“So, why are you going to college Kate? It’s a waste of time for a woman, and a Christian.”
I stopped dead in my tracks. I don’t remember how I replied to this statement. I do remember the shock I felt…how else can one react to something so grossly ignorant, patriarchal and misogynistic? Even if I didn’t even know the meanings of those words at the time?
It didn’t matter that I was on the Deans List. It didn’t matter that there were whispers in the English department about a girl that really, really did not belong in Freshman Composition. It didn’t matter that I could write an A+ essay in an hour, with no revisions necessary. All that mattered was that I found someone to marry, and make babies. The end.
And that was all I wanted, really. I am not sure where I got the idea, except that it was slowly re-emerging as a societal goal. It might have something to do with the trauma I felt when my mom returned to work when I was 7 years old. We were poverty stricken, and it was the only way out, but I latched on to it as the reason I felt like a failure. My lack of a mother presenting me with freshly baked cookies and shiny apples when I got home from school. Of course, my issues were not at all connected to poverty, neglect, abuse, dealing with the death of a couple of grandparents or a move in the middle of the school year. Nope. Had to be a working mom. Even if it meant I got to spend extra time with my beloved maternal grandparents, who played board games with me and took us on adventures.
So I made up my mind. I was NOT GOING TO WORK OUTSIDE THE HOME. No matter how poor we were. And to this day, this has been true. I have worked as a writer, but not kept office hours. Which is great.
What’s not so great was my belief that any efforts to better myself would come at the expense of my family. I was terrified of becoming addicted to money and power, so I avoided opportunities to become the kind of person who anyone would want to hire. I attended college half-heartedly, and made absolutely no effort to make good grades the first two times I attended, flunking out.
I had trouble concentrating, because I was completely obsessed with getting married and having children. Every man I met was a potential mate, and the older I got the more I felt the hourglass running down. I felt this way throughout my TEEN years, which is really crazy. I made an absolute fool of myself more than once for concentrating so hard on mating that I failed to see myself as anything other than a potential baby-maker, and all men as potential seed.
When I finally found someone who I loved, who loved me, I was finally able to calm down enough to concentrate on schoolwork because the horrifying question “Will I die a virgin?” had potentially been settled. That’s when I finally, truly realized my academic potential. Not merely as some kind of brilliant savant who would flame into brilliance and immediate turn into ashes, but a serious, focused student. My performance was consistent. I felt proud, calm and accomplished for the first time in my life. And that’s when I was told what I was doing was a giant waste of time.
Never mind that my academically gifted mother met my father at college. I guess my engagement meant academia was over for me. Get your M.R.S. and GET OUT.
Circumstances forced my hand. My beloved grandfather died finals week. I was planning a wedding, and between doing that, working two jobs and dealing with that overwhelming grief, I was spent. I married, my husband finished his bachelor’s degree, I made tentative plans to go back to school, and then…my clothes stopped fitting.
One week after my husband finished his degree, I learned we were pregnant with our first child.
It wasn’t, thankfully, the end of my writing. But looking back, I can see the damage that was done to me by hearing messages like the one my friend gave me. I absorbed them, even when I didn’t want to.
I believed motherhood was my highest calling. I had believed that since I was a young teenager. I scoffed at the idea that I NEEDED an education. That there might come a time when my husband might need me to work, or that circumstances might leave me widowed or divorced. I lived in a fantasy world where the 1950s never died, my husband’s bachelor’s degree would be enough to keep a growing family out of poverty, and if we were forced to live below middle class it would be the adorable kind of poor where a woman’s resilience, ingenuity and attitude make all the difference, and, let’s face it, the mice and birds and woodland creatures would come help her with the housework.
I figured I would be a career mother. I’d homeschool until my kids were eighteen and then…? Do volunteer work? That’s fine, because it doesn’t contribute to the family income, because we won’t need it because…I did everything right? I got married and made babies with my Christian husband and homeschooled and so everything would be fine?
Until it wouldn’t be. I have seen friend’s marriages ended by death, ended by abuse, ended by dissatisfaction. I have seen them injured by callousness, indifference, and broken promises. I have seen the death of children and other harrowing situations rattle the foundations of many people who did not deserve it. I have seen idealism clash with poverty and veer near disaster. I have seen infertility and perpetual singlehood take the dream of motherhood away from women who would desire it for themselves. And I have seen worthy women choose not to be mothers, and have faced squarely that it was right for them, and anyone telling them they were wrong need to stop speaking for God. I have also seen the hand of God uplift, teach, instruct, and gently cradle.
It was through this that the words in the photo above have become true to me.
It is not motherhood that saves me. Or becoming a “Proverbs 31 Wife.” In Christ Alone I find my human purpose.
I would not go back in time and change the date of my marriage, or the births of my children. But I was 23 when I married. I had time to get a four year degree. Instead I wasted those precious years wandering around in a confused desert. Since I no longer homeschool, with a degree I’d have more of a chance at finding a paying gig one my two year old goes to kindergarten. I have set myself back by not taking my education seriously when I had the time (and the scholarship for poor kids that I SQUANDERED.)
I wish I had taken myself seriously as a writer from the very beginning. Not only would I be farther along in my career, but I could have preserved so much of my children’s early years if I had committed them to paper. Instead, I tried to be someone else’s mother. I am reminded of the words of Madeline L’Engle. “You can have a normal mother, or you can have me.” I am committed to being me now.
I have to wonder how much of what I believed as a young wife and mom, and prior, was really from God, and how much was the result of my extreme insecurity and my belief that I was unable to succeed at anything. Doing what other people were telling me to do was easier than thinking for myself. It was easier than asking God who I was, and what he wanted.
And so began the slow, painful pruning process that I am still going through to this day.
I had to say goodbye to homeschooling.
I had to say goodbye to the idea that I would never “work.”
I had to face my destiny was not merely being a mother, but being a writer. Being an activist. Being a Christian.
I’m thankful for writers like Rachel Held Evans, whose quote is pictured above, who have helped give a voice to the pressure I was feeling. Who helped me articulate things I did not realize I felt until I saw them written out.
It’s only lately, as I have come closer and closer to freedom in my heart, that I have been able to reconcile my faith with my identity as a human, and a woman.
I have experienced the faithfulness of God, and I know that he’s with me on this journey.
And completing that journey is my highest calling, wherever it takes me.