REPOST: Graduating to Motherhood

Written by Sarah, a former graduate wife 

When I graduated from my dual MA program in history and public policy, I felt relieved.  All the hard work and sacrifice of three years of intense study was over and I had achieved a major life goal.  I also felt relieved for another reason; unlike many of my fellow students who were experiencing the stress of finding jobs in the midst of a recession, I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few months.

Right at the end of my time in graduate school, I got pregnant.  To say this was “not the plan” would be misleading since I really didn’t have a plan.  I was married and we intended to start a family “sometime soon.”  Like many other women my age, I assumed that eventually I would have both a fulfilling career and a family, but I was always a little fuzzy on what would come first, whether I’d work on these things at the same time or stagger them.  So when it came time to look for that first job out of graduate school, I was relieved to have the immediate decision made for me.  In one month, I would give birth and there was no way that I could reasonably expect an employer to be interested in an 8-months pregnant graduate.

Still, I told everyone who asked (professors, friends, family), “I plan to stay home at first and see how I like it and then I will look for a job depending on how I adapt to being at home.”  I assumed that there was a good chance I would be bored and miserable staying home full-time and that I would long to get right out and “use” the degrees I had worked so hard to earn. I also didn’t see myself as the “staying at home type”, someone I envisioned as having always longed to be a mother and homemaker.  Since well before college, I had envisioned a career that would change the world.  I hoped I would eventually have some kind of important position where I made a significant impact in education, social justice, or politics.

Three years later, I am still a stay-at-home mom, now with a new baby and a toddler.  One of the biggest surprises of my life is that I enjoy staying at home.  For the first year, I struggled with serious identity confusion.  I loved being a mother, but where was the woman I had been, that all my friends and professors knew?  A lot of things hadn’t changed (my basic personality, the types of issues that interest me) but many things had.  Every time I considered a potential job, my dread would grow.  How could I leave my child at home to pursue an entry-level job that might or might not be fulfilling?  Finally, I accepted that my immediate dreams and priorities had changed.  For the first time since graduating from college, I knew exactly where I was needed most and it felt really good.

I still don’t love housework or all aspects of childcare and I certainly would never want to do those things for a job in anyone else’s home, but still, most days I feel challenged and yet completely sure of my calling.  For this season, I belong at home with my children.  I now see my life as made up of seasons in which I might focus on one dream or another.  I can envision a general calling for my whole life (the things that I am passionate about, my roles as wife and mother, my faith) and specific seasons when I respond by focusing on certain roles.

Initially, I had to let go of a serious feeling of obligation to myself, my spouse, my former professors, even to society, a feeling that I ought to use my degrees now that I had earned them.  I still have days where I worry about this gamble I’ve taken, trading in what should have been the early years of my career to focus on my family.   Will I look back in ten years and wish I had chosen differently?  To bolster my self-esteem, I seek out women who at one time took time out from their careers and who later became successful in their professions.  There are many more than most people realize.  Their examples give me hope that someday, when I’m ready, I too will make a successful transition into meaningful work outside the home.

The main way I cope with worries about the future is by celebrating how secure I feel in my identity and choices.  I used to think that once I was done with graduate school I would be the person I longed to be, the one who would change the world in some amazing professional role.  Now I see that by cultivating a secure personal identity, I continue to grow into someone prepared to make a significant impact at any time, whether in the home or outside it.

Have you had to let go of a dream for a season?  How has the process affected your identity? 

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His “Work”

his work

So I am not a big fan of books that seem like ‘self help’ books.  And I am also not a big fan of books with cheesy titles or even worse, cheesy cover designs.  So when I was first married and someone handed me a copy of ‘The Power of a Praying Wife’ (with an awkward picture of an open window and a lily on the cover), I cringed.  However, after a few months of marriage I quickly learned that it’s not quite a piece of cake and I decided to pick the book back up.  To my surprise it was really indeed quite ‘powerful’ and offered a lot of insight and good food for thought.

I know many of you might not share a similar faith as I do, but I do think we probably all share a desire to support our husbands and to be together as a team on this crazy journey of marriage, especially through this season of graduate school.  So when I recently stumbled across my old copy of this book and began to thumb through the pages, I thought I’d share.  There are around thirty little sections or chapters in the book that each focus on a various topic to pray through for one’s husband.  Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) the first topic listed from this extensive list is ‘His work’.

