learning the words: working mother

Joan from Mad Men

Today’s guest post is from Katy. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

I’m the oldest of five children and we were all homeschooled (K-12).  During my junior high and high school years, my family attended a church on the divide of fundamentalism and conservative.  Fortunately, my parents have always placed an extremely high priority on education.  My mother was the first person in her family to attend college and my father is a second-generation Ph.D. scientist.  They were extremely clear that all their children were expected to get at least a bachelor’s degree before getting married.  (I think they watched several families break up because the woman wanted to “find herself” and they were determined that none of their children, especially their four daughters, would get married too early.)

As I grew up, I learned that women who continued working after having kids were “selfish” and weren’t making choices that were “best for her family”.  It did worry me because I have always been very career minded and I didn’t want to go through all the education and just work a few years before having children.  But my mother would use her mantara “an education is never wasted” and tell me that maybe I would raise a child (a son, of course) who would change the world.

This never came to a crisis point because I never meet anyone that I was interested in who was also interested in me.  (I think I may have frighten them since I could out think and out reason most of them.)  I graduated toward the top of my class with a bachelors in physics and mathematics.  I went to graduate school in physics and graduated five years later with my Ph.D. in theoretical physics (just as planned).  Then I got my dream job: teaching physics at a small liberal-arts college.

Along the way, I dealt with depression.  Fortunately my parents were very supportive and got me into counseling and a doctor’s office less than a week after they figured out what was going on.

Since then my depression has come and gone and come and gone several times.  It’s always worse when I had unstructured work time.  (E.g. after I finished my classes in grad school and was working on my thesis.)  After I got my job, the academic year would be incredibly productive and then breaks were awful, I couldn’t get anything done, I would spend days just sitting on the sofa.  So I started returning to my parent’s home to spend the summer with them and my younger siblings still at home.  These summers were significantly more productive than being on my own.

I think I might be the only person on campus who actively loathes long breaks.  I love spring break, but the four weeks between semesters and the endless summer months are far too long for me.

A few years into my job, I realized that even if I had kids someday in the future, I could never quit my job and become a full-time at-home mother.  I would become depressed in a matter of months.  And that, being depressed all the time, that would destroy my future family.  The only way I could be healthy (essential for a having a healthy family) was to keep working.

Embarrassed, I talked with my mom about it.  She agreed with me!  Staying home was not an viable option for me and that a mother working full-time was the best thing for some families.

This past week, I was at home visiting (winter break — four long weeks without school).  As is tradition, I went to lunch with my dad.  We talked mostly about my boyfriend (my first!  Of course, he’s fantastic, I have very good taste.).  But one thing he said in passing was that he and my mom had already decided (between the two of them) that I should be a working mom — it was the best thing for me and my future family.  It was very comforting to know that my conclusions are the same as two of the people who know me best.  (I tend to see my parents as free advice — some people pay millions for personal advice.  I listen and then decide what I want to do.)

I’m claiming “working mother” as my word.  It will be my way of raising healthy kids which would be impossible if I stayed at home full-time.

Note:  if you or anyone you know is struggling with depression, there is help.  Depression is an illness and you can get better.  Like most illnesses, depression will not resolve on it’s own, you need professional care from experienced doctors and counselors.  Please do not delay, make an appointment to see your doctor immediately and ask him/her for a recommendation for a counselor.

If you have a loved one struggling with depression, I can recommend that you read Brooke Shields’ book on her experience with postpartum depression.  After my mom read it, she began talking in ways that I understood and was incredibly encouraging to me.  This book changed my life and I’ve never even read it (I have no desire to relive the dark times).

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