How I Wasted My Education When I Became A Mother

I was that young woman who graduated college and had my first baby a year later.

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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 pretty 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 so many other women, it was all too easy to feel diminished and insecure. However much I wanted to defend my choice, 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. And 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. Because 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.

And 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.

So what are your thoughts? How do you put your education to use as a parent?

Go Ahead and Rebel Against “Success”

Our culture loves a success story. It’s this love of achievement that pushes us to perform well, collect accomplishments, and have results that indicate our efforts have been worthwhile. This pressure to excel doesn’t wait until we’ve reached mature adulthood, but rather begins when we’re kids.  

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Although we’re now grown, it’s not too hard to remember being immersed in our youthful scuffle to achieve acceptance in our academic, social and extra-curricular pursuits. Now that we have little humans of our own to nurture, it can be daunting to discern how best to encourage their success. There seems to be an almost constant call to raise talented, over-achieving success stories. And children at the earliest age can be so critical of their own abilities, quickly feeling frustrated if they’re not preforming as well as they think they should.

But as the framework around parenting continues to center around helping our kids “get ahead” in life, we need to take a step back and consider what exactly is being perpetuated here?

When we hear that children of this age feel more stress than the children of the Great Depression (the Great Depression, my friends), and that more minors are now taking their lives than previous generations, it becomes clear that we desperately need to change some things. We need to let them know that the pressures they feel do not define them.

I am fully prepared to rebel against our culture’s obsession with success and am doing so for the sake of my children’s well-being.

One of the ways I’m battling this is by…playing piano. Let me clarify, by playing the piano badly.

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I have attempted to “play” the piano for over half my life and continue to be terrible at it. You’ve never played piano? It’s still possible you’re better at it than me. I took up piano as a young girl around the same time I fell in love with classical music.  Within a year or two it became obvious that there was no greatness in store for me. Even mediocrity would be a dream unrealized. The years have passed, the playing has continued, but the result remains absolutely dreadful. I was and remain just plain bad at it. There is nothing tangible to “show” for all the time.

Except that I still really love to sit down and play.

The thing is, I believe I’ve loved playing all these years partly because of how poorly I perform at this. As the limits of my musical ability settled in, playing became a glorious relief and a reminder that there was more to life than striving for success.

Playing this instrument would not be a part of any success story, but rather, a love story for simply living. There was nothing that could be derived from this time at the bench and fake-ivory keys, except the joy of living in the moment. There’d be no one to impress. There’d be nothing else to gain. It would heighten an appreciation for those who did possess talent, but would never include my membership in their rank.

As a mother, playing piano has continued to be a tremendous reminder that life is more than being good at things. It is meant for experiencing and relishing the moment at hand. It’s amazing how necessary that reminder is on a day-to-day basis.

My children are growing up hearing some mighty poor performances. Right now they happily kaplunk alongside me, with only a minimal differentiation between adult and child. One day they’ll realize that their mommy ain’t that great.

But hopefully they’ll also learn that sometimes it’s okay to be bad at things. It’s okay to seek out time and activities without thought of productivity or achievement. Amidst the pressures to succeed, we are all entitled to love things intensely and not lose heart if greatness isn’t a part of the story.

And if my children can learn these things, it will help them live more authentically, humbly and joyfully.

Children should be encouraged from time to time to rebel against this notion that they must be a success. Not everything is about achieving excellence or exceptionalism. Life is meant to be experienced not achieved, and often times, the way to true “success” is to love something without fear of failure.

So what’s something you love to do that you’re no good at? Are your children getting in on the fun of this as well?

Mommy Has a Squishy Tummy

A few weeks ago while I was reading with my kids, my five-year-old son scooted close to me and told me I had a very squishy tummy.

I stopped reading.

Okay, I frantically thought, I’m a modern woman. Obviously my tummy is squishy and I should be okay with this. There’s a life-lesson for my son I need to be teaching here. One that conveys healthy body image. Or something. I know I should say something.

But the life-lessons weren’t coming to me. All the articles and talks with friends. All those words of wisdom and desire to raise boys who didn’t objectify women. They went out the window. I felt I needed to say something to him, but all the possible words felt insincere.

What I did feel was my stomach tighten, as if a deep inhale could reduce the squish. And then I kept reading.

Following this squishy tummy episode, I realized it had been a while since I had taken stock of, and perhaps confronted, some realities about my own body image.

I’m at a point in life where pondering my physical appearance ranks about #457 on the list of things to think about. For instance, “can I wear this pair of jeans a fifth day in a row?” and “there’s no milk or bread in the house, can I still go one more day without a grocery run?” rank higher than pondering physical appearance on my list. Most days pass without more than a glance in the mirror.

But this moment with my son confirmed the presence of long-lasting  insecurities. I had tucked away these insecurities when I became a mother. Filed them away somewhere to be sorted out at a later date. It wasn’t that I had been liberated from these negative thoughts, I just put them on hold. And when I unintentionally stumble upon #457, the outcome is rarely positive. It’s one that still evokes feelings of inadequacy, criticism and self-depreciation.   

Perhaps you can relate.

So how am I to teach my children about healthy body image when I still struggle?

The answer was sitting right beside me. I wasn’t going to teach my children. My children were going to teach me.

My son had tried to teach me something that day while we were reading. And I missed it. The negative connotation I have with “squish” had resonated so strongly with me that the manner in which it was uttered by my boy was utterly lost.

So let me retell this story, completely this time. Let me put aside any insecurities and knee-jerk reactions. Let me share this as my son intended it.

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A few weeks ago, I was reading with my kids. My three kids, five-years and younger. The children I have born and given so much of my body and soul to care for. As a page turned of a much-loved story, my oldest son nestled close to me, and with a contented sigh, as if almost unconsciously done, said I had a very squishy tummy.