In this section titled ‘His work’, the author begins by illustrating two differing extremes.  In one situation the husband is quite lazy and the wife does all the work and then some.  The second situation describes a husband who is a workaholic and doesn’t ever take time out for his family or his health.  She goes on to describe a healthy balance between the two and says, “What causes a man to go to either extreme can be, oddly enough, the same reason: fear.  That’s because a man’s identity is often very tied up in his work.  He needs to be appreciated and he needs to win, and his work is often a means of seeing both happen.  It frightens him to think he may never experience either.  If he is doing work that is demeaning to him, he feels devalued as a person.  If his work is not successful, he feels like a loser.”

I started to think about how my husband would consider ‘his work’ and how I consider ‘his work’.  I find that sometimes I write off ‘his work’ as just ‘school’…or I tend to sometimes just picture him chilling out in the library drinking lattes and being all cool and philosophical.  I am almost continually reminding myself about how exhausting and challenging his PhD work actually is and I have written about that here.  I have to remind myself how much his work affects him and how the excerpt above really does apply to his grad school work.  His work doesn’t look like say… a big shot businessman’s right now, but it is very much the same thing.  It really is something that shapes and fuels and defines him in so many ways.

So to conclude, if their work really is all that important and actually does offer them so much identity (and there about 9,000 journal articles out there that suggest this), then we should be taking this seriously, right?  We should be thinking about how to make sure our grad school spouses are feeling fulfilled and encouraged, and we should be thinking through how to help them keep a healthy balance and perspective on their work.

What do you think?  How does your spouse/you view their ‘work’ in grad school? 

How have you handled this work-identity issue when dealing with your grad school spouse?  (Especially if one of you is working full time outside academia, so that you can support your spouse who is in school.)

-M.C.

Piecing it Together

image found here
-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife

I wonder how many of us are in this situation: I studied something which I loved in college, and still love, but had no delusions was going to be a vocation without graduate study. When I thought about what to do after school, the most appealing options were overseas volunteer or educational internships, and I figured that was a workable-enough plan until I had something more concrete figured out. In the meantime, I met my future husband the summer before senior year in college, and knew that if there were a person on earth with whom I could imagine spending any significant amount of time – let alone the rest of my life – I had found him. I decided this relationship was something I had no desire to pass up or take for granted. Fortunately, he felt the same way and we were married soon after I graduated college.

Flash forward to my first September out of school since I was five years old. Living with my new husband in a new city 1,000 miles from my folks, paying rent for the first time, and looking for work, armed with an undergraduate degree in Music History and a bazillion extra-curricular activities which probably wouldn’t help my cause. Oh, and very minimal job experience, consisting of interning at an 18th-century backcountry farm and playing in a string quartet. I tend to forget how desperate I felt to find a job at that time, but I do recall that I canvassed the areas around our apartment, applying everywhere I could, including CVS, Pier One, a local ice cream shop, a local grocery store, and LensCrafters. “Oh, you have experience analyzing the modulations in the Third Movement of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony? That’s just the type of thing we’re looking for here at LensCrafters. Why don’t you have a seat and fill out the tax information?”

Thank God I found a job which, quite honestly, suited me to a “T” and was with a company I adore, Ten Thousand Villages (look it up. For real.) I still work for them, as they have many locations in the U.S. and I was able to transfer when we moved to where we live now. I currently work 20-24 hours a week there as well as at the Historical Society a couple hours a week, and I’ve also got eight violin students and do a little paperwork for a local nonprofit organization. None of these is a “perfect job,” but as time continues to pass, I wonder if that single job exists for me. My current conclusion is that piecing together all of these different options creates an ideal situation for my interests, abilities, and desires. The reason I share this is because, for me, it is a key to appreciating this time of life more fully.

One of my best friends and I initially bonded over a wonderful book called Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. In it she discusses the necessity of determining your interests, skills, and goals in choosing a profession (or two or three). If it sounds rudimentary, it is–it’s just that I had never thought of it in her terms before. I found it incredibly liberating that it was “okay” to have several different interests and desires for myself in terms of employment, both paid and unpaid. As long as we are able to pay our bills, it’s fine not to have one full-time job. Remember that company I was telling you about that I started work with after college and still adore? They offer health benefits for part-time employees. Yep, these types of situations really exist! At this time in my life, it actually does make the most sense to spend my time in all these employments, because it enables me to use and develop different parts of myself–organizing, creating, reading, teaching, learning, helping others. More specifically, it helps me to integrate interests I have without leaving any aside–music, history, world crafts and cultures, and community development (Oh, and, get paid to do it).

