Saturday, March 11, 2006

Professional Mother: Jeannette

Last time, we met Lucy, a professional mother who focused on training her high school daughters to impact local charities and local politics, while remaining firmly in touch with the urge to bake cookies for the little ones. Clearly an "unimportant and uninteresting" pursuit, not worthy of a highly-educated woman, according to Linda Hirschmann's feminist standards.

Today, I'd like you to meet Jeannette, one of the poster-moms for
professional motherhood. A Truman Scholar with a B.S. in Family Relations and Child Development/Home Economics Education and Community Services and an M.S. in Family Resource Management, Jeannette had been one of those highly successful "I'm going to have it all" career moms. But when she saw that her children were paying for her success, she came home.

Now, years later, she has just launched her first (incredible) young offspring as the top National Merit Scholar of his graduating year, and is guiding her daughter toward graduation. Her teaching efforts were even recognized by the College Board, when they named her last year's Presidential Distinguished Teacher. Her outside interests may have decreased since her career-mom days (this is actually doubtful), but now she only takes on projects that directly benefit her children and their relationships together. For instance, she is on the board of Oklahoma Christian Home Educator's Consociation; she is the principal advisor for her daughter's project: the International Debate Society; she was her husband's campaign manager for state office, and continues to be his business partner. And, together with her son, she shares what they have learned in their successful bid for scholarships and college entrance, as conference speakers and college consultants in their new business venture, Aiming Higher Consultants.

Mother-Lode: Did you purpose to become a mother? Why or why not?

I honestly did purpose to be a mother at a very young age. I saw in my own mother a quiet dignity and a manifestation of the high calling of motherhood. She was an educated woman, who valued me enough to give up a career to nurture my siblings and I. I saw her sacrifice and realized as a young child that I was who I was because of it. When my friends were struggling, I was safe and secure in my mother's constant care.

Mother-Lode: When and how did you begin to prepare yourself for this life's work?

In junior high and high school I continually asked my parents questions about parenting. When I finally went to college, I remember the day of enrollment when I presented myself to the Department of Family Relations and Child Development. When asked what I wanted to study, I replied, "I want to understand what makes people tick." The woman smiled and said, "Well, that should take at least a Ph.D." I spent the next four years studying the dynamics of development and human relationships. I also conducted research dealing with adolescent television viewing that radically shaped my current parenting beliefs. After graduating with my masters degree, I spent 10 years with the Cooperative Extension Service teaching classes across the state emphasizing the importance of family. During that time, I was constantly watching the parenting style of the 4-H parents I worked with and learning from them. I also read voraciously about child development from the time I conceived my first child up to the present. I never did get the Ph.D. Instead, I started a family which ultimately taught me more than a dissertation ever could.

Mother-Lode: How do you find that your college degree has been a help to you in your work as a mother?

My degree, college experience, and early career experience trained me in many areas such as leadership, writing and speaking skills, the dynamics of group relationships, etc. that has helped me to better equip my children to enter the world. I believe it gave me the confidence to choose an ususual path in the rearing and educating of my children. The obstacles did not frighten me, just made me more determined to suceed.

Mother-Lode: What would have been lacking in your home if you had not pursued college?"

College definitely broadened my horizons, opened up possibilities to me that I never knew existed. Because of that, I had a vision for my children\'s future that far exceeded my own experiences. I am not by personality or temperament a visionary, but because I was stretched outside my comfort zone during my college and career years, I have developed the ability to speak vision into their lives and have the skills and courage to do battle when necessary to keep their dreams alive.

Mother-Lode: In the course of your work as a mother, what kinds of things have you done?

I have honestly gloried in baking cookies with my children and spending hours reading out loud. I have designed unit studies, set up scientific experiences, run political campaigns, founded speech and debate clubs, taught public speaking, run homeschool support groups, taught boy scouts, been a homeschool conference speaker, started a consulting company, and helped run a farm and construction business.

Mother-Lode: Have you found your work as a mother narrows your opportunities or confounds your work for and in the community?

