Did College Make Me a Better Mother?

(As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been following the blog posts of The Transformed Wife.  Many of her posts are disturbing to me.  For the time being, in order to assist in sorting out my thoughts, I have decided to write responses to her posts on my own blog. Lori’s post today was titled Does College Make Better Mothers? )

My husband is the sole reason I ever finished college.

We were living in St. Louis at the time.  He was in full-time graduate school at the Seminary, and I was in full-time nursing school at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, with multiple part-time jobs between the two of us.  I was a little over halfway through a 15-month accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, when I didn’t think a college degree mattered anymore.  I remember a conversation my husband and I had.  I was crying, and very much wanted to quit nursing school.  I begged my husband to let me quit.

When I say “I begged my husband to let me quit”, it’s not so much that I felt I needed his permission to do something this major, although I did feel like that.   It’s that I did not feel comfortable quitting, making such a drastic decision that would go against the plan we had both decided on, unless we were both in agreement and on the same page.   I couldn’t quit unless he let me.  I was not going to quit unless we were both in agreement that quitting was for the best.

School was not the problem I was having.   I loved going to classes and clinicals.  With all of my gen eds out of the way, the nursing program focused exclusively on all things medical, and that is what I loved.  I loved the hands-on, practical experience of getting to be in a hospital setting.  The classes were great, but the clinical sessions were where I really felt like I learned the most as far as becoming more comfortable and competent.  I was learning how to care for and work with others toward a shared goal and vision–what I desired most of all to see and be a part of–the healing of people.

My problem was leaving my one-year old son.  It broke my heart anytime I had to leave him, any time I kissed him goodbye and had to walk away, leaving him in the care of another Seminary wife and mother who watched children in her on-campus home.  I don’t know why it hurt so much.  I was a young mother, and this was my first child, so all the feelings and responsibilities were new to me as well.  I had no past experience to base anything on, nothing from the past to tell me that this, too, would be okay.  The woman who watched him was someone I trusted completely, and to this day, am grateful for her.  Besides my son’s father, grandmother or any other close relative, there was nowhere I could’ve felt more comfortable leaving my child.  She was caring and able.  But she wasn’t me.

There was no guilt involved, not in this situation.  It wasn’t the should-y guilt we start to feel as time goes on as moms.  It wasn’t a feeling of “well, it really should be fine for me to leave him while I go to school, but I still feel like I ought to be doing it myself”.  It wasn’t the “I can’t believe that I–again–was such a horrible mom today. ”  It was, instead, more like my own motherly version of separation anxiety.  My child and I had a bond–again–like nothing I had ever known.  I was attached to him in a deep, profound, and emotional way.  Motherhood had changed me.  I was not the old me.  I was a mother, and there is something so deep, true, and scarring about that reality–the permanent fact that life will never be the same.

“Please let me quit”, I whimpered to my husband.  “There’s no point in me finishing college”.  This going to college, I thought, was just a temporary setting.  I was just going through the motions to make it seem like I hadn’t really thrown away my life, to satisfy all the people who would think I had wasted a perfectly good opportunity to finish college.  I didn’t really want to be looked down upon as a loser, but I was more than willing to endure a stained and tarnished reputation if it meant being able to live for what I felt was true and right.

“A mother’s place is with her children.”

That was my visceral, heartfelt belief.

It has always bugged me in our relationship, that my husband doesn’t seem to “get” my big picture.  I was looking at this situation–of whether or not to finish college– in the great big huge giant grand scheme of things.  What mattered was THIS moment.  And in the great big huge giant grand scheme of things, what matters in THIS moment, is that I am making the most of THIS moment, by doing what I believe to be true and right in the great big huge giant and overall grand scheme of things.  In twenty, thirty, fifty or sixty years, what would end up mattering more?  That I finished college, or that had I made the most of every opportunity to be there for the dearest, most beloved, closest people in my life?

What should I do
right now in THIS moment
to guarantee that in the end
I do not regret my life?

I think then I would have called it priorities.

Priorities, perhaps, but now I also see fear.

