Growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s, I absorbed the cultural role of females that I saw around me. My mother, grandmothers, and most of the other adult women I knew were homemakers. Those few who worked outside the home were mostly teachers or nurses. My goal in life was to be a teacher, like my beloved second grade teacher, Ms. Drew. But I also wanted very much to marry and have a family.
The difficulties of combining those two ambitions didn’t really hit me until college. If I married and still wanted to teach, who would take care of my children? If I stayed home to watch my children, what was the purpose of a college education? Was it possible to have both?
My solution was a compromise, but it worked for me and for our family. I finished graduate school and started teaching college classes before my husband and I were married. After our marriage, I taught part-time until our first child arrived and then stayed home full-time to care for her and our second child. Since finances were always tight, I operated a day care for other people’s children in our home while my own children were young. When our son turned 4, I found a part-time position in the evenings at a local college while my husband stayed home with our children.
Those years at home with my young children were not easy. I longed for intellectual stimulation and an identity beyond the roles of mother and wife. Becoming active in church-related groups and reading and writing when I could catch a few spare moments helped but never completely filled the void. Yet, looking back now, I don’t regret the choice I made. It was a privilege and great gift to experience firsthand my children’s first steps, their school plays, their friends, their dreams, and their growth as unique children of God. Yes, my decision not to put my career first meant that I remained a part-time instructor for most of my teaching life, but that was a fulfilling role.
Times have changed, with so many more career opportunities available for young women today. Our society is better and richer for the unique contributions women can make in all fields of endeavor. But that just makes the balancing of career and family more difficult in my mind. I can’t help being concerned about the children. Someone still has to be responsible for their day-to-day care. Our society is trying to create quality ways to do that by providing more before and after-school care, day care in the workplace, and facilities that are open at night for people working late shifts. These methods provide for our children’s physical needs, but who will instill the children with moral values, a strong work ethic, and with the conviction that they are loved?
The problem is a complex one, with no one-size-fits-all solution. I am not saying that we should go back to limiting the choices women have for their lives. What I am saying is that we need to continue working — as individuals and as a society — on finding the best ways to raise our children, God’s precious gifts and our hope for the future.