Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands! Psalm 90:17
When I received my graduate school diploma, I realized with some chagrin that I had just graduated from the 23rd grade. For me, success had always been measured by academic milestones such as letter grades, admittance into prestigious schools, the passing of exams, and finally, a doctoral dissertation stamped with approval by my PhD committee. As an undergraduate, the decision to pursue graduate studies was easy. Why stop here when all signals seemed to be urging me further up the academic ladder? In hindsight, I think the idea of getting a “real job” was too daunting to even consider; I had no idea how I would survive and flourish in a world without the clear measures of success I’d become used to. School came easily for me, and I enjoyed the graduate student lifestyle, so I put thoughts of permanent work aside while I focused on each academic milestone in turn.
For many women (and men) of my culture and generation, graduating from the 20-something grade corresponds not only with a sense of uncertainty or fear surrounding the now necessary job search, but also a shifting sense of identity as we become, or hope to become, new parents. I always expected to work and be a mom, never questioning the compatibility of the two or even giving it much thought. Finally, with a PhD under my belt and an adorable eight-month-old in tow, I find myself in the midst of job applications. I was blessed with a year of maternity leave following a post-doc in Canada, and now peer-review and CV’s seem like relics of a dormant self. My days are brightened by baby laughs, and I crash at night exhausted after countless games of peek-a-boo and diaper changes. Since time for job-hunting is in limited supply these days, I have learned to streamline my approach:
1. Rather than scanning multiple job boards and institutions’ websites whenever I have a few spare minutes, I have bookmarked only a few job boards that I know reliably post interesting positions and check them only during times specifically set aside for the job search.
2. I read job ads thoroughly to get a sense of whether I am truly qualified for or interested in the position before applying or even researching the institution.
3. My husband and I have imposed a rule: no one gets a job after 8 p.m. Discussing potential jobs and moves after we’ve put the baby to bed often leads to stress and anxiety, so we try to reserve evenings for decompressing and catching up with one another while washing dishes or folding diapers if necessary (which is often)!
4. Finally, when invited for interviews, I am honest about my situation. Recently, I was invited to interview for a job far from my home. I was upfront about the fact that my still-nursing infant would be traveling with me. I requested time and space set aside during the full-day interview to nurse or pump, and I mentioned that I could not stay out late in the evening because I needed to put my daughter to bed. The search committee was quite willing to accommodate these requests (had they not, I would not have wanted to work there – a decision made easy!).
Job-hunting aside, raising a child is work, to be sure. So is the act of homemaking, and if/when both my husband and I have full-time jobs, we will probably eat fewer home-cooked meals, garden less, and pay someone to care for our daughter during the day (and possibly to clean our house as well!). Throughout our marriage, we have grown into a set of shared values that include material simplicity and environmental stewