Monday, May 21, 2012

On Education and the At-Home Mom

“To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors, and holidays; to be Whitely within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career  to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? …a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute.” ~G.K. Chesterton, Emphasis Mine
First of all, I have to make a disclaimer right off the bat because if I don't, I could be misunderstood.  I still run the risk of being so for even writing about this topic but, I think it's important so, I'm going to take the plunge.  Okay, just so we're clear here-I do not think all women (or men even) must go to college to be somebody.  I think higher education is an amazing gift and that there is a reason many people aspire to it, but it's not necessarily for everyone nor does everyone get a chance at it even if they want one.  If you didn't graduate from college, I'm not saying you're less-than.  Please hear that!  And my second point is this, I do not wish to go into the age old argument here either by making a statement about moms who work and those that don't.  That isn't what I'm talking about.  What I do wish to talk about though, is the common belief that women who have graduated from college who then choose to become stay-at-home moms have wasted their education because the full-time job of raising children is such a simple, mundane and thoughtless job. For that belief is totally erroneous and it's something that needs to be talked about.

Phew, I feel better now :)!  Onto the show.

Growing up, I was always told I'd attend college someday.  My parents just expected it and they actually were really good about it all.  I never felt any undue pressure.  However, they encouraged me in my strengths, expected a lot of me and I did well.  I was encouraged to read, given as many opportunities as possible to excel in a lot of different activities and when I was a sophomore in high school, I decided I wanted to go to Cal Poly.  Since Cal Poly was such a difficult school to get into, and in my humble, unbiased opinion the best school ever (Ha ha!) I worked even harder, got good grades and a decent SAT score.  I was absolutely elated when I got in.  It was a dream come true for me.

I didn't know at the time when I would marry or what I would do after college.  I always thought I'd probably get a job someday after I graduated and I did.  I never thought I'd marry young which would bring on children young, but I did.  After graduating, I worked for a few years as a Writer/Editor for a non-profit foster care agency in our town doing all sorts of things from editing and marketing to writing grants, and I absolutely loved my job-hands down.  But I also knew that I wanted to stay at home if I could when we had kids, and I was really okay with that too. 

When Isaac was born we moved, so the decision was pretty much made for me anyway.  And once at home, I was really thankful that I had been put in a spot to be there because it worked well for me as a mom and our family.  As the years went on, I was asked on many occasions how I could still enjoy being home even though I was "educated".  Wasn't I bored with the simplicity and monotony?  Didn't I need something more?  I was surprised to find that no, I wasn't bored, and in fact, I didn't feel like I was wasting my time everyday doing puzzles and writing letters with my kids.  In fact I felt quite the opposite.  I felt that I wasn't wasting my college education that I worked so hard for on my current "job", but rather that I was using it on a regular basis to teach my own children about life, how the world works and the very foundation our home is built on-our faith. 

And here's why...instead of feeling like my life was so lame and boring just changing diapers and wiping snotty noses (although that monotony was a small part of it), I felt like things were always exciting-and truthfully chaotic at times too.  Here's a small window into how I've utilized what I learned in college either through life experience or in the classroom.   I've been able to be a huge part of my children's education by teaching the two older ones how to read, to write, to look for patterns and the littler ones to count.  I've also been able to be one of the sole educators of them in their faith, along with their Dad of course, with them as my little pupils.  Knowing what I believe and why has been crucial to this part of their education.
We've also been able to talk about how the world works and everyday my little five-year-old Caleb asks at least five Physics questions regarding motion, light, or some other "why does it do that?" question, that I'm starting to be afraid I won't be able to answer him soon, but will have to send him off to Daddy for answers.  Every single day my mind is stimulated as I talk about literature with them, tell good stories, explain history over lunch, marvel over God's wonders while on a drive and drill them in their math skills.  And I don't even homeschool!!  All the time I'm thankful that I have such a rich background to draw upon making it easier to answer their questions and satisfy their curiosities.

No, being a mother hasn't squelched my education, motherhood has markedly broadened it giving it a depth it would not have had before.  

It has also given me something to aspire to-the deep desire to see all of my children understand the benefits of a beautiful and life-long education in the amazing world God has created.  
So what has inspired all this talk here huh?  Why even write about this and ruffle some feathers?  Well, I've been thinking about it because of an encounter I had just the other day at the Cookie Stand.  A beautiful, accomplished and popular graduating senior came to buy a brownie and as she reached for her prize, she asked me one of the most difficult questions I've ever been asked before by a student at the stand (surprisingly, I get asked quite a few too).  She said, as she pointed to my belly, "What number is that for you?"  I smiled and answered, "Number five."  She then said, "How do you do all of this?  How do you balance everything?  Do you enjoy being a mom?"

I knew what she was saying.  She was saying, "Why do you keep having kids?  Is it at all rewarding for you?"

My mind raced because it was such a big question and I wished I could just take her out to coffee and tell her everything I've learned so far and how much I LOVE being a mom.  But I knew, I only had her ears for two minutes.  If I only had two minutes, what should I say that will impact her the most?  I quickly asked God in my mind, "What do I do?  What does she need to hear?"

