Guiding Our Girls to Their Future Careers

I have a wonderful, fabulous, fantastic mother.

I am sure the fact that I was an adopted only child to two very grateful parents definitely added to the time and attention factor, but my Mom took the time to come into my room every night right before I fell asleep and she would whisper things in my ear about how great I was. (Really, it is a wonder I didn't turn into a total egomaniac.....*no husband, you don't get a say in this*) She would whisper things like, "You are one of the lucky ones," or "I am so proud of how smart and capable you are."

And so, I grew up thinking what many little kids think, which is that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. And when it came time to choose a college career, my Mom gave me some more sage advice along those lines, "Do what you love and the money will come." And so I blithely tripped off to school and declared a double major in Anthropology and English. I decided I was going to be the next globe trotting Ruth Benedict or Margaret Mead. After I received my bachelor's I took a year off to get some "real world experience" before applying to graduate school to get my MA in Anthropology.

And here is the part of the story where I am kicking myself a little bit. Don't get me wrong, I love anthropology. It is an absolute passion of mine. As a career path though, maybe not one that was truly conducive to my over all goals.

You see, despite being amazing, my Mom made one major error. She prepared me for the world as she wanted it to be, not as it truly was. We spend an awful lot of time telling girls that they can "have it all," but really, that just isn't possible (in most cases). Not as things stand now anyway. The fact is, there were many points in which I could have chosen a more practical career. I could have stopped at my BA and gotten a teaching license. I could have chosen to go into Library and Information Sciences instead of an MA in Anthropology (something I dutifully considered). Heck, even law school would have been better suited to my life as it ultimately turned out.

I can still see my thesis advisor's face when I came to her and told her I was pregnant smack in the middle of my grad school career. Up to this point we had considered future PhD programs to be in my future, but when I told her I was expecting.....the light died out in her eyes. Her mouth turned down and it became very uncomfortable in her office, much like I had told her I was dying. She basically informed me that I was no longer worth her time because I would never finish my thesis. For all intents and purposes, she fired me, and I was forced to change thesis advisors mid-stream. It took me three times as long to finish and as a result I didn't finish before my new thesis advisor was headed out on sabbatical and I had to look at changing advisors yet-again. My old thesis advisor graciously agreed to take me back. I finished within the year. In their defense, I did receive a very touching congratulations card from both of them that apologized for thinking I wasn't going to make it and letting me know how proud they both were.

But here's the MA in Anthropology is useless in many ways if you want to be an actual anthropologist. But, while I finished my degree, my husband was still working on his and because he was having to do it one or two classes at a time, he wasn't going to finish for a long, long time. A PhD program just wasn't in the picture for me, for the time being at least.

This is where I ultimately get to my point.
We need to counsel girls to choose career paths that are conducive to raising children, or are flexible in case we do end up raising children even if it wasn't in the original life plan. (I hear you feminists, it feels like sacrilege to voice that out loud). There is no guarantee that if your daughter gets pregnant that she won't end up wanting to stay home. There is no guarantee she won't become a single mother, or a widow, or have a desire to work AND stay home. In light of this it makes sense to counsel our girls to choose careers that can be considered more flexible. This is not to say that these careers can't be meaningful and high paying, merely that they are known for being more flexible (think nursing, teaching, law school, freelance writing and photography, web design, library sciences, accounting, just to name a few).

Advice like this is uncomfortable. No one wants to look at their daughter and say, "your career choices are limited because you might want to be a mother someday and things are just different for girls," but not doing so is unfair. We need to prepare our kids for the world as it is, not just the world as we think it should be (although that is important too). Ultimately I wish that someone had counseled me this way. I might have picked a different career path. I never meant to be a full-time stay at home mom and although I absolutely adore my children and love spending so much time with them, I long for a good part-time job that elevates us to a slightly higher tax bracket (read: not continuously broke) and provides quality intellectual stimulation.

Our girls deserve to know that having it all in the current climate is difficult and requires many sacrifices. Until we change the workplace to make it more friendly to families (not just families of children but of employees who are in charge of elder care, special needs adult children, or other family members with disabilities) we will have to be vigilant in helping our girls choose education options that provide the most flexibility, so they can be successful no matter what their future holds.

Update: I found this article today that is very relevant to this topic. You can find it here;
Ivory Tower, Men Only; For men, having children is a career advantage. For women, it’s a career killer.