Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What Am I Using?

Sometimes in conversations with stay-at-home, homeschooling moms the topic of education comes up. Not our children's, but our educations. And not suspicious, raised-eyebrow inquiries of the, "Are you qualified to teach your children?" variety, but rather those of the "What are you doing with your life?" stripe.

Someone once said to a friend of mine, "You have all this education and you're not using it. It's going to waste."


I have a couple of things to say about that.

Nothing gets under my skin more than the assumption that a mother who is at home with her children is wasting her education. (Well, okay, there are more irksome skin-burrowing issues in the world, I'll grant you that, but this ranks right up there.)

There are a few situations where the assumption may be true. If Mom is lying comatose on the couch in the living room then, yes, we can safely say she isn't putting that Brit Lit class to use, at least not at the moment, but we can't really blame her, eh? Or, if she leaves her little urchins home alone every day so that she can play keno at the local sports bar, then, yeah -- probably not taking full advantage of the many hours she spent in lecture halls. But if Educated Mom gets up every day and after pouring a cup of coffee pours herself into mothering and homeschooling -- jobs which can be plenty thankless some days, thank you very much -- I think we must assume she is using everything she's got. That should include the assumption that her education is valuable in a home where small, barbaric human beings must be tamed, civilized, and taught cursive writing. And don't even get me started on the psychological nuance and skill that must be employed when puberty hits. (That alone is worth a couple of PhDs.) Homeschooling high school? Not for the faint of heart.

Of course, the first thing that springs to mind is what G.K. Chesterton said in What's Wrong With the World
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. 
There are actually a couple of different things going on with the, "wasting" comments, so we should separate them. First, there's the assumption that being with children all day long is objectively a waste of time and brainpower. Second, there's the idea that throwing a wide net and reaching people outside of our families is far more important than a deliberate gathering-in of those within the walls of our home.

With the first assumption, I have little patience. I can't think of an assumption that devalues children more. Being with babies (then small children, then older children, then teenagers, get the picture) all day can be a great many things, but it has never been a waste of my time or brainpower. Mothering has forced me to become a stronger, more creative, more persevering woman than I have ever been in my life. Thank you, motherhood. You have done what you were created to do.

With the second idea -- that reaching outside the scope of one's home is more important than focusing on what's under my own roof -- I again have little patience and will simply refer you back to Gilbert Keith. Thank you, Mr. Chesterton. I always liked you.

So we return to the question: Has it been a waste? Have I used my education over these many years? Has Atticus used his? I would argue that yes, we have both put our educations to good use, albeit in very different ways. Nothing that led me to the moment when I held my first daughter and realized, with giddiness and horror that Atticus and I were totally responsible for her, was wasted. Not my God-free childhood, nor my college years as a theater major-turned English major-turned dabbler-in-philosophy, nor my conversion, nor my short stint at a particularly challenging time in my life as a Merry Maid. None of it. It all combined and conspired to make me the mother I became, the mother I am still evolving into.

The world will pull us in a thousand directions, and so we must discern shrewdly. There are seasons and years when using one's education predominantly outside the home is right, good, or even best for our families. But putting an education to use in the wider world is not ipso facto the superior choice, it's just more visible. Just as important are the lively interactions and the child-rearing and the education that happens every day in so many homes, hidden though those worlds may be.

Blood is hidden, too. So is a powerful, beating heart. But without them? We would wither and die.

What am I using?

Every hidden thing that I am.


(Photo credit:


Danae said...

This post! All of it! That G.K. Chesterton quote is perfect and I love what you said about how work outside the home isn't superior, it is just more visible. I love how you compared being home to our heart and blood working in our bodies. They are not visible, but vital. Thanks, Karen!

Tamara said...

As usual, I agree with Danae! :) Seriously, I really appreciate this post. I love that you point out the idea that throwing a wide net is considered more important than a "deliberate gathering-in" of our own family. Thank you, Karen!

Tamara said...

As usual, I agree with Danae! :) Seriously, I really appreciate this post. I love that you point out the idea that throwing a wide net is considered more important than a "deliberate gathering-in" of our own family. Thank you, Karen!

tanita✿davis said...

I'm horrified that anyone would say that to your friend, but then, I've also heard a great deal more of things like that than the question of being homeschooling qualified -- it mainly stems from a cultural shift toward insisting that a woman fulfill herself in all ways, except that those "all ways" are only the ones the culture deems appropriate! I'm glad you articulated your satisfaction with how you've used your time; I think more working mothers - who work in all kinds of ways - need to say so.

Tabatha said...

Thanks for this, Karen.

Sonja said...

Bravo, bravo, very well said, and highly quotable (both G.K. and yourself).

Karen Edmisten said...

Thanks so much to all of you for such wonderful and encouraging comments!

Regina said...

Yet another great post that I will print, share, and keep to read again. Thanks, Karen!