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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Family

The Glad Sacrifice of Motherhood

Chris & David 2
Julia’s mother, Christine, with her son, David

A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. –Mother Teresa

Before I became a mother, I often listened to the stories of sacrifice that populated my family’s collective memory, handed on like heirlooms. They were impressive to me then, as a child and adolescent, but the reality behind the tales has only gradually sunk in as I’ve had my own children and settled into life as a mother. This Mother’s Day has me remembering with gratitude the legacy of glad sacrifice in my maternal forebears.

When my grandfather returned from World War II he married the love of his life, my grandmother. When his son, my father, was four years old, my grandfather suddenly lost his ability to walk. He learned from doctors that a spinal column injury sustained during the war would, as they told him, give him the option of sitting or lying down. He told them he would walk. (And he did walk eventually – with a brace from hip to ankle, and supporting himself with a cane.) My grandmother looked after the children and visited him daily for months in the hospital and rehabilitation center. In the evening, she put her kids to bed and went off to work as a waitress. Tirelessly, she worked to put food on the table – from the time my grandfather was in the hospital to when he came home unable to walk, let alone work.

My maternal grandmother had seven children. My mother, Christine, was the third born. When my mother was in junior high, my grandfather grew gravely sick, suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. And so my grandmother went to work at a factory while my oldest aunts and uncles kept things going at home. And when my grandfather passed away when her youngest was still in grade school, she continued to work at night and be at home during the day, never taking her wedding band off her ring finger.

And then there’s my mother. After she married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of twenty-one, my mother left school, her family, and her way of life to move across the country for my father to go to seminary. Shortly after they arrived, she discovered she was pregnant. David was born nine months later. A very difficult labor made way for the even more difficult news that David had a heart condition that would require surgery in a few months’ time. When David was six months of age, my parents and their best friends got on their knees and pleaded with God to protect their firstborn son the next morning during open heart surgery. The next morning David died. My parents were twenty-three.

In sharing these stories, I don’t for a moment think that my family is unique. This kind of risky love and untiring devotion are wonderfully universal. There is beautiful commonality woven in the stories we all carry of our mothers, and of our mothers’ mothers. Each of us is here today precisely as the result of the sacrifice of others. Even those of us who may not have had ideal mothers have often benefited from mother-like sacrifices from someone who loved us.

When I’m tempted to despair at the solipsism of this world and question whether the era of this type of sacrifice has passed, I step back and consider the strong women around me, many of whom have forsaken family and country in the graduate journey, and now joyfully sacrifice to raise their children in circumstances that are not always easy – children who will, one day, look back on the difficulty their mothers endured with gratitude and wonder.

written by Julia, a former graduate wife

Academia Beyond Grad School · Children · Motherhood

Mama PhD

If you are a mama and you are working on a thesis, then you must check out this great little section called Mama PhD on the blog: Inside Higher Ed.  Well, even if you aren’t the student and even if you aren’t a momma, the topics and articles covered are really insightful and interesting.  I was particularly inspired by this one describing a life full of ‘works in progress’.  I can relate with so many ‘projects’ here and there, with some in full swing and some on the back-burner, and some that might never come to fruition.

“But a project can also bring satisfaction, enjoyment, accomplishment in the process of working on it, in ways that others may not appreciate because there is no final product to show.  As long as the process is still appealing and interesting to me, these projects will stay on my list, not dismissed as failures – and I hope to return to enjoying them again (and again).  And maybe finishing some.”

Check out the full list of Mama PhD articles on the site and enjoy exploring and connecting!

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?