That moment was not a criticism or tease. That moment for him meant comfort and security. It meant contentment and rest. It meant mother and home. As he felt his little body enveloped by the body that had loved him into existence, he felt happy. He liked the way he could so comfortably nestle into his mommy and he spoke that feeling into existence.

Children do not need lessons from adults on healthy body image. There was nothing he needed to learn from me.  Adults need to learn from their children.

Ask children about our bodies and what will we learn?

Children will tell us that bodies are for play, and love and exploration.

They will tell us skin is sticky and soft, occasionally boo-booed and in need of a kiss.

Fingers and toes are for feeling cool mud and warm sand.

Legs are to carry us to where we wish to go.

Arms are for reaching, even if what we desire seems beyond our grasp.

Faces are to be used in reckless expression.

And tummies are for food and belly laughs. They are often best squishy, especially when belonging to their mommies.

Having kids can teach us so much about our bodies. What have you learned about your body after having children?

The Art of Raising Thoughtful Conversationalists

First, let me clarify what this post is not about. It’s not a hankering that we raise our children to speak as characters in a Jane Austen novel.

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Though that’d be awesome

It’s about something more fundamental: raising humans who can talk and listen to one another in meaningful ways.

We have all experienced unbalanced conversations. Perhaps we did too much of the talking. Perhaps we had a genuine desire to share our thoughts, but were not given the space and time by others. When unbalanced conversations become a habit, opportunities to connect are lost.

Among the hierarchy of life skills, the ability to carry on a balanced, thoughtful conversation ranks high. It gives us the ability to connect, forge relationships, delve deeper into those relationships, learn, grow and be inspired.

Conversations do not have to be long. They do not require talkative people. But they do require people who genuinely wish to exchange thoughts and ideas with another.

Our children so clearly wish to be conversationalists. From infancy they babble to us and we inherently invite them to continue with our overjoyed responses. Kids possess the same desire as adults to be included, and to be heard. So much of what they learn is via discussions they forge with the adults who love them.

Children are taking every word in, and replicating many of our habits. It’s in everyone’s best interest to model thoughtful ways of communication. Though we often reflect on the topics that can make up good conversation (past experiences, politics, reality TV), the raw ingredients necessary for meaningful conversations are rarely emphasized. And it’s the ability to appreciate those ingredients that embody the art of thoughtful conversations. So what can we emphasize?


The Invitation

We are not reporters, and we aren’t conducting an interrogation. But the point of conversing with someone is to share thoughts, and in order to share thoughts…we’ve got to invite another person to share! Often times the most genuine way to carry on a conversation is to ask thoughtful questions of another – of their life, ideas, experiences – and mean it when we initiate the question.

It’s very easy, but it’s amazing how rarely that simple act is given to another. When we’re with someone who genuinely wishes to hear our views/perspectives, it is a deeply moving and gratifying experience. We feel included. It opens the door to trust, and confidence.

Listen…and Listen Some More

The greatest gift we have in our trove is to genuinely listen to a person when she or he is talking. Often our minds quickly rush to what we could say next or how the topic at hand relates to our own life. But that’s not what we should be doing. We should be immersed in listening.

Perhaps we have a million things we need to say. We need to listen anyways. Perhaps we don’t agree with what the person is saying. We need to listen anyway. Perhaps we feel our concerns are SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than what another is speaking of, but we should listen anyways. Honestly, it’s amazing how a crisis or misunderstanding can be so quickly remedied when we give the gift of listening.

Respecting Our Differences

We’re all different. How wonderful and confusing is that?! Some love to talk, others do not. Some love to project, others to soak in. Some have no problem telling the world how they feel, and others need reassurance before they open up (hello, that’s me!). We still seek interconnectedness, despite our vast differences.

As we get to know another, and understand one another through conversation, we can speak with sincerity while also respecting these differences in needs. A little give and take is often a good thing.

It’s impossible to make everyone 100% satisfied, but respecting the person by our side can play a huge role in our ability to communicate to those who are different than us. Even if we miss the mark, our striving for it will often be appreciated. Ultimately, it’s this respect that separates meaningful discussion from superficial exchange.


Raising Thoughtful Conversationalists

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“Tell me your thoughts on Heidegger, brother.”

So how does all this translate when it comes to our kids? I think it’s actually pretty simple.

Actually Converse With Them – Notice how easy it is to half heartily listen to what our kids say? I often use my fatigue as an excuse to “tune the kids out”, but am amazed at how my attentive listening and willingness to converse soothes the source of my exhaustion.  When a child feels respected and valued, it’s a joy to see them relish in a “talk” with their parent. We both walk away having learned something.

Provide Opportunity for Varied Discussion – Building a community of people who respect our children and wish to include them is invaluable. Providing a diversity of opportunities for our children to be a part of conversations gives them positive experiences and confidence they can carry with them into adulthood.

Reflect On Past Conversations With Them – Whether it’s grandma, a preschool friend or a co-workers, if a child has had a conversation (however simple), it can help for us to recount elements of these discussions with our kids.

“Isn’t it nice that Ms. B is going on a vacation?”

“Daddy said he had a lot going on at work today. Wonder how that’s going?”

Remembering aloud these conversations teaches our kids a few things: what we say to one another has meaning and what we share with one another is often worth remembering.

This might sound silly, but among the list of proud parenting moments , hearing (of their own fruition) my two-year-old ask his Daddy how work was or my five-year-old ask his teacher about her vacation is pretty high up there. My hope is that as they mature, their respect and appreciation for communicating with others will be an art form they cultivate.

So what do you think? Are there other qualities of a good conversationalist that should be added to the list? What are ways you help your kids become thoughtful in how they communicate with others?

I’m listening 🙂