… and Professor Elizabeth Corey has finally laid out the tradeoff in a beautiful, thought-provoking manner I appreciate. Please stop reading me with your free time and read this, it has given me food for thought and fodder for argument for nearly a week now. I simply cannot stop thinking about the way in which Prof. Corey frames the debate of working v. stay-at-home-mothering.
Essentially, Professor Corey writes that there are two competing desires within modern women: a)the desire to pursue personal excellence and b) the desire to love and care for others. Alternately, she describes these competing poles as “self-cultivating” versus “self-giving.” She observes that one choice happens at the expense of the other, whether we like it or not. In the article she eschews the recent articles from successful women (Sandberg of Facebook and A-M Slaughter of State Department/Princeton) which pose the tension of child-rearing and professional excellence as one that can be solved with policies and family-friendly employers. Instead she (correctly) asserts that the lack of harmony modern women feel is the result of an individual modern tension. Do I achieve, achieve, achieve outside my home because of the personal gifts with which God has endowed me? or do I make the counter-cultural decision to give it all to my family in the form of radical self-sacrifice that is stay-at-home-motherhood?
My favorite excerpt is here to motivate or challenge you, as the case may be:
Modern women are right to think that both the pursuit of excellence and the desire to care for others are part of a fully flourishing life. Excellence in a particular field requires persistence, self-confidence, drive, courage, and initiative. These are eminently admirable qualities. On the other hand, serving or loving others requires even more admirable qualities of attention, focus, care, patience, and self-sacrifice. The accent we place on them, and the way we put them into practice , is a matter for all of us to figure out for ourselves.
I love this article, it inspired me, but several things still gnaw at me after reading it. Firstly, I can’t help but ask, “would this article ever have been published if Professor Corey was not ‘Professor’ at all but rather, Soccer Mom Corey?” Secondly – and more importantly – what does this mean for how we raise our daughters? Where do they go to school in order to follow their dreams while still remaining flexible enough to handle the duties encumbent upon a mother?
Princeton did not reward self-giving, it rewarded self-cultivation. I spent four years being reminded how awesome I was because I had been admitted there and being encouraged to change the world. Then I had a baby 16 months after graduation and BAM –> it needed to be all focus, care, attention and self-sacrifice from that point forward. An NFP- lifestyle gives one even less delusional flexibility to believe these mothering years are simply a blip on the screen of life. It has taken me a decade to comb those two competing worlds (self-cultivation v. self-giving) apart, and I am still probably only about 70% of the way there. I will myself to commit entirely to the raising of our four new souls and the love and care of my man, but emotionally I haven’t totally written off the desire to be in the Senate. Pride is a massive enemy of mine, and Professor Corey speaks to my core when she writes:
“These two endeavors require different orientations of the self, and we simply cannot approach marriage and family in the spirit of achievement at all. If we try to do so, we will find ourselves frustrated and conflicted. For well-behaved or smart children are not markers of our success; children are ends in themselves, to be loved and cared for as individuals. They need from us something other than our talents, they need us, full stop.
Finally, I am grateful for the guidance of the Saints and Scripture on this modern woman’s dilemma as I flounder. Just days after reading this article and wrestling with its implications in my life, we celebrated the Feast of St. Therese of Lisieux … the Little Flower. Amidst the thousands of saints who led armies and founded religious orders, St. Therese has been declared a Doctor of the Church because she espoused the importance of the Little Way. Of doing even insignificant things with love. Really, I think that this great saint would have a hard time seeing the difference between self-excellence and self-giving. She would see them as synonymous. I too will strive to see total self-gift as excellent. And then in yesterday’s Mass Reading from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus reminds his disciples that, “the harvest is abundant but the the laborers are few.” Our children are the harvest. They are the future of the church and of the world, but I see too many parents’ distractedly side-lining their kids in the pursuit of some phantasm of self-excellence or just general distraction. Oh, Lord, please help me be a faithful laborer with a joyful heart as I care for this domestic church with which you have entrusted me.