize that you haven’t spoken with your parents in 2 weeks. Losing touch happens so quickly, even in some of our closest relationships. We make it a point to talk with our parents once a week on a specific day around the same time. While this worked for our parents, I have learned that every relationship is different and communication styles can be different. My siblings are all in school and keep crazy student hours so planning to Skype at a specific time is really impractical. Email, Facebook and our family blog all serve as vehicles to keep us in touch with one another. Find a way to communicate with each other and make it a priority.

Embrace your new home. No, it doesn’t make your family any closer, but when you accept your new life and find things big and small to enjoy, it makes the distance not feel quite as far. Find a church, a library, a coffee shop, a museum, a great restaurant, a bookstore – anything that makes you happy and allows you to begin to be connected to your new home. It can also help your family to know that you are settling in. My mom has said many times that knowing we are happy and content in our home helps her to not worry about us nearly as much.

Surround yourself with memories. I love to have family pictures in our home. We have moved a lot in the last 5 years and no matter where we are living, it doesn’t feel like our home until our pictures are around us.

Be honest. I really struggle with this at times. I want to present the perfect front to our families. I don’t want them to worry about us. Although I don’t think having an emotional breakdown every time we talk is helpful, I have had to learn that it is okay to let them know when I am struggling with being left out.

Develop new relationships. I could never replace my family or friends I have known for years. However, developing relationships in the places we have lived has made a huge difference in dealing with being separated from our old lives. We have had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world with different backgrounds. We would never have met them if we had not stepped into our new life. These relationships have shaped who we are today and I am incredibly grateful for every one.

Remember why you are separated from your families. When you are the supporting partner it can be difficult to remember what your spouse is doing, the pressures they are under and what the ultimate goal is. Remember why you made the decision for your spouse to pursue further education and what your long-term family goals are.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list and I am far from an expert. Being separated from family is never easy and it does take time to adjust. Know that if you are willing to make the effort it can be done without sacrificing the relationships that you cherish.

If you have found yourself relocated to a new place on your graduate wife journey, how do you handle being separated from your family and friends?