Most people start asking themselves that question early. It starts out in preschool, with talk of being fire fighters, doctors, or police. By senior year of high school, the question is asked increasingly frantically. But I didn’t ask myself that question until I was in my early twenties. Until then, I had only seen one option: I would be a wife, mother, and homemaker when I grew up. Suddenly and for the first time asking myself, in my early twenties, what I wanted to be when I grew up was disconcerting. And life altering.
I’m not the only one who has gone through this, either. I have a surprising number of friends with similar backgrounds, and also in their mid-twenties, who are also trying to figure out what they want to be. They’re talking about going to college for the first time, or back to college for more education, but still not sure what they want to study, still not sure what they want to be. The thinking about what you want to be when you grow up while you’re still growing up? Yeah, they missed that.
The funny thing is, my brothers have such a totally different experience in this area. They grew up knowing they were to have careers, that they must work outside the home, that they must support their families. They grew up thinking about what they wanted to be when they grew up, and ultimately choosing careers. Not so for my sisters and I. We never expected to have careers, never even thought of it. It was so far off our radar screen that it’s honestly still hard sometimes for me to picture it.
And yes, I went to college. But since I didn’t plan to have a career – and had never even considered the idea – I chose a major I figured would allow me to bring in a little extra money tutoring homeschooled students while I homeschooled my own many children. So far, this has been the case for the sisters in my family. College isn’t for having a career. College is for being well rounded and having a skill to bring in income through tutoring on the side. College was also seen as important for making us intellectually compatible with our future husbands, who it was assumed would all have college degrees.
The “you have to be a stay at home mom” programming was so strong for me that I didn’t even consider having a career until years after I had finished my undergraduate degree. I questioned and left so much, but somehow could not shake the idea that my destiny was to be a homeschool stay at home mom with a large brood of kids. In fact, being a stay at home mom was just about the last thing I questioned, years after the questions first started, and not really that long ago. It’s still hard for me to look into the future and imagine anything besides being a stay at home mom.
But the truth is, I don’t want to be a stay at home mom. The truth is, I only want a few children. The truth is, I don’t plan to homeschool. I spent years and years staring adoringly at the one-size-fits-all model held in front of me, and now I don’t want it. The whiplash I feel from this is huge, because now I have to find something else to replace it with, from scratch.
And so, in my mid-twenties, I am myself still trying to figure out for sure what I want to do with my life. Do I want a high-powered career, or something more middle of the line? Do I want a more flexible job, or a job with regular hours? I’m in grad school, so I’ve clearly chosen a subject that interests me, but I’m still not 100% sure what I want to do with my degree when I finish.
I wish I had been raised with a multiplicity of options rather than only given one option. My mother tells stories of being raised with that multiplicity of options, but says all she ever wanted to be was a mother. She says that people were forever trying to push her toward choosing something else in addition to mothering, and even telling her that “just” being a mother wasn’t enough, but she says she never wanted anything else. She resents that all those other options were pushed on her. Does she realize, I wonder, that she did the same thing with her children, only in reverse?
I am not against families making the decision to have one parent stay at home, especially while the children are young. Sometimes this really makes sense, especially with the price of daycare. But in this case, I don’t think the mom staying at home should be the de facto choice. Rather, I think each couple should decide which of them it makes most sense to have stay home. Women in our society generally grow up with some sort of understanding that staying at home with their kids, especially for the early years, as an option, but do men grow up with that same understanding? Nope. I want this to change. I want our society to stop making this a mommy thing and start making it a parent thing.
But the model set up by Christian Patriarchy – the model I grew up being taught to follow – doesn’t allow for flexibility or differences. It sets out one basic course for women and for families. Sure, there’s some fluidity – a homeschool stay at home mom can run the local co-op, or tutor, or have hobbies – but not a lot. There is no understanding of the differences among women or of the different circumstances of families. Being a stay at home homeschool mother to a gaggle of children may be a fulfilling way of life for some women, but it isn’t for everyone. And, for many women, staying at home isn’t even a financial option. But none of this diversity in temperament, desires, or situation matters for those in Christian Patriarchy. Instead, there’s just one track, one model.
And getting off that track – and re-imagining your life from scratch – is hard. And when I started climbing off that track, I had no idea just how hard re-imagining my life would be – or how long it would take.