Thursday, September 26, 2013

{phfr} - So many reasons TO send your daughter to college!

Linking up, as always, with the lovely ladies over at Like Mother, Like Daughter.

I've got some more pictures to share from our informal family photo shoot the other day! I also have some thoughts to share with you on an issue close to my heart - raising daughters.

 My parents, as I've probably shared before, had two daughters (my twin sister and I, their long prayed for children!). As a parent, I've reflected a lot on how my parents raised us, and one aspect of their parenting that was especially inspiring to me was how they raised daughters. They were very good at treading the delicate line between healthy feminism (i.e. believing that women are equal in dignity to men, are intelligent and talented, and are capable of a lot) and healthy femininity (i.e. women are beautiful, worthy of being treated with love and respect by a man, men and women are made for each other, there is something intrinsically beautiful and dignified about being a wife and mother, etc.). This balance that they kept is directly responsible for the confidence that I had as a girl and later as a woman. The example my father gave of loving my mother (and his daughters) showed me that I was worthy of a man who treated me with the same love and respect (which I happily found in the Abbot!). The encouragement and love they both gave helped my sister and me to know that we were beautiful inside and out.

I acknowledge that there are multiple legitimate vocations for women. A woman may be called to the single life, the married life, or the religious life. Within each of those vocations, she may be called to a more hidden life (such as the cloister or at-home motherhood) or to a more visible, public life (such as a non-cloistered order, or a given profession outside the home). I don't need to argue for the legitimacy of this, because one only has to look to the saints to see that all of these vocations are valid ones. In the saints we see remarkable women who were wives and mothers - both in hidden ways (such as the Blessed Mother and her mother, St. Anne) or in ways that required them to work and be engaged outside of the home (such as Blessed Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, who owned and ran a lace making business, and St. Gianna, who was a mother, wife, and doctor). The same is obviously true for the religious life, too. So, I don't need to provide an argument for the case that the Catholic Church believes that women are called to a whole array of different vocations, both in and out of the home.

So, in light of that background, I'd like to share some thoughts I have in response to this article that has been circling the internet.

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Okay, so first...a confession to make. 

I know that a lot of girls grow up dreaming of their wedding day. But when I grew up I dreamed of being a mother of daughters. I wanted to have children, yes, but when I envisioned being married I imagined my children being little girls - girls that my husband and I could shape and form and help to grow into young women. So...I guess you could say that I'm living my dream!

(Just to clarify, the Abbot and I are hoping to having a larger family, so I know that I'll probably have some lovable little boys bouncing around my life one of these days. But goodness, am I ever excited to get to start off with these two little girls!)

With that out of the way, I have another disclaimer to make...I don't think it's necessary for everyone to go to college. I think that a woman (or man) can be very intelligent and can be following God's plan for his or her life and not go to college. I am not one of those people who think college is the be all end all. I truly believe that all that is important in life is discerning what God is calling you to, and to say yes to that call.

But I also think that a college education can be a part of that vocation....even a part of the vocation of a young woman who ends up being called to marriage and at-home motherhood.

Stop. Before you go any further, please go and read this amazing article on this very topic.

Are you back? Good. I don't want to try to replicate what that mother wrote, because she did it so beautifully, but I do have something to add to the matter. 

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Okay, I have two more important clarifications to make before I launch into my response. First, is a quick insight into how I view a college education and second is about the view of marriage that I espouse, since the original blog does address that as well.

Firstly, the above article assumes that the point of a college education is a career. Maybe it's because of the liberal arts background that my alma mater gave me, or maybe it's my own father's thoughts on the matter, but I don't view college as simply a means to an end. The point of college is not just to "get a good job" but to learn how to think.  This is something my father often reminded me - that there was more value than some people think in a degree in some area of liberal arts, because ultimately, what's needed in the world are people who know how to think intelligently and who are programmed to be lifelong learners.

I think we're all familiar with the scripture reading that pops up in the lectionary from time to time that tells us, "Women, be submissive to your husbands...husbands love your wives." I actually do love that (not just because it's a fun reading to nudge the Abbot in the ribs during Mass, "Did you hear that? Love me, man!") but because it's a lot richer than you might think. It's not a matter of "keeping women in their place," but rather a manner of a) helping women to grow in humility and holiness and b) ensuring they are cared for. Those are the two ways that "submissiveness" plays out in our vocation.

So, "a" is actually a point that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. I am the queen of taking charge and I have an extremely difficult time letting others take the lead or - heaven forbid! - help me with something. But, I happen to know that the Abbot wants to help me and that - as the husband and the father of the family - he is capable of providing a unique sort of leadership in our family. Let's be honest...moms and wives easily command respect in a healthy family. The husband/father is kind of in awe of this woman in his life, a woman who raises little ones and who - barring health/infertility problems - carries and grows and brings his children into the world. A good husband and father will consider child rearing (and, when applicable, child bearing) to be a sort of superpower, one that women naturally are inclined towards. Even women who don't have physical children, after all, perform this maternal function to any number of spiritual children in their lives! So yes...women command a certain authority simply by being capable of physical and spiritual motherhood. Their children have a natural sort of adoration for their mother, too.

