I was that young woman who graduated college and had my first baby a year later.
This meant I spent four years working my way through university, keeping down jobs, interning for no pay, and pushing every limit I had to graduate summa cum laude, only to become a stay-at-home mom.
Among all the marks against an educated woman, the choice to seemingly do nothing with one’s education ranks high. In those early years of motherhood, I’d frequently be asked if getting a college degree was worth it since I was “just” staying at home with kids. Did I really need to attend a university to be a stay-at-home mom?
These inquiries were framed as harmless curiosity, but I knew better, and like countless women, it was all too easy to feel diminished and insecure. However much I wanted to defend my decision, when I was honest with myself, I didn’t know how to answer.
Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the intention of my education. Although I never believed it, motherhood was often presented as a hindrance, even a barrier to advancement in many of my courses. Could all the resources, time and money that went into a college education really be justified when my days consisted of diaper changes and the alphabet song? Or was it actually a waste?
As time passed, however, and more of my friends became mothers, it became obvious that this scrutiny wasn’t exclusive to women who stayed at home with their kids. This same test of worthiness and adequacy was being pitted against every woman who had a child. I’d listen to the frustrations and tears of working moms and stay-at-home moms and hear the same insecurities.
You see, when it comes to women and education, our society loves to put us under a microscope and carry out an inquisition.
Will this woman, by virtue of her ability to be a mother, be productive, profitable, ground-breaking, reliable and ambitious enough to merit her education? Will she put it to good enough use?
Or will it go to waste? Will she just pop out babies?
Our society worries a woman will sacrifice too much for the sake of her children. She may prioritize care-taking over time dedicated to her profession. Her thoughts may be too wrapped up in a teething baby to make the same contributions as man.
And regardless of a women’s childcare choice or commitment to her profession, she spends an insane amount of energy fighting against these insinuations of inadequacy.
As these sweeping pressures became obvious, I realized I was in fact wasting my education. I was wasting my education by allowing this destructive nonsense to have any hold on me whatsoever. You see, it’s this constant testing against women that is the waste, not our choice to be mothers.
So here’s how women everywhere can ensure that we are putting to good use the education we receive.
We need to redefine exactly what society sees as “waste,” because caring for children, or any human for that matter, is certainly not waste.
We need to confront false ideas that women only be mothers and pressures that women cannot be mothers if they seek real success. Advocating equality in the office, lab and legislature is half the battle. The other half is elevating the value of care-taking to the same level as salaried pursuits. Young children need educated caretakers, and unless we value that care, we’ll go on committing the same injustices that have been perpetuated upon humans for millennia.
Ultimately, we need to acknowledge that raising children is a task worthy of a woman’s – or man’s education. Not only will our education enhance our ability to nurture and teach children, our experiences as parents furthers our knowledge of the world.
A short while ago, I was contacted by alumni relations of my alma mater. They wanted to know what I was doing five years after graduating. When I was a new mom, I would have shrank from that question. But in light of my education, I stated without hesitation that I was a stay-at-home mom.