It’s not often that I enter into conversations about controversial topics. I don’t like contention and confrontation, so I usually just keep my mouth shut about my ideals. Plus, as an author I’ve seen far too many colleagues slaughtered on the interwebs for voicing their opinions.
But I’ve had not one, but four experiences in the past couple of weeks that want to make me want to open my mouth. To be fair, it’s not terribly controversial, but still, it’s in the limelight enough that I feel the need to share my story.
My week started in church. I love my church fiercely and the people that are in my congregation. But sometimes people say things and I’m like “Wha?????” The topic of our lesson in our women’s meeting was how families are being attacked in today’s world. The question was asked to the group, “What do you think is the main reason families are falling apart?” (or something like that. I can’t remember the exacts.) Lots of valid opinions were offered. A few off the wall ones as well. But then one woman went on a five minute rant about how working mothers were the reason why families were falling apart.
Um. Excuse me? I’m a working mother. Then I realized I was the only working mother in the room. There were other women that work, but they didn’t have kids at home.
Now fast forward a couple of days. I read a post written by a millennial about why they didn’t want kids. One of the reasons posted was they wanted their career and felt like they couldn’t do both.
Fast forward a few more days. I’m watching a video about the mistreatment of women in workplace, which was decent video but at one point they basically mocked women who want to stay home and take care of their kids.
Then I got an email from a good friend relating a story about a friend of hers that illustrates this exact point. I asked if I could use in my blog and she said, “Sure,” and then elaborated. She was discussing how she was insecure because she had a math degree and still felt like people discredited her because she’s a stay at home mom.
This is what she said:
Honestly though, I am not sure if it is entirely a stay at home mom thing. There have been a few times when that is the only explanation. But there were a few times before I had kids where I was told I shouldn’t take a math class because it would be too hard for me or that I probably couldn’t handle something that difficult. Which in a way ended up being good because it motivated me to prove them wrong, even though I have no contact with the people who said this to me. But it still frustrates me that I was told in high school and then as a freshman in college. So that is why I wonder if it is a woman thing??? I don’t know! All I know is that I would never tell a girl she can’t do something and that all comes from those experiences.
What was my takeaway from all this? That there is large percentage of the US population, both conservative and liberal that believe women can’t have it all. That to be successful they have to choose. Kids or career. But not both. Or that women who have careers are somehow superior to those that don’t and vice versa.
The beautiful thing about the age we live in that we have an incredible number of choices. Want a career? Sure. Want to stay home with your kids? Go ahead. Want both? Yep, you can do that too. And you know what? You can do it well. You can have your cake and eat it too. It’s completely possible. I’ve done it and I’m pretty sure, I’ve done it well. I’m tired of other women telling me what I can and can’t do and what I’m capable of.
After all this, I feel this incredible need to share my story. And so, here it is.
I got married at 18. I can just see all my feminist friends cringing. But what I love about feminism is that is gave us these choices, right? I chose to get married at eighteen. It wasn’t forced upon me. In fact, if anything it was highly discouraged.
I met my husband, Will, at church conference. He’s about ten years older than me. I can tell you, my mother had a fit. Our romance was a whirlwind and six months later we were married. After my mother accepted that I was getting married whether she liked it or not, she sat us both down and very clear on one thing.
“Kim’s going to get her degree. Before kids.”
To which both of us readily agreed to. I wanted to go to college. It was never a question. Will had just graduated with his Bachelor’s degree so it was fairly easy for me to do so, because he’d already started working. The kids thing wasn’t really an issue either because neither one of us wanted them right away.
Fast forward a year. It was a rough year. Marriage isn’t easy. But we made it fairly unscathed but we both got baby fever. We saw them everywhere. Yeah, I was still in school, but we figured we’d work it out.
A month after we decided we wanted to have kids I was pregnant.
My mother was livid. (But she got over it quickly. As anyone who knows her and they’ll tell you my daughter is one of her favorite people.)
I took off the semester she was born, but exactly five weeks after her birth, I was back in school. Sixth months (ish) later I was pregnant again. My son was born in August, so I didn’t take any school off for him.
Was it easy?
I took a lot of night classes so we didn’t need a sitter. But my last two semesters a lot of the classes I needed were only offered during the day so a girl from church watched them while I was in school.
