I continue to be surprised by the responses I have received from my recent posts. I have to say that I have felt so alone with this in the past, yet I continue to get comments from friends, old acquaintances, classmates, and family, both LDS and not LDS who have had similar experiences or feelings in their struggle to juggle their roles as women in this often unforgiving world. It is so nice to see that we are not alone, even though it sadly means there is a lot of this kind of negativity going around. It makes me even more desirous to be supportive to all of my sisters out there! I think we are all just “doing it” the best we can, as my MIL would say ever so wisely. I hope we can try that much more to be helpful and supportive of each other as women.
I received this message through Facebook from an old friend from BYU. She was one of my first six roommates at BYU my freshman year. I thought her message was so inspiring I asked for her permission to share and she graciously accepted. I also pirated this adorable picture from her profile.
From Lindsay Blonquist Chesser:
Hey Erin! I've loved reading your story on your blog lately! I wanted to write to you and tell you my experience...
I didn't ever really want to be a stay-at-home-mom. I wanted to be a scientist. I wanted to discover things and make a huge impact on the world. However, I also really loved little kids. During my senior year of high school, we had to go around the room and tell what we planned to do as a career. When it got to me, I said I thought I wanted to be a preschool teacher. The whole class belittled me! They said I should do something more with myself and my life! (A back-handed compliment maybe, but made me feel stupid). So, I entered BYU determined to major in Microbiology and carry out that science dream.
After a semester, though, it just felt wrong. I know that sounds ridiculous...I wasn't really even into major classes...but I just couldn't shake the feeling that it wasn't what I was supposed to do. After a meeting with my microbiology advisor, and lots of prayers, I switched to Early Childhood Education. I then experienced a whole different scenario at BYU (compared to yours)...I was labeled as someone who was just hoping to get married...who would spend my life at home with a bunch of kids so I didn't really need to study...what could be that hard about being a teacher? Didn't they give us classes in laminating and writing on the chalkboard? ...the list could go on...drove me crazy.
I left BYU unmarried (what!? an education major unmarried!) but I was happy because it meant I could go back to Texas and I didn't have to follow a husband somewhere. I chose to teach in an urban district about 30 minutes from my parents' home. I was interviewed by an alternative school in that district and took a huge leap and accepted their offer to teach there. I didn't fully understand what I had gotten myself into...but basically, I had agreed to teach children in grades 1-4 that had such difficult behavior issues that they had either a) failed all of the other behavior programs in the district, b) broken the law in a very serious way and had to be removed from the general population, or c) did something very serious and violent to a classmate or teacher and had to be removed from the general population.
Oh the stories I could tell you! A first grader that came to me because he was using cocaine...kids who threatened to kill their teachers, a kid who kicked another kid so hard that he had permanent testicle damage, kids who had mental health issues, kids who lived in shacks and only ever got the chance to eat at school, kids who thought it was a regular part of life to go to jail (everyone they knew had been at least once...), etc. The things that these kids would say and do should never be part of a young child's life! And as a side note, I often had multiple, if not, all of the grades at the same time and I was supposed to teach them the regular curriculum and help them get back on track and fill all of their learning gaps so they could pass the standardized tests. Ha! (Those classes in laminating and chalkboard writing-which I didn't have-would not have prepared me for that!)
I got married after my first year of teaching and continued to teach for 4 more years after that. At that point we decided to start our family and had a baby girl. I decided to stop teaching. I got a lot of comments from my coworkers about that...that they wish they could just quit...that I would be wasting my life...that I didn't understand how bored I would be...that I was throwing my career away. Honestly, there is no way I could have continued that job and been any kind of good parent to a child. It drained me emotionally and physically. It was a dark cloud always hanging over my head. I enjoyed helping the kids and doing everything I could for them, but to be immersed in so much sadness and violence and anger is difficult. I had a really difficult adjustment (turns out I'm just not that good at life transitions) and hated staying home for the first 6 months. Then I figured out I needed to treat this just like a career--do my best, use all of my skills, find a way to be happy even during the hard days.
So, here we are today, my daughter is just about 16 months old, and I am loving staying at home with her. We have so many adventures together and I love using my skills and knowledge for her benefit. I don't regret my decision. However, I do still get remarks from people (especially since a lot of people I know are not LDS)...my neighbor, a working woman with a masters degree is always asking me when I'm going back to work...when I'm going to stop taking my break...or saying that I'm spoiled or 'so lucky.' That really makes me mad. We are making BIG sacrifices for me to stay home. We live in a small house, we drive really old cars, we have a strict budget for everything, etc., etc...Or when I'm out and about places and meeting people for the first time and they ask what I do...and I tell them I'm a mom...they are completely turned off by it and subsequently treat me like I'm dumb. Not a great feeling. The straw that broke the camels back, though, was a young BYU kid calling the other night asking for us to donate to the Annual Fund. He was calling for my husband, but chatted with me since I was available and asked if I had also graduated from BYU. When I told him I had, he asked what I had studied...I told him...and then he laughed and in a very belittling tone said, "I bet you're still really using that...heh heh." I wanted to reach through the phone and punch him in the face. What an idiot. He didn't even ask if we had kids or if I stayed at home or anything...he just assumed...and I hate that part of the LDS culture.
Anyway, sorry this is so long...I just wanted to say that I admire what you are doing. I love strong women. I want my daughter to be strong and know/believe that she can do anything she wants to do...and that she is smart and capable and all of that still applies whether she chooses to be a dentist, doctor, lawyer, teacher, or SAHM, etc...we are all important and should support each other no matter what!