My husband wouldn’t let me quit.  He did not agree that me quitting school was for the best, and because of that, I made the choice to finish my schooling.  At the time, I viewed this as me submitting to my husband.  I saw this as one of my earliest major submission tests in marriage, and I had passed with flying colors.  I had wanted one thing–to quit, and my husband wanted another–for me to not quit, and I had gone with what he wanted.  Wasn’t a wife’s greatest temptation to assert her own will and try to usurp her husband’s authority?

I had just overcome a wife’s greatest temptation.

Did I want some kind of prize for this?  Actually, I think I kind of did. I thought this was actually a huge deal to have done this, to have submitted without even much of a fight.  My husband didn’t seem to realize at all–all that had happened inside me to make the choice to not quit, to go ahead with what he wanted.  To go with what my husband wanted–Isn’t this what a wife’s submission was all about?

Kind of.  Sort of.  No, not really.

I do still believe it was an example of submission.  But I look at it now with a slightly different perspective.  At the time, and through the years, I was seeing submission as a form of God’s protection.  Since God was the one who put my husband as the head, who put my husband “in charge” of me and our family, then my husband’s will was the gauge of right and wrong.  Was what I wanted right?  All I had to do was ask my husband to find out, and if he agreed, then I knew it was right.  If he disagreed, then my will must be wrong.

I do still see submission as a form of protection for a wife, but it isn’t so much of a magical, fool-proof way to find out whether what she wants is right or wrong.  A husband’s will is not some kind of divinely inspired magic-8 ball for a wife to consult and seek out guidance.  A husband, in a true and healthy Christian marriage, is the one and only human person who is just as much invested in and connected to the outcome of the joint life as she is. A wife’s submission is not meant to be taught in isolation.  A wife’s submission, just like the Bible verse, is nestled and fits into a much greater context, into a great big huge giant grand scheme of Biblical, beautiful, Christ-centered things.  A husband’s will is important, and so is the wife’s.  Together they follow with Christ as their leader.

There was something about that decision that seemed monumental.  I was at a crossroads, and deep down inside, in that moment, I felt like finishing was going to be something that would prove, down the road, to turn out for the best. As it turned out, after finishing school, I was able to work as a nurse for a few short years after college.  During that time, we paid off a huge chunk of our student-loan debt, which I don’t even remember now which one of us had acquired more.  We bought and paid off a $17,000 minivan because we had the money.  We’ve driven that minivan over 200,000 miles to Florida and many other states to see family and friends.

It’s been ten years since I last used my degree.  People ask if I miss being a nurse.  Sometimes I do, but it also isn’t something I regularly think about.  This past week when my oldest son broke his forearm playing field games at camp, and my littlest son had a moderate allergic reaction from a wasp sting, I found myself back in the medical setting.  Those are the times when the itch returns.  I don’t miss the hectic, long days of stressful working environments.  I don’t at all miss the fear of majorly messing something up.

I’ve always said the stuff I loved best about being a nurse are the same things I get to do now as a mom.  Tucking people in at night.  Sitting beside them, listening with love, as they tell me their stories or ask about mine.  Checking in from time to time and making sure everyone’s doing alright.  I was never, and will never be, the nurse you wanted there in the intense and crucial moment of trauma or a massive stroke or heart attack.  I was the person there to help you along on the road to recovery, to dust you off, help you up, and get you back on your feet after someone else had saved your life.

I honestly don’t know if college made me a better mother.  I certainly don’t think that it made me a worse one.  I do know that for me personally, I don’t regret starting, going to, or finishing college.  There are some things I might have done differently.  I do wish I had taken more time toward the end of high school to think about, research, and make an educated decision on what general education courses would be most helpful to take.  A mother’s place is with her children–for a time.  There will come times when a child’s place is not with the mother, and a mother’s place is somewhere else.  I appreciated the time I got to use my degree, and if the time ever comes to use it again, I will be glad for that, too, as well as thankful for the time my husband wouldn’t let me quit.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying this current season of life.  I get to homeschool my kids, be a stay-at-home mom, and continue learning many things I never knew before.


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