Monday, April 06, 2009

Thinking of the Girls and Taking them Seriously

I learned something the other day that really set me back on my heels. I asked a fellow homeschooler about her plans for her older daughter. The daughter is getting to be high school age and all of us homeschoolers are always curious about whether someone is going to homeschool through high school. So I asked, busy-body that I am, what her plans were for high school and how she was planning for college for the daughter.

"I'm more concerned about college for the boys. The girls are just going to get married." was the reply. Wow. Talk about culture shock. Never had I considered that a family would still consider marriage their daughter's highest goal. While I hope my children get married and I have lots of grandchildren to dote over, I recognize those are my hopes and I will not impose them on my children. My highest goal for my children, girls and boy, are to be independent, thinking, adults who make choices they have determined support their values and help them achieve the tools they need. In this case I would like to limit myself to pointing out two situations that the mother in this case may not have considered.

While I would not consider myself a modern-day feminist, I am so pleased that I entered the workforce after so many other women had made it more likely to see women working outside of the home and in traditionally male careers. It is easy for us younger women to forget how women were often poor hiring choices because they were just marking time until marriage or pregnancy.

It's ironic, also, that we forget that working mothers have long been a part of our history. The difficulty mentioned above was more common to professional careers. Many poor women would be employed in unskilled or semi-skilled labor in factories. The kind of jobs that offer long hours, low pay, uncomfortable work environment, and little or no benefits. Many of the unskilled factory laborer jobs are no longer available. Entering the work force without training means having a harder time finding a job, and even if a job is available it is unlikely to support a home and family.

Why do I care? What bothers me so much about girls being left without the means to support themselves or a family? Although an uncommon occurrence, domestic abuse still occurs. Women may still be emotionally and physically abused in a relationship. I'm sure none of us can imagine marrying a man who would turn abusive. Certainly, many women who were abused did not knowingly marry a cruel husband. Unfortunately, it can still happen. Without a skill, these women will be even more dependent on their abusive spouses. Domestic abuse can undermine every woman's self-esteem, no matter what training or education they may have. Once a woman is finally at a point where she recognizes her life, her sanity, or the lives and minds of her children require her to leave that situation, knowing that she has an ability may make a difference in feeling that she can change her life for the better.

Perhaps the mothers assume that the children can come home to them. I can't imagine a family turning away their daughter in a time of need. I can, however, imagine a daughter choosing not to burden her parents with her and her children's presence. I can also imagine the parents being unable to accommodate an influx of kids. And, in the most unfortunate circumstance, no longer being around when the daughter needs that kind of support. So while we can hope to help, it is always better to teach someone, especially our children who rely on us to prepare them to fend for themselves in adulthood, to be able to rely on themselves.

Another aspect of being unskilled in a marriage has more to do with keeping a family together. In most families the husband it still expected to be the primary earner, there are circumstances that may require the wife to re-enter the workforce. I have seen a number of families where the husband has lost his job. A woman who is skilled or well-educated may be able to replace enough (if not more) of the lost income and still allow a parent to stay home. If her priority is still to stay with the children, she is more likely to be able to earn enough part-time to help. There are some jobs that are flexible enough to allow a woman to work from home or even after hours without requiring a large time commitment. This could be a permanent change or just something that allows the family to weather a rough patch intact.

Ultimately, I feel it can only improve a woman's chances in life to be fully prepared to take care of herself and her family through bringing home a paycheck. Even if she chooses to dedicate her life as a stay-at-home-mother, I believe having a choice is the most important part. Being well-educated enough to support a career (especially with a college education or even college preparatory) will benefit a dedicated wife and mother in a myriad of ways; choosing medical care for her children or choosing educational options for example. Many people without a college education do these things quite competently and many people with a college education mess it up. Less education requires a larger learning curve that I feel is easier to address as part of a generalized curriculum as a young adult. More education is better.

Older children need to become responsible for their own choices as they get older, as well. In my opinion, adults can help those choices be the ones that properly prepare them for life on their own when we emphasize education and training for a career (in trades or professionally) for all of our children.

No comments: