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? 

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Job Search · Professional Careers

REPOST: Plan F

-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife

Any time my husband, Jason, begins a sentence with the words, “Well if this whole professor thing doesn’t work out, I can always…” I know that what follows is going to be a real gem. He’s come up with widely varying ideas of how he can make a living, most of which involve chocolate-chip cookies, or kittens, or a combination of the two. I think my favorite idea involved being a farmer who grows his own peanuts, strawberries, and mangoes (the geographic location of this farm is obviously yet to be determined) and raises baby goats, kittens, golden retrievers, and donkeys (because in his words, their ears are “sweet.”)

In all seriousness, the job market does look pretty grim for professors of just about anything these days, and Jason shares the concerns of any liberal arts PhD candidate, as he is currently pursuing a degree in Modern Christian History. At the end of this endeavor, he will know more about the East African Revival of the 20th century, including all the sociopolitical dynamics of colonialism that helped shape this movement, than maybe two or three other people who are alive. However, this doesn’t ensure that he will find a job teaching or researching anything related to these issues. He is, of course, attempting to get as much practice as possible through conferences, publishing articles, and teaching, and you can bet that he’ll be applying for every job opening far and wide once the time comes, but at the end of the day, his chances depend greatly on the job market and on who’s hiring and exactly what they’re looking for. I only give this background to explain why my husband may have fantasies of being a kitten farmer.

All things considered though, I think it’s a healthy exercise, right? What’s the harm in coming to terms with the fact that yes, while our lives are largely centered around this particular undertaking, we are still human beings with other identities and interests? This is easier for me to do because I’m not the one staring at a computer screen every day, scanning  through microfilm databases, accessing and decoding handwritten documents, or attempting to write a book which in all likelihood, only a handful of people will probably ever read. But for Jason, I can understand why some days he might consider a “backup backup” plan, (or “Plan F” as one of my best friends calls it, whose PhD husband’s own Plan F happens to be to work at McDonald’s).  I can understand the appeal of being a day laborer, or having another type of job that involves getting up, going in to work, doing the required tasks, then coming home and forgetting about it, versus a career like the one he is currently embarking on, which requires all of him–body, mind, and soul, so to speak.

I think we can all identify with this struggle, and with the pessimism that may come from considering seven to eight years of our life spent in pursuit of a degree which may or may not result in a desirable appointment. This is partly why I am grateful for this very blog, where we can share our concerns as well as ideas on how to make these days, months, and years count as much as possible. This is also why I am grateful for Jason’s hobbies, which include baking (some mind-numbingly delicious cappuccino-cream cheese brownies emerged from the oven last night thanks to him), because you never know when the little cupcake bakery downtown might be hiring! And in between sessions of researching and writing, he gets a fair bit of cat-snuggling in, which has enabled him to communicate effectively through expressions and meows with our two cats (at least he seems convinced of the fact). Yes, we have actually given some thought to which professor he would ask for a recommendation, were he to apply for a job at PetSmart.

In all honesty, I have a lot of faith in Jason and the hard work he does, and the respect I have for him to get up early every morning to develop this incredibly fascinating project can’t be overstated. But being at this stage in life requires a lot of flexibility, quite a bit of humility, and maybe a pinch or two of levity. So once all this PhD business is done and we get settled on our cat ranch in Wyoming, we’ll be glad to have you up to visit. You can stay in our bed and breakfast, where we’ll show you around and introduce you to our baby fainting goats, and we’ll save some cappuccino-cream cheese brownies for you in the kitchen.

In this graduate season of life, do you discuss what may happen if the ‘plan’ doesn’t work out the way you had intended? What does that look like?

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? 

Job Search · Professional Careers

Plan F

-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife

Any time my husband, Jason, begins a sentence with the words, “Well if this whole professor thing doesn’t work out, I can always…” I know that what follows is going to be a real gem. He’s come up with widely varying ideas of how he can make a living, most of which involve chocolate-chip cookies, or kittens, or a combination of the two. I think my favorite idea involved being a farmer who grows his own peanuts, strawberries, and mangoes (the geographic location of this farm is obviously yet to be determined) and raises baby goats, kittens, golden retrievers, and donkeys (because in his words, their ears are “sweet.”)

In all seriousness, the job market does look pretty grim for professors of just about anything these days, and Jason shares the concerns of any liberal arts PhD candidate, as he is currently pursuing a degree in Modern Christian History. At the end of this endeavor, he will know more about the East African Revival of the 20th century, including all the sociopolitical dynamics of colonialism that helped shape this movement, than maybe two or three other people who are alive. However, this doesn’t ensure that he will find a job teaching or researching anything related to these issues. He is, of course, attempting to get as much practice as possible through conferences, publishing articles, and teaching, and you can bet that he’ll be applying for every job opening far and wide once the time comes, but at the end of the day, his chances depend greatly on the job market and on who’s hiring and exactly what they’re looking for. I only give this background to explain why my husband may have fantasies of being a kitten farmer.

All things considered though, I think it’s a healthy exercise, right? What’s the harm in coming to terms with the fact that yes, while our lives are largely centered around this particular undertaking, we are still human beings with other identities and interests? This is easier for me to do because I’m not the one staring at a computer screen every day, scanning  through microfilm databases, accessing and decoding handwritten documents, or attempting to write a book which in all likelihood, only a handful of people will probably ever read. But for Jason, I can understand why some days he might consider a “backup backup” plan, (or “Plan F” as one of my best friends calls it, whose PhD husband’s own Plan F happens to be to work at McDonald’s).  I can understand the appeal of being a day laborer, or having another type of job that involves getting up, going in to work, doing the required tasks, then coming home and forgetting about it, versus a career like the one he is currently embarking on, which requires all of him–body, mind, and soul, so to speak.