If I were writing this to myself right out of college, I would advise myself to take opportunities that present themselves and to not be afraid of change, to be willing to try something new even if it doesn’t seem like a perfect fit. Yes, it would have been nice to study something more likely to be directly transferable into the job market, like education or nursing. But I am grateful for the rich experiences I’ve had over the past six years, including a stint working at a bakery chain, where working the closing shift promised delicious leftover baked goods for breakfast the next three days! And if you are in this boat, I want to encourage you to realize you likely have more transferable skills than you think you do. Off the top of my head, here are some things I learned in college which have undoubtedly helped me along the way: punctuality, teamwork, delegation, time management skills, listening to instruction and following directions, respecting authority, approaching a problem with creative solutions, and most importantly being able to pursue and learn anything new that interests me.

At the end of the day, I am satisfied with the ways I spend my time and energy, and I look forward to continuing to develop skills and interests I pick up throughout my life. I may not know where we’ll be in a year’s time or what I’ll be doing, but at least this time I’ll have a little more job experience on my resume.

What are some ways you have used unexpected skills in your job/jobs? How do you integrate varying interests and abilities in your employment?  Has this been especially challenging or easy being on the graduate wife journey?

Grad Wife to Farmer Life

Written by Catherine, a former graduate wife

Jonathan, our 9-month-old daughter Charlotte and I left Omaha, Nebraska in March of 2007 to begin our graduate journey at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.  When Jonathan began the Master of Divinity program, intended for those planning to enter formal ministerial positions and/or pursue advanced degrees, I would have never imagined that 5 years later we would be back in Omaha, running a farm as well as a non-profit organization focused on educating people in sustainable agriculture, organic farming practices and healthy living, both in the U.S. and in Nicaragua.  My narrow expectations of what life as the wife of a M.Div. graduate would look like had me thinking of the stereotypical pastor’s wife: overly modest dress, children quietly in tow, a casserole always ready at a moment’s notice to deliver to a family need, playing piano in church, working in Sunday school weekly… I had begun to resign myself to the fact that this is what life intended for me (not that any of those things are bad-just not for me).  I wondered if I would be the wife silently working to support her husband’s work and letting go of any other dreams I might have had or the hope for something not so stereotypical for my life.

Hallelujah, for this is not what happened.

Jonathan comes from a family of pastors. Seriously, his great-grandfather, grandfather, father, uncle, and brother are all pastors.  It gets kind of intense whenever this bunch starts a theological conversation.  Jonathan’s main motive for starting the M.Div. program was to learn as much as he could so that he could dominate these theological discussions that seem to occur every time the whole family is together.  However, during the third (final) year of his program, a church in Vancouver started taking interest in him becoming its lead pastor and we seriously considered taking the job.  After 2+ years of living on my measly earnings as a nanny and office support staff, I was thrilled with the idea of my husband finally having a ‘real’ job with a livable salary, benefits, financial assistance to buy a house, etc.  These things made the ‘pastor’s wife’ idea not seem so bad…I was ready to have a steady income and stay home with our then 2 children.  I was also happy that my family would be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my husband would be gainfully employed in a job much more financially supported than his pre-grad school job of working at a homeless shelter.

As you might be guessing, this job didn’t happen for us.

It didn’t fall through – we consciously made the choice to move in a different direction.  As excited as I was for my husband to be offered such a promising job, we felt moved to start working with a longtime friend’s missions organization, WEGO (Worldwide Evangelical Gospel Outreach).  One of WEGO’s projects is an orphanage in Nicaragua and a gift had been given to WEGO’s director to start a coffee company, selling Nicaraguan coffee in the U.S. and using the profits to support the orphanage.  My husband volunteered to help get this company started and we packed up our things, left Vancouver and drove across the U.S. to Florida, where WEGO is situated. We had no salary and had to rely on support from family and friends to survive, something we should have raised before moving.  My expectation of the salary with benefits was quickly gone and I soon began wishing I was wearing a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ dress and delivering casseroles to widows.

However, I believe that God wastes nothing and I believe His plan is always greater than we can see.

