Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What Do You Tell Your Daughter?

I took a lot of Women's Studies courses in college.  I considered myself a feminist.  I read Adrienne Rich, Gertrude Stein, Alice Walker, among others.  I was never going to rely on a man.  I was going to have a career.  After several false starts (I considered being a social worker until I spent some time in a Head Start program in an inner city and realized that I could not handle it, I wanted so badly to save everyone and that is very hard to do; I considered teaching high school English until I realized that I didn't agree with some of my professor's interpretations of poetry and literature and I didn't necessarily understand why we needed to search so hard for symbolism--this is still something that I am not comfortable with).  I ended up deciding that I wanted to be a sociologist and I wanted to study subcultures.  My plan was to go to grad school, and eventually get a PhD, to be a professor and to become an expert on subcultures--something that, to this day, fascinates me. my junior year of college all of that changed.

I met Jason.  Within a few months, I knew that I wanted to marry him.  We wanted to have a family.  Suddenly my dream of being a professor seemed like what I would have done if I had not met the man I wanted to marry.  Rather than go to grad school, I got a full time job so that we could save to buy a house.  I was very proud that we bought our first home when I was 25.  Grad school was the furthest thing from my mind.  I was now thinking about paint colors and decorating schemes, buying furniture and planning a family.  A year later, I was trying to figure out if and how I could stay home when we had a baby.  My life took a completely different turn than I anticipated when I was in college and had declared a major and created my life plan, so to speak.

A degree in sociology really is not preparation for any particular job.  That and a dollar will give you a cup of coffee, if you're lucky.  I could get an entry level corporate job.  I was offered a job at the personnel agency that I went to after college in hopes of finding a job.  I took the job at the personnel agency and I managed accounts with several large corporations, but I didn't like the corporate politics.  Then, when we moved to Connecticut for Jason's work, I was offered a job rather by happenstance when I went with my neighbor to register her son for pre-school.  The Pre-School Director and I just hit it off (we are still friends today and she sometimes reads and comments on my blog---Hi ABC!) .  I LOVED teaching pre-school.

But, once A came along...I wanted to stay home and take care of my own baby.  Money was tight at first.  We made a lot of sacrifices, but neither Jason nor I would have had it any other way.  Over the years, I met moms who were nurses and could pick up a per diem shift or work one night shift a week once their husbands got home.  I met moms who were hairdressers and charged a few bucks to cut their friends' hair or give them highlights.  I met moms who were able to work a few hours here and there in their chosen profession (tax accountant, graphic artist) to help out, without it being a huge time commitment.  I didn't have skills where I could pick up a shift here and there when Jason got home from work, so that one or the other of us was always home with the kids and the kids didn't need to be in childcare.

Both of my girls have always, always said they wanted a career in fashion design.  I have no problem with that.  None at all.  I would encourage and support that choice.  BUT, I do tell them that fashion design is a cutthroat business and tough to get into and really make a name for yourself.  I encourage them to read blogs of women who sew their own designs, who create their own jewelry, who dye their own fabric to make scarves and then sell these beautiful, handcrafted items on etsy.  I point out that those cottage businesses are something that you can do as a mom.  We have talked about starting an etsy account to sell A's clay things or perhaps jewelry that we make.

I encourage them to look at the big picture.  Do you want to be a mom, too?  Because some career choices will make being a mom difficult.  I have friends and I really don't judge them, I actually am very happy for them and envy them somewhat, but I know that they feel that they are not as good as they can be at work because of their parenting responsibilities and not doing all they would like to for their kids because of their career.  That's a tough spot to be in.  It's one that I sort of try to make my girls aware of.  Consider this.  Just consider it when making the choice.

When I was in high school, I admit, I was your typical preppy college-bound kid, I didn't feel that vocational schools were an option.  Now I feel differently.  I would encourage my girls to go to a vocational school for graphic design or culinary arts or even cosmetology.  Those are marketable skills, more marketable than sociology.  The girls could get jobs, have skills for their family to fall back on.  Hairdressing is almost recession proof.  A childhood friend of mine is extremely creative and artistic and is a hairdresser in a very posh area who has a wonderful webpage of her hair designs.

But I also want them to go to college.  At least community college, at least for two years.  Preferably, community college for two years and then transfer to a four year school to complete their bachelor's degree.  Our local community college has an excellent reputation.  I feel that I got a better education there than I did at Rutgers.  Most of my friends attended the local community college and some have gone on to Princeton (for grad school) one is even a Harvard professor now.  If the girls choose to homeschool through high school, they will take their science classes and some electives at the community college.

I know that if my girls are anything like me, when they hit their teens they are not going to listen to a word I say.  They will know more than I do at that point.  So, I tell them now.  When deciding on a career path, think about whether or not you want to be a mom.  Add that into the equation.  If you want to be a fashion designer, maybe you can take some classes in design, jewelry making, textiles, etc. but major or minor in business or accounting so that you can run a cottage business from home if you have kids and want to stay home when they are small.

It's so hard as women to have the best of all worlds.  I am thrilled to be a mother, I am ecstatic with homeschooling, I love spending this time with my girls and I feel so very blessed that I can.  BUT, there is a part of me that feels like I could be doing something more intellectual, something more creative, I could have a career, I could have different opportunities.  It's definitely the reason why, even though we are homeschooling and it's sometimes hard to juggle my job at the library with homeschooling, I stay there.  I want my girls to see that women can work and have a family.  But I also want them to understand that some careers are more amenable to family life than others and I want them to choose wisely so that they can feel satisfied both as someone who is building a family and as someone who is building a career.