It would be very easy for a mother and wife to take advantage of all of this...but she's called to humility. She's called to let her spouse take the lead, to allow him to fit into a role that is essential in the family but that requires more growth for him, as a man. And yes, if she humbles herself just a bit and allows him to lead and help his family - she will be pleasantly surprised by how he rises to the occasion, and even more pleasantly surprised by how much work and stress he's able to spare her from as a result! Men are stronger than we give them credit for these days!!!

And on to "b"...there is something very natural and very healthy about a child feeling safe in her father's arms. Likewise, there is something extremely healthy and good about a wife feeling safe in her husband's arms. In our marriage, "being submissive" means allowing the Abbot to care for me and it means allowing myself to feel safe in his care. Once again, "taking care of" comes very naturally for me as a woman, and less naturally for a man. BUT, a father and husband's love and care is unique and not at all like a mother and wife's love and care. There is something strong, secure, and comforting about the love of a father, and likewise of a husband toward his wife. In allowing the Abbot to fill that role, I've been able to see a side of him I wouldn't have otherwise...a side that has made me love him even more! That side of him calls to mind the love of God for our family, too - the love and care of the Father, the total devotion of the Son. A man's love is a remarkable thing!

All this is to say...I have no problem with a more traditional view of marriage and family. But, I do have some problems with the argument laid out in the aforementioned article, and I'd like to rebute them, one by one.

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1. Going to college attracts the wrong sort of man.
I could just point to myself and the Abbot or to any one of the intelligent Catholic women I know who meant their amazing husbands in college. In fact, from what I've observed, it seems that college is a fine place to meet exactly the sort of man you're looking for!

The original article seems to insinuate that a intelligent, educated, hard-working young woman is likely to attract a lazy sort of man who's simply looking for someone to look after him. But nothing could be farther from the truth! Of course, this can be the case - in college or elsewhere - since our society seems to be producing a lot of men of this variety these days. But it needn't be the case and a young woman raised with the example of a father who respects her and cares for her won't be looking for that sort of man. (Nor will her father approve of such a man if she asks his input!) On the contrary, the right sort of college man - the kind looking for a spouse and not a random fling - will be looking for a woman who is intelligent and driven, knowing that she will make a good wife and mother. The Abbot and I both went to the same school for our undergraduate and graduate degrees - and both studied the same discipline and I think he would happily argue that that has made for a rich marriage for us. It's not that we sit around talking theology all the time - although sometimes we do, theology nerds that we both are!- but rather that we both think critically and are eager to continue to learn new things. Granted, you can find spouses that fit that bill who never went to college, but for us - meeting and dating and being engaged and newlyweds while working on our degrees was a big part of our formation as a couple. Because we met in college, the Abbot knew me in my "pre-motherhood days" and knew me to be intelligent in an academic setting. He respected me for that intelligence, and continues to respect me for the ways that I use that intelligence in our family life. One of the reasons why he was so attracted to me was because I was intelligent, and also because I was so serious about my faith (a fact that was well-known because of our opportunities to grow in our faith together at a Catholic university). My parents raised me in such a way that I let off a vibe that made it clear that I was smart and committed to purity and wouldn't settle for less! The Abbot's parents raised him in such a way that he was smart, looking for a wife who was smart and who was serious about being committed to a marriage, and he wouldn't settle for less! 

Part of what really bothers me about this first point is that it assumes that men are basically stupid and lazy. It assumes the worst of a young man who is trying to get his degree. From what I've seen and experienced, the men who are looking for a spouse in college are the kind that seek out a woman who takes her studies seriously and who is hard-working, because he knows that she will bring that same mentality to a marriage. He doesn't see in her mere career potential, but rather is drawn to her dedication to studying whatever field God has called her to. In my experience, a young man who is "lazy and not wanting to work" isn't looking to marry a woman who will work so he doesn't have to. On the contrary, in today's world, a man like that usually isn't looking to get married at all.

2. College can be a near occasion of sin for a woman. Yes, yes it can. But whether or not it is depends entirely on the woman and how she was raised. Because of the way that my parents raised me, I wasn't drawn to the "party scene" but rather sought out friends and relationships of more substance. Likewise, my parents raised me with the understanding that certain things are saved for marriage, and so I refused to go past a certain point with a guy. When the Abbot and I were dating, we were very strongly attracted to each other, but, for goodness sake...we had self-control! That is the real issue here. A woman (and a man) with self-control will avoid near occasions of sin. A woman (and a man) without self-control will not. That's the case regardless of whether or not you're in college. Yes, girls who go to college away from home don't have their parents hovering over them to prevent them going astray...but hopefully, those same parents have already given their daughter the tools she needs to discern how to avoid any "near occasions of sin."