While selling the Nicaraguan coffee at farmers’ markets in our area of central Florida, Jonathan began connecting with local farmers and learning about growing vegetables and raising animals.  We also, during that time, rented a small house on 4 acres that had a stable and a large field.  We didn’t want to waste the space we were paying for, so we decided to use the stable as a chicken coop and some of the field as a garden.  “Oh, so you must have grown up gardening and growing things” you must be thinking.  Not at all.  It just seemed like a fun idea.  Very long story short, what started out as a ‘fun idea’ turned into a working farm with egg-laying chickens, meat chickens, goats, a pond stocked with fish, and a ½ acre garden, all organically/naturally done.  Naturally, M.Div. graduate + French major wife from California = perfect farming couple.  We asked people in the community for help when we got overwhelmed and ended up with 8 interns, a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, monthly community work days, and a non-profit organization birthed from it all.  My expectations for what our life was ‘supposed’ to look like were again being challenged.  Did we really move to Canada and spend $XXXXX on graduate school just for my husband to wear overalls and us to work in the Florida heat and sandy soil trying to run a farm?

 Yes.  And his education was used in more ways than we ever could have imagined.  What we found was that many of the people who ended up volunteering on our farm were questioning deep theological issues and what they needed was someone who was theologically trained to question and with whom they could bounce ideas around.  It was Jonathan who was there to challenge ideas, propose new ones, get to the heart of issues, to teach, and it was us together who were there to love people, open our home to lonely hearts and to offer food to the hungry.

We have now come full circle, back to Omaha, where Jonathan has recently taken a job with a church as a missions pastor, men’s discipleship pastor and campus pastor of the church’s satellite campus.  It is busy and it is demanding but he is always happy to come home to our 5 acres where we are already starting a new farm.  It has become a part of who we are – it was the farm experience in Florida that strengthened our marriage to where it is today and grew our family to now 3 children.  My expectation for what life should have looked like was thrown out the window a few years ago and although it has constantly been challenged I would never give up a single part of the journey that has made me who I am today.

How much do you hold on to your expectations?  When your expectations are not met, what does your attitude regarding the situation reflect about your ability to be open to new possibilities?

{To check out Catherine’s family’s non-profit, click here}

Graduating to Motherhood

Written by Sarah, a former graduate wife 

When I graduated from my dual MA program in history and public policy, I felt relieved.  All the hard work and sacrifice of three years of intense study was over and I had achieved a major life goal.  I also felt relieved for another reason; unlike many of my fellow students who were experiencing the stress of finding jobs in the midst of a recession, I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few months.

Right at the end of my time in graduate school, I got pregnant.  To say this was “not the plan” would be misleading since I really didn’t have a plan.  I was married and we intended to start a family “sometime soon.”  Like many other women my age, I assumed that eventually I would have both a fulfilling career and a family, but I was always a little fuzzy on what would come first, whether I’d work on these things at the same time or stagger them.  So when it came time to look for that first job out of graduate school, I was relieved to have the immediate decision made for me.  In one month, I would give birth and there was no way that I could reasonably expect an employer to be interested in an 8-months pregnant graduate.

Still, I told everyone who asked (professors, friends, family), “I plan to stay home at first and see how I like it and then I will look for a job depending on how I adapt to being at home.”  I assumed that there was a good chance I would be bored and miserable staying home full-time and that I would long to get right out and “use” the degrees I had worked so hard to earn. I also didn’t see myself as the “staying at home type”, someone I envisioned as having always longed to be a mother and homemaker.  Since well before college, I had envisioned a career that would change the world.  I hoped I would eventually have some kind of important position where I made a significant impact in education, social justice, or politics.

Three years later, I am still a stay-at-home mom, now with a new baby and a toddler.  One of the biggest surprises of my life is that I enjoy staying at home.  For the first year, I struggled with serious identity confusion.  I loved being a mother, but where was the woman I had been, that all my friends and professors knew?  A lot of things hadn’t changed (my basic personality, the types of issues that interest me) but many things had.  Every time I considered a potential job, my dread would grow.  How could I leave my child at home to pursue an entry-level job that might or might not be fulfilling?  Finally, I accepted that my immediate dreams and priorities had changed.  For the first time since graduating from college, I knew exactly where I was needed most and it felt really good.

I still don’t love housework or all aspects of childcare and I certainly would never want to do those things for a job in anyone else’s home, but still, most days I feel challenged and yet completely sure of my calling.  For this season, I belong at home with my children.  I now see my life as made up of seasons in which I might focus on one dream or another.  I can envision a general calling for my whole life (the things that I am passionate about, my roles as wife and mother, my faith) and specific seasons when I respond by focusing on certain roles.

Initially, I had to let go of a serious feeling of obligation to myself, my spouse, my former professors, even to society, a feeling that I ought to use my degrees now that I had earned them.  I still have days where I worry about this gamble I’ve taken, trading in what should have been the early years of my career to focus on my family.   Will I look back in ten years and wish I had chosen differently?  To bolster my self-esteem, I seek out women who at one time took time out from their careers and who later became successful in their professions.  There are many more than most people realize.  Their examples give me hope that someday, when I’m ready, I too will make a successful transition into meaningful work outside the home.