Suprisingly, my work as a mother has opened up many experiences to me that I would never have sought out for myself. I am naturally an introvert, but because I know my children need certain experiences to stretch them, I walk alongside them and am stretched myself. Being a good mother routinely calls you outside yourself. In my drive to make my children better people, I become a better person as well.

Mother-Lode: How have you dealt with the feminists' view that a career is all-important for the full development of women, and with the pull of careerism in your own life?

Even though my degree was in a traditional field, I found that the feminist viewpoint was more pervasive there than most fields. They did acknolwdge that cookies needed to be baked, but maintained that you could hire someone to do it for you so the children would have homemade treats! It was pretty incredible. In total, I spent 15 years working with and for such women and had many friendships there. But there was something unspoken in their stories, a deep seated pain that would flash out occassionally in their eyes. I began to see through the ruse. I saw the fatigue, the marital strain, the children suffering. By the time I left the professional world years later, my health was shot, my marriage in trouble, and my children struggling. It was a horrible time.

But the Lord, in his mercy redeemed the years the locust had eaten. He renewed my marriage and restored my children. Life is good again. Not easy, but good. We have paid a high price financially for me to be home to minister to my family, but my husband and I both know now that life becomes hopeless when someone is not there to keep the home fires burning.

I can now look feminism straight in the eye and not flinch because I've been there, done that. I know without a doubt that the grass is not greener on the other side. Some of my acquaintances, who were denied that opportunity for growth as young women, have entered middle age with dreams of a glamorous career and all they've missed. I've seen them leave husband and children in pursuit of a lie and I grieve for them.

After my experiences, careerism holds absolutely no allure for me. There have been moments when a friend is recognized professionally and there is a catch in my throat for what I could have been, but then I look at my children and what they are because of my choices. And it is a choice. You cannot have it all. And then the dust clears and I take an analytical look at what I have become after leaving the career world and realize that my experiences have shaped me into something far more than the narrow confines of a professional career could have done. My skills are more highly developed, my experiences much more varied, my world much larger. It is then I pity my friends who settle for the straight jacket of professional recognition.

So, as I enter middle age, I do not feel the call of careerism, but do feel the call of creativity. I am almost finished with the creative aspect of teaching my children and something new is forming in the depths of my being. I know the Lord is not finished with me yet. The sacrifices have been doing a refining work in me in preparation for the next phase of life.

Mother-Lode: How would you advise a young woman about to graduate from high school?

I advise all young woman just as I advise my daughter. Give yourself time to mature. Dare to be stretched. Follow your dreams. Being a woman, wife, and mother will take incredible intellectual, spiritual, and physical reserves. We need to press hard to learn all we can, to develop a deeper walk with our Lord, to exercise and take care of our bodies.

I have encouraged my daughter to continue her education in a field that she loves that could support her well if she never marries or is widowed some day. I feel it is very important to be realistic about potential salary and, if you have the ability, choose a field that will pay you well. She is exploring career fields that could provide part-time employment or would be easy to re-enter. Through all her searching, she is looking for practical training that is realistic. For example, training to be an astronaut, a foreign diplomat, or an international consultant does not fit in her paradigm of valuing family. They may be exciting fields, but could not nurture those she hopes to care for someday. There is not a "right answer" for young women, but too often they limit themselves and their futures (or parents limit their daughters) by not taking rigorous classes in high school and pursing college in challenging fields.

Mother-Lode: What have been the returns of your labors as a mother?

Certainly better than any stock-market transaction! I have personally grown and been blessed, but the real joy is to see my almost-adult children approach the future with much more maturity and wisdom than I had when I launched out on my own. I believe the real rewards (while I am living) will come as I watch them parenting my grandchildren. But the true return on my labors will hopefully reach out across the generations to bless my lineage.

Mother-Lode: If you had it to do over again, would you make the choice to be a professional mother?

YES!!! Only I would have chosen it sooner. The one regret I have in my life is that my children ever knew what it was like to have a career mom. We all suffered from it.

1 comment:

Ann V. said...

What an edifying series, Kim! Press on! So many of us are learning so much!
Ann V.


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