How higher education pays off for full time mothers

by Susan Fischer

My sister and I are both alumnae of Franciscan University, and both have, for a time, put aside our professional careers to stay home and raise our small children. Our aunt recently asked our mother if she regretted paying for our college education since we are now unemployed.

This raises the question of whether higher education is no more than training for a professional career. Or, to put it another way: Is a woman wasting her parents’ money and her professors’ time if she ends up staying at home with her kids?

When I arrived at the University, at the age of eighteen, I had no intention of being a “stay-at-home mom.” Now, ten years and two kids later, this is the occupation I have chosen. Does this mean my decision to go to college was a mistake? I don’t believe so. My education provided me with occupational skills and a time for personal enrichment and academic challenge which have served me very well ever since.

After graduation, I was employed for five years as an advertising coordinator for a newspaper while my husband was a full-time law student. It would have been impossible for him to attend law school without my income. My training in journalism and advertising was used for the good of the family. (I should note that, had my husband not been free to go to law school, I might not now have the financial freedom to stay at home caring for my children full-time.) But even now that I am no longer working, I often see how my college experience benefits my children. My world was expanded, and I am in a better position to expand theirs. My husband and I often share our love of classic literature and poetry.

Beyond these things, every married woman should seriously consider the terrible possibility of her husband’s dying early or becoming disabled or unemployed. Who would support the family? Would they be forced to rely on government aid? Unfortunately, today’s job-market virtually necessitates a college degree for any professional employment; employers almost automatically weed out those without degrees and experience. A formal education along with previous job experience would be a great help to any woman in such dire circumstances. I know my journalism degree along with five years of job experience would enable me to find a job quickly, if it became necessary.

My personal reasons for accepting the privilege of staying at home with my children are varied. Most important is the sense that time is a great enemy to us parents. It steals our babies and changes them into adults before our eyes. There will always be time for a career, but my children’s childhood is passing quickly, and it is a beautiful, innocent time to which we can never return.

Secondly, nobody, not even Dr. Dobson, can raise my children better than I can. No care-provider could love them as deeply as I do. My children have one mother, and I will not give them a substitute. They need me more than any corporation ever will.

There is also a widespread myth that a woman needs a career in order to be challenged and self-fulfilled. This does not mesh at all with my experience. My most challenging, demanding and stressful employment is the one I have now. I work harder now than I did at the newspaper. The newspaper allowed me a full night’s sleep. It did not require continuous changing, bathing, feeding, chasing. My work day began at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 6:00 p.m., with weekends and holidays off. It gave me a gas allowance, monetary incentives, free dinners, tickets to concerts, three weeks paid vacation and a retirement plan. It is far easier for me to plan an advertising campaign with catchy copy and interesting illustrations within a reasonably priced budget than to explain why dogs bark or what flavor water has. My work at the paper was nowhere near as challenging as what I do now, nor did it give me a fraction of the “fulfillment” I experience in watching my children learn and grow.

So, my aunt’s question might seem to pose a dilemma: do I encourage my daughter to go to college only on the condition that she agree not to waste our hard-earned money by putting aside her training and staying at home with her kids?

If one truly understands the value of education, there is no dilemma at all.

At my life’s end, my proudest moment will not be that huge account I landed in 1994 to meet that year’s budget. It will be those lasting achievements that, by the grace of God, I see in my children’s lives.

The decision to work or stay at home is a personal one, often dictated by financial need. I do not advocate a certain choice for every woman, nor do I say that college educated women always make better mothers. I do recommend higher education for all who seek it, with the freedom to make of it what they may.

Susan (De Ford) Fischer is an ‘89 graduate of Franciscan University with two lasting achievements. She is married to Contributing Editor Mark Fischer.