04 February 2013

Commentary on College and Modernity's Judgment of Motherhood

I started college out having a pretty solid plan: do well, get some research under my belt and go to graduate school for clinical psychology. At the beginning of college I was very excited about this plan. I was determined to make myself look as qualified as possible to graduate schools when I applied. I was warned by professors, counselors and other collegiates that my plan would change, that many students don't keep the major they begin with and that many people do not even decide on a major until Junior year. This all sounded like preposterous nonsense to me at the time. I was not going to change my mind. I had been planning to go to college since I was eight and I had planned my major and plan of study out. Maybe my minor would change or I would add another major, but I knew what I mainly wanted. I would show all of them that I could stick to something and excel.

So when my second semester of sophomore year began and I started to feel unhappy, I also got a little nervous. My psychology classes the year and a half before had been great and I was a decent student. I had been doing research and investigating universities in Seattle, Minnesota and on the East Coast. But something felt off. I figured I wasn't being challenged enough or was missing something. A look at my credits showed my that I could graduate a year early if I continued to take overloads (over eighteen hours of classes) each semester. This seemed like the solution to me. I would finish my college career quickly and move on to the next big step. That was probably impressive to application reviewers and would get me out of the icy box that is January in the Midwest.

When psychology still didn't excite me by the time Summer began, I was starting to get seriously fed up. My passion for the subject was dying and I had to figure out why. For a while, I seriously considered culinary school. I love baking and could see myself doing that for all of my life and being happy, no matter how little I made doing it. Sometime in the Fall I abandoned my plans of applying to graduate school that season. I refused to even consider applying if my heart wasn't in it. I would take a year off, I deemed, to figure out what I wanted. I could always apply the following year. It was strange and uncomfortable to see my plans become insignificant, even painful to endure.

While school didn't make me as happy as before, other things did: learning about Catholicism, reading/writing blogs and...having children? Having children of my own was completely out of my mind and off the table for the majority of my life, not because I didn't like them, but because I really didn't feel like that was something for me, not yet. Also, I was a bit afraid of kids. Really. I know. They're what, three feet high? Kids made me nervous. I didn't know how to care for them, how to manage them, how to even communicate with them. If left alone with anyone under five, I'd stare for about ten seconds and then muster up a: "Uhhh, hey. What's up?" Not even joking. People knew this about me and my mom would joke about it sometimes (in a loving way, of course).

Even as I child I was too disconnected from childish things for my own good.
So here I was, wrinkling my nose at college and being mesmerized by children in small puffy Winter coats and thinking about homeschooling and how awesome it would be to pass all of my knowledge and love down to a small human being that was genetically half me. But that thought, as much as it endeared me, scared the heck out of me. I also felt like an impostor going to classes and work where people were talking about five year plans, moving to the city for adventures, getting internships.... I felt like I was going completely against the idea of a modern woman. Not that I really cared about the "modern woman" ideal. I could dig blazers and all that, but I really didn't think I needed to have a successful established career before I could settle down. Frankly, the idea of a "career" revolted me. I just wanted to work to get by and be happy. I certainly wasn't looking for anything grand in the way of work.

The only real "problem" I had with the modern woman thing was that other people seemed to expect I would follow that role. I had always been a bright child, so it made sense that I would go to college and get a good job. I also come from a family with abundant young mothers, so I tried to avoid any having-kids-too-early situation. Once I came to the realization that, yes, I do want a family, no, I don't really care about being successful in the workplace, answering the question of what I want to do with my life to others became tricky. I didn't feel comfortable just saying, "I want to get married and have a family," because at the slightest mention of one, people already adopted suspicious glances.

I know that a family is not what a lot of women my age have in mind, and that's fine: I wouldn't try to force them into having the same dream as mine. But it began to feel unjust when, in a society which professes to be open-minded and proud to be tolerant of anything, being a wife and mother who homeschools and cooks is the absolute antithesis of what a woman should be. How could I want to bring a child into this mess of a world? Why was I wasting my college education? Couldn't I see I was playing into the hands of a chauvinistic society, that I was giving men the upper hand to suppress me? Don't I know it isn't the 1950's anymore? Women have rights and should be independent and able to support themselves!

Okay. I'm cool with women having rights any human being should have. Women can be independent and get a job if that's what they want. Maybe if I become a wife and mother, my abnormal psychology and ancient philosophy courses won't directly influence those roles. I know it isn't the 1950's. I know a lot has changed. But you know what hasn't changed? The need for the structure of a family and the continuance of the human race. People still need to learn and still need to eat and above all still need to be loved.

Do you know what the problem is with insisting that women be "independent" all of the time? People use the word to mean strong, sure and capable, and somehow the hidden implication is that these women work at lucrative jobs in business suits who aren't tied down by any man. Where does that leave the women who truly believe they will find the most satisfaction, who will be strongest and most capable, fulfilling traditional roles? The strongest women I have known are mothers. Being a wife and a mother is something peculiar to women. Men cannot be wives and mothers. So why do we put down women for performing these roles which only they can perform? Shouldn't we capitalize on this talent? Shouldn't one's womanhood, wifehood and motherhood all be equally respectable and honorable?

Having a family was the last thing on my mind when I began college. Sitting here two and a half years later, I can't imagine anything I could want to do with my life more. I am excited about what my life could be and will be proud of any children I am blessed with having. They will not be a mistake, they will not weigh me down, they will not make me resentful. They will be my joy and they will be worth far more than anything else this world can offer me.

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