3. College doesn't prepare a woman for motherhood. Again, the problem here is viewing college from a very technical standpoint, i.e. assuming that the only purpose of college is prepping for a career. That was not my college experience! The work that I did in college prepared me for motherhood by cultivating my mind to its fullest potential. Thinking about great things, reading great things, learning to write and articulate it all - this all has value to a mother! After all, a mother is the one who forms the next generation. Isn't there value in someone in this role knowing more than just the technicalities of the domestic arts? In all honesty, I didn't need that kind of preparation from college...I received that preparation from the training and example of my own mother! The home is the natural place to learn the skills of homemaking, and the learning of that is not in conflict with the ways that college forms a woman's mind and character.

Now granted, not every mother these days was taught these things by her own mother - because a good number of women out there have lost touch with various domestic arts. I was immensely blessed that my mother was able to teach me to cook, clean, sew, run a home, etc. I am not in the least bit opposed to formalized training in these areas, yet...a girl with a college education will often know how to read up on these skills, seek classes if needed, or teach herself. Such a young woman has an inner drive for knowledge and will eagerly pick up on skills that she may need, and seek out guidance and assistance in learning those skills. (I've actually seen this play out with the young women in my life - all of whom have a tendency to research and learn about new things as their family's needs change. Whether it is homeschooling, bread baking, sewing, or child development, these moms know how to become experts in any given area that is required of them!)

4. Degree = debt. Not going to lie...this is a valid point. But I don't think the solution is not sending a daughter to college. Rather, seeking out scholarships, working during college, selecting a more affordable college, etc. are solutions.

But, there's another problem with this view. It totally underestimates God's willingness and ability to provide. Yes, I had debt from college, but you would be surprised how God has provided for me and made it possible for me to pay back the loans I incurred. If God calls a young woman to study something on an advanced level, He will provide a means for her to do it!

5. Girls go to college because they feel the need to prove something to others.
A woman can be intelligent without going to college. A woman has worth without going to college. Because there is a danger of thinking that one must go to college to prove one's worth doesn't justify not going to college to prove the point that you don't have to go to college to have worth. That logic is all kinds of silly. Again, all of this comes down to prayer and discernment. I sincerely hope our daughters go to college because I've seen the benefits of it firsthand, but I am fine with them not going to college if God is calling them in a different direction. It's not about what they or I want to prove it's about what special and beautiful things God has in store for them and how He is calling them to use their unique gifts. They are called to be saints, and that may or may not entail a college degree....but it just may include one!

6. Worrying about college can be a near occasion of sin for moms and dads. Again, the fallacy here is thinking the way the world thinks! The Abbot and I are hoping to have a large family, and we'd love for our little ones to go to college - but we aren't going to opt out of practicing NFP to ensure that our few children can have the best college education. We trust that if God calls, He will also provide. We can make some plans, can put aside some money for college for the girls, but ultimately we have to trust that it isn't all on us. We can never underestimate how God will provide, and we can't forget that the world may look very different when our girls are older! If God has put the desire for children in our hearts - even a lot of children - then we just have to give Him our "yes" here and now and trust as we journey on. The Abbot - who is working on his ph.D - may very well have a sizeable paycheck, but it is highly unlikely we will be able to pay entirely for college educations. But, we also know how to apply for scholarships, how to plan out college credit - like AP credits - that can be earned ahead of time and can cut back on the years spent in college. But ultimately...we trust that God will guide our family and that we are ultimately called to give Him our "yes"...even when it may seem crazy at times! 

You'd be surprised, by the way, how affordable college can be if you're open to it. There are full ride scholarships available at universities, community colleges are always an option, and many graduate programs pay tuition and a stipend!  The Abbot and I didn't pay a penny for our graduate degrees (including his current doctoral program) and were actually paid by the program! So yes...you would be surprised by the opportunities that exist out there!

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7. A woman may regret going to college. Again, this part of the article assumes that a woman who goes to college is career driven. This underestimates the real value of college. I may never go back to a full time job outside of the home. In my case, and at this particular time in my life, I feel very called to continuing ministry work and using my degree through my writing. But, that is a very small part of how I use my degree. Every single day I find myself needing to think in newer, bigger ways. I find myself needing to know how to teach and articulate what I want to say. I find myself using what I learned in college to be a better wife and mother! I don't regret that one bit! I am the wife and mother I am today because I went to college!

Of course, again, this isn't to say that women who don't have the opportunity or who don't feel called to go to college are inferior. They aren't! But, if a woman feels God tugging her heart in that direction, there is a definitely a reason! She needn't fear she will waste her time or money if she is following God's call. 

We need, desperately need, intelligent young woman in the Church - especially wives and mothers! College can be an important part of forming these women.

If you want a funny rebuttal to the original article, look no further than Carrots for Michaelmas!

If you want an example of an amazing woman without a college degree who I tremendously respect and who I think articulates many theological points as well - or better! - than a theologian then please take the time to get to know Heather.





1 comment:

  1. Michele, this was so well thought out! I really hope to parent our future daughters so well.

    ReplyDelete

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