And He brought this very issue to mind.  As I stared at her beautiful face, all aglow with promise and on the brink of her college career, I knew I had to tell her that it was worth it to go to school.  To get the best grades she could.  To aim as high as she could and to be determined in whatever tasks came her way but that if she became a mother someday, it wouldn't be a waste to be at home while raising her children.

So that's what I did.

I started by telling her that I graduated from Cal Poly in 2003 (which shocked her off the bat...her look said, "You graduated from college?").  I told her that I never regretted going away to school but looked at that time as a very important and beneficial shaping of who I am today.  And that every single day I used my education in the raising of my children.  At the time I thought, "She probably thinks this response is crazy as I'm about to have number five and she sees me running around with goldfish crackers and sippy cups constantly asking my nearly two-year-old if she needs to go to the bathroom.  How could my life be seen as anything but mundane, chaotic, and what some women would think is the worst of all-simple?"  Nevertheless, even in the monotony, the everyday simplicity, is so beautiful to me, and rewarding and very, very stimulating.  But instead of scoffing, she smiled as she walked away and then went on with her day.  And I felt I had at least said my piece.  That took place a couple of weeks ago.

Then last Friday night we took our kids to the school's music concert.  They all loved it, especially Joshua, and since we had seats in the back, they were able to make some noise and pretend to be conducting the band while the students were playing.  It was a blast.  At one point, Elliana had to go to the bathroom and so we went.  On our way back in a woman stopped me and said, "You're Mrs. Dauphin aren't you?  You know, you really inspired my daughter."  Aghast I quickly asked, "Who is your daughter?" trying to understand what she was even talking about.  She gave me the girl's name and immediately the whole encounter flooded back to me.  And I was humbled because evidently my "two minutes" had gotten through.  Those two minutes were enough to get her to go home and talk extensively with her own mom about why it's not a waste to be a woman, go to school and then become a stay-at-home mom, if that's what she chose.   And her mom had affirmed what I said.  I was speechless...stunned.

And I went home after the concert and cried.  Seriously.  Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones.  I don't know.  But I felt so hopeful that she had listened and that maybe it might make a difference with someone...just maybe.

I'm not the most educated woman on the planet.  I'm not even nearly as smart or accomplished as some of the women I know and am surrounded with.  And some of the women I know, who didn't go to college, are also some of the smartest and most gifted women around me too.  I know some seriously accomplished ladies and they amaze me.  But that's not even what I'm writing about.  What I'm trying to express is that it doesn't have to be one or the other.  You don't have to have a career just because you went to college.  Your life will not be marked by drudgery just because you choose to stay home.  You can choose to be at home and your education will not be squandered.  I am also not attacking the women who do stay in the workforce.  I have friends who do that out of choice and at times necessity, and I respect them too.  I'm simply talking about the idea that's being fed to our young women that the job of motherhood at home is simple, boring, and unrewarding, culminating in the waste of an educated mind.

We HAVE to tell our daughters this.  I want Elliana to grow up just as educated as her brothers with the same opportunities.  But I want her to understand the value of being a mother and to be willing to be interrupted in her pursuits for a husband someday, and if God will allow, for her own children. 
It's never a waste.

It's a gift.

This gift is worth preparing for in school while growing up and in college if the opportunity allows.  I'm just thankful I had the chance to go to a university and I pray that God will use my education to shape the lives of my children and their children and the many that will follow.

Okay...I'm done.  You can send me your hate mail now :).


  1. nikki, i love this post. thank you for writing it - such words of truth and you have sprinkled them throughout with grace. i love your writing!

    1. Thanks Tasha! I love reading your blog too!

  2. I did not have the opportunity to go to college, although I would have loved to. I think you're righton that people view childrearing as mindless drudgery. Yet it is by far the most intellectually challenging thing I've ever done. Answering the constant stream of questions from my curious 4 year old is way more difficult mentally than getting good grades in high school chemistry! ;)

    1. Natalie,
      It's amazing what kids ask isn't it? Good job getting in there and keeping his curiosity satiated. Being a mom is intellectually challenging and I agree, much more difficult than Chemistry :). Take care and great hearing from you.
      Love, Nikki

  3. Hurray, Nikki! I am with you 100%. I was blessed to be able to go to Stanford and graduate with honors, and I was also blessed to be home with my kids for 20 years and give them the best childhood I could. Ben and I thanked God every day that we could afford for me to stay home and do this most important of all jobs.

    My mom, your Aunt Carol, was my model. She had a college education, too, a Phi Beta Kappa key and a master's degree, and she always said the highest thing she could possibly do was to raise us, her children.

    So keep it up - be proud of your wonderful vocation - and keep sharing your faith with young people!



    1. Joan,
      That's so awesome. I love your comment. I had no idea you went to Stanford and now you get to work there!! What a blessing. Thank you for your encouragement and your example.
      Much love,