Is Education Wasted in Child Rearing?

Originally published Saturday, 22 March 2014.

A friend of mine passed along an article about the choice to be a stay at home mother.  It’s interesting to read last year's article, O, Alma Mater by Anne-Marie Magginis, and the string of comments that follow to familiarize ourselves with an age-old debate.  Magginis is a Princeton graduate who defends her choice to stay at home with her two young children, despite critics calling it a waste of her top notch degree.  She even felt disparaged by an alumni survey from her own university.  Being a stay at home mom did not appear to be a viable option, since it was seemingly without esteemed and measurable societal contributions.

Whether or not you stay at home with your children, this is an issue for all mothers because it touches on society’s value of our efforts.  Mothering is a challenge regardless of career decisions, but the thing that stay at home moms often lack is the feedback that is possible in the workforce.  There are so many tasks that all mothers do for the benefit of their families, tasks that are often unrecognized or unnoticed, and yet are essential to daily functioning.  Doing a job without vocalized gratitude that is then denigrated by society too puts stay at home moms especially in an unsupported position.  Out of respect for our communal goal to appreciate and advance the task of mothering, this should never be the case.

My intent here is to esteem the choice of being a stay at home mom by infusing the debate with a faith perspective.  To begin, it is helpful to recap the opponent position from the article.  Kelly Goff of the U.K. Guardian wrote a piece entitled “Female Ivy League Graduates Have a Duty to Stay in the Workforce.” In it she argues, “Any Harvard Law School degree obtained by a woman who then chooses not to use it in any sort of professional capacity throughout most of her life is a wasted opportunity. That degree could have gone to a woman who does want to spend her entire life using it to advance the cause of women—or others in need of advancement—not simply advancing the lives of her own family at home, which is a noble cause, but not one requiring an elite degree.”

As a graduate of Princeton Seminary, I found her particular focus on an elite degree interesting.  Goff clearly has stated expectations linked with that opportunity.  Yet her argument really applies to all educated women:  Is education a waste if simply applied to child rearing?  She would argue yes through the lens of unattained professional advancement, but her perspective is flawed from a faith perspective, and here’s why.

First, Goff is operating under the assumption that there are two life spheres, the personal and the civic.  She finds it problematic that a mom would use an elite degree for strictly personal purposes.  Magginis argues that there are in fact civic implications to stay at home mothering though.  Stay at home moms are not only giving all of themselves to their children, who form the next generation, but they are also often inclined to civic volunteerism.   That point resonated with me, as my ministerial work is largely volunteer at present.

Yet beyond debating the finer points of exactly where the personal and civic spheres actually rest, there is a sphere that has been neglected: the spiritual one.  As Christians, we believe that the spiritual sphere informs the other two.   Our ultimate goal is to glorify God in life.  We seek to live in obedience to God and in response to God’s calling.  If God has opened a door to a particular institution and given us the means and desire to walk through it, it is our responsibility to embark upon that journey despite what any third party might say.

Second, Goff’s argument rests upon a controlled outcome.  If one gets "x" degree, then "x" particular professional expectation is set.  Yet we as Christians know that there is some level of mystery and surrender to following God’s plan for our life.  So often we may not understand all facets of the path we follow until we have the benefit of retrospection.  Success therefore isn’t perfect planning and execution, as Goff may argue, but rather perfect and sometimes blind obedience.  Further, we worship a God who holds both the personal and civic in his hands and can orchestrate for the good of both far beyond our expectations. 

I can honestly say that I never intended to stay home with my children.  But in the end, I couldn’t leave them.  I’m lucky that I didn't have to and was called to a profession that is allowing me to benefit from both worlds currently.  I am neither full nor part-time, yet I have an outlet that I am passionate about as a stay at home mom.  Sometimes that is exactly how God works.  His plan for our training comes out even better than we could have imagined.  I can think of no better way to advance our world than to live in submission to the One who created it, and advancement is ultimately what is wanted by both sides of the debate.

In our effort to pursue God’s calling for our lives, may we never demean the path of another.  Being a stay at mom should elicit our respect regardless of our professional choices.  It is through unifying rather than dividing that we can best affect a positive world for our children together as moms.  Education is never wasted, and investing in our children is noble and needed – and I would even go a step further by calling it a vocation, a ministry.  Yet the redeeming aspect to Goff’s argument is the challenge:  Are we making the most of every talent, skill, and blessing that we’ve been given as we follow God's call right now?  Further, who is to say that "not now" means "not ever" as we discern God's work plan for our lives?

{Photo by Molly Darling at Flickr}