The main way I cope with worries about the future is by celebrating how secure I feel in my identity and choices.  I used to think that once I was done with graduate school I would be the person I longed to be, the one who would change the world in some amazing professional role.  Now I see that by cultivating a secure personal identity, I continue to grow into someone prepared to make a significant impact at any time, whether in the home or outside it.

Have you had to let go of a dream for a season?  How has the process affected your identity? 

Pilgrim Call

Written by Judy – a former graduate wife

Today I open the book of readings my husband gave me over 26 years ago—before we were married—and the author’s dedication reminds me of who I am: ‘For every pilgrim who yearns for God’

I am a pilgrim, though an unlikely one. When I was growing up, my family rarely traveled. We lived in the same house since I was four years old and the furthest we traveled was to a nearby campground for our vacations. We did not suffer from wanderlust.

So I think it came as a surprise to all of us when, at the age of seventeen, I became convinced that I was meant to go away from home for university. Far away. Three thousand miles away. And though I have been back for visits, and even married a man from the same state, I have never lived there again. In fact, I have never lived again in any of the nine cities (in three different countries) in which we have lived since getting married.

I could say I blame my husband for my vagabond state. He was a graduate student when I met him, and three graduate degrees and a job in academia later, all of our moves have been related to his career. But it wouldn’t be true to say that it is his fault. I knew before I met him that I was not called to stay in one place; I was called to ‘go’.

One of my favorite passages in the bible comes from Psalm 84. I can still remember reading it, before I had ever met my husband, and knowing that there was a message there for me: ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…They go from strength to strength…’ The Cambridge dictionary defines a pilgrim as ‘a person who makes a journey, which is often long and difficult, to a special place for religious reasons.’ I have made a journey, which has been long and sometimes difficult (and often amazing), to many special places because that is what I believe God has called me to do. I have set my heart on pilgrimage.

I say this, not because I think I am special—I believe we are all called by God to an amazing journey with Him—but because I think that unless you have a sense of calling, it is impossible to live the life of ‘sacrificial support’ that is the life of the wife of a graduate student.

I love that term, ‘sacrificial support’. I think it precisely embodies what it means to be the spouse of a graduate student. Because providing the support that a person who is pursuing a graduate degree needs does require sacrifice, often on a comprehensive scale: sacrifice in terms of career, income, children, family, home-making, personal pursuits, even attention and affection. It is not for the faint (or the selfish) of heart. And while in the early stages love for our spouse and a love of adventure may propel us along, there comes a day when the newness wears off and we begin to feel neglected and unappreciated and we wonder, ‘Is this what I signed up for?’ It’s then that we have the chance to truly understand the sacrificial part of the equation; it’s then that we have the chance to dig deep to find what we didn’t know we had.

Or not. I’ve seen graduate marriages fail, and others take a severe beating. This can be a very difficult road to travel. And while I don’t believe there is a formula for success, I do believe that it is essential to have a shared sense of call and vision, something larger than merely what this means to the interests and career path of the one who is studying, and something larger than the attitude ‘I’m letting you have your turn now so that I can have my turn later.’ There is no 50/50 in marriage. There is give and take; there is negotiation; but always there is sacrifice—on both parts, because that is what love is about.

So here I am, twenty-six years of marriage, fourteen moves of house and three (mostly) grown children later, looking back at the beginning of this adventure in ‘sacrificial support’. I had no idea what I was in for and it has not turned out anything like I’d expected. And I’m sure the adventure is not over. There have been wonderful experiences too numerous to count, and there have been difficulties I couldn’t have managed if I had not believed that this was all part of a bigger plan, part of a pilgrim call.

So I am very thankful for my pilgrim heart. I think it has helped me negotiate this sometimes difficult road. It has helped me to keep the big picture in view—that we are on a journey and that each stop along the way is just that, a stop; it is not the final destination. It is not the point at which I can say, ‘Well, that’s over. Now I can begin my life.’ Life is in the journey.

Words from a Michael Card song that I love:

There is a joy in the journey,
there’s a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life,
and freedom for those who obey.

May we all experience joy in the journey; May we all experience the wonder and wildness of life and the freedom that comes from following our call.

As a graduate wife, did you ever feel ‘called’ to begin this graduate journey with your husband?  If so, how has that ‘call’ helped with your transition into this season of life?