I think we can all identify with this struggle, and with the pessimism that may come from considering seven to eight years of our life spent in pursuit of a degree which may or may not result in a desirable appointment. This is partly why I am grateful for this very blog, where we can share our concerns as well as ideas on how to make these days, months, and years count as much as possible. This is also why I am grateful for Jason’s hobbies, which include baking (some mind-numbingly delicious cappuccino-cream cheese brownies emerged from the oven last night thanks to him), because you never know when the little cupcake bakery downtown might be hiring! And in between sessions of researching and writing, he gets a fair bit of cat-snuggling in, which has enabled him to communicate effectively through expressions and meows with our two cats (at least he seems convinced of the fact). Yes, we have actually given some thought to which professor he would ask for a recommendation, were he to apply for a job at PetSmart.

In all honesty, I have a lot of faith in Jason and the hard work he does, and the respect I have for him to get up early every morning to develop this incredibly fascinating project can’t be overstated. But being at this stage in life requires a lot of flexibility, quite a bit of humility, and maybe a pinch or two of levity. So once all this PhD business is done and we get settled on our cat ranch in Wyoming, we’ll be glad to have you up to visit. You can stay in our bed and breakfast, where we’ll show you around and introduce you to our baby fainting goats, and we’ll save some cappuccino-cream cheese brownies for you in the kitchen.

In this graduate season of life, do you discuss what may happen if the ‘plan’ doesn’t work out the way you had intended? What does that look like?

Identity · Roles · Sacrifice

Identity Theft

Written by Nicole – a current graduate wife

Who am I?

I can tell you who I used to be.

A blonde, tan cheerleading captain, one half of the large California public high school power couple (the other half being the quarterback of the football team, naturally).

An over-involved, over-achieving student, active in student government, athletics, and community service from elementary school to graduate school.

A loving daughter of well-respected parents, whose connections coupled with the aforementioned drive for success earned her several job offers in education.

A capable, passionate teacher who was gifted the Award for Teaching Excellence, voted on by her colleagues.

I’m not any of those things anymore.

Who am I?

Now I’m just another graduate student’s wife.

The pier of what I have known to be my identity has been slowly crumbling because each of the pillars holding it up in the middle of the ocean is being knocked out. At this point, I’m not sure what else can be removed from under me, but I’m afraid there’s more to come. Through tears as we lay in bed one night, I told my husband that I feel like I don’t have much else for God to take away from my life. Which of these pillars could I be relying on?

Money? The year of my salary we saved to move here and pay international student fees is disappearing faster than you can say “lickety split.”

Family/Friends? We’re far, far away from them. Very far.

Marriage? We’ve been through enough seriously tough, painful crap to know better than to worship each other.

Children? Don’t have those, and can’t have those. No medical explanation on either side of the pond as to why. Can’t adopt here, and can’t adopt there. We’re just plain stuck on that front.

Health? My daily struggle with the ol’ chronic illness without a cure (a.k.a. the ‘betes) reminds me that this is not a given.

Appearance? My skin is verging on translucently pale, I’ve probably gained a solid 10 pounds (conservative estimate) this winter, and my hair is the color of dirty dishwater.

House? I live in a barn. I’m not exaggerating.

Possessions? Two suitcases worth, with half of the space in them taken up by medical supplies.

Convenience? What’s that? Most everything here is a p r o c e s s.

Luxury? Okay, I do miss driving wherever I want, whenever I want; going to the movies; getting my nails done (twice a year, but whatever); wandering through Target; and Mexican food.

Career? I don’t have one at present, and there is nothing promising on the horizon despite the dozens and dozens (and dozens!) of applications I’ve filled out.  I know that these years here require sacrifice on my part, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep us afloat, but bearing the sole weight of the financial responsibility for our family feels very unnatural to me. It freaks me out, to be perfectly honest.

Education? It’s hard to brag about my grade point average when that’s not a term that people here understand or accept as a legitimate form of assessment.

Myself? I started out my unemployment tenure with a strict hourly schedule to keep productive and happy. That lasted two days. Now I just stay in my pajamas too long and bake too many cookies and realize what a wretched, sinful woman I am who can’t do anything apart from God’s grace.

I know that these losses I’m grieving are completely relative. Life is hard in general, but my life is not that hard. I could lose much more. I could be suffering without food, clothing, shelter, or loving relationships. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m really a completely spoiled American brat who doesn’t have the first understanding of God’s faithfulness or the brevity of life.

I know this is where we’re supposed to be right now. My husband is thriving in his work, being affirmed by his supervisor and peers, and really loving his studies. For that I am supremely grateful.

I, on the other hand, feel like my world has been completely rocked. All the things I thought I was either aren’t true of me anymore or don’t really matter at all.

Who am I?

 After sending a prayer SOS to some close friends, one wrote this response back to me. As a Christian, these words spoke deeply to me and I hope that even if you are not of a faith, that you can find truth and comfort in them too.

You are loved and have value by simply existing. To suddenly have no career and “little productivity” is an extreme shock to the system, but at the end of the day whether or not you have accomplished anything speaks nothing to your value. You are loved. Period. PJs, sleep in days, no work, pale skin, LOVED. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He loved us before we had ourselves together.
I totally appreciate the joy it brings to check things off a list and feel like you have “done something.”  But maybe there are other plans in store for you right now.  Use this time to listen, to be patient, to slow down, to discover.

In your graduate wife journey, what has been the most difficult part of your ‘identity shift’?