Will spent a lot of time with the babies. We never called it babysitting. Those were his kids as much as they were mine. We were a team. Instead of me asking him if he could stay home with the kids, we would sit down and see who was going to be home when. If either one of us had something going on, the other one stayed home. And if plans conflicted we hired a sitter.
Looking back on my life, I think this is the number one thing that led to my success.
I married someone who looks at me as his equal in every way (and sometimes probably even his superior, which I was never very comfortable with. I’ve had to remind him time and time again that I am not perfect.) I couldn’t do what I do without him.
I’ve digressed. Back to the story.
I graduated in December of 2002 with a B.S. in mathematics. It was hard, but rewarding. The day before my graduation, I opened the trunk of my car and found all of my husband’s office in a box. When I asked him about it, he told me he’d been laid off but he didn’t want to tell me until after the graduation because he didn’t want to ruin it.
Talk about hard. We’d just moved into a brand new house (with a much higher house payment) and we had no clue what we were going to do.
So we hatched out another plan. We weren’t ready to put our kids in day care so we said whoever gets a job first will go to work and the other one will stay home with the kiddos.
Guess who got the job?
Guess who was miserable? All of us.
The job I took worked me way more hours than I was told and it wasn’t rewarding or fun. Will wasn’t having an easy time staying home full time. All in all, not a great time in our life. A few months later, we sat down and hatched a better plan. One where we would decide what was best for our family.
And we both went back to school.
Fast forward another eighteen months and we both graduated with education degrees. Yep. We were going to be teachers.
So by the age of 25, I had two kids, a masters degree, and husband I adored.
Who said you can’t have it all????
I just celebrated my 18th wedding anniversary and I gotta tell you. I’ve been soooo blessed. My kids are now 15 and 16 and I hit the kid lottery because they are fantastic (I’m pretty sure some good parenting was involved, but there are some really great parents out there with hard kids and so I’m appreciative of my own children). I had a nice run at a teaching career and after ten years, I quit to pursue my dream as an author (which is amazing, by the way). We’ve traveled the world and I’ve been to places that most people can’t even imagine going. In short, I have it all. I lack nothing.
The path wasn’t always easy. As a family we went through our ups and downs. But we made it through and we have an incredible life.
Also, I need to come back to my mother because I realized after I wrote this that I talked about her a lot. She’s a huge part of my life and the first tell me when I’m making a mistake. But she’s also the most supportive. At one point (in the middle of our teaching career) Will and I quit our jobs, moved the family into an RV for a year and traveled the U.S. Everyone told us we were crazy, but she said, “while you’re young, you might as well.”
She was skeptical when I chose to get married young, but this summer she basically told me the reason I was able to do all these things I wanted to do was because I had “an incredibly supportive husband.” And I totally agree with her, but it was a little ironic to hear her say that.
Also, Virginia and I were talking about this and she brought up a really good point. Virginia’s a stay at home mom, which I totally admire. It was not the path for me, but it’s such a worthy path. Just as worthy (if not more) than pursuing a career. But Virginia pointed out a very good point about stay at home moms, something I had no idea about. Here’s a little from her own story.
My ultimate goal, from the time I was very young, was to be a wife and a mother. There are a few of us out there, but we are a rare breed. I would even argue, more rare than women wanting a fulfilling career. I would go as far as to say I’ve never met another women who would “admit” to having a life goal of having children and raising them and that’s it. Most of my friends really wish they could have this amazing rewarding career and are “settling.” I have been in the stay-at-home mom circle for awhile, and let me tell you, mostly it’s “I am taking some time off work while the kids are very young,” or “one of us had to stay home because we feel it’s best for our kids and I drew the short straw” kind of thinking. I find staying at home very rewarding and fulfilling in my life. I don’t feel like my talents are wasted or underused. And, I bet there are other women like me, but they are actually too ashamed it admit it. It kind of breaks my heart a little.
When she told me that all I could think was, really? Allow me to lecture. Just a little. Whatever it is you choose to do, whether it is a permanent stay at home mom, temporary stay at home mom, work at home mom, both career and kids, or awesome career and no kids—make your choice. Embrace it! Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and who you are. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that your choice was a bad one (So, there are bad choices. At first I was going to say, “If you’re taking drugs, that’s a bad choice,” but then I realized that lots of people are on various medications for things and so that didn’t work. Then I thought, “Okay, if you’ve killed someone, that’s a bad choice,” but what if you killed someone in self defense or something. Like that was a good choice. So, you know…just own your choices is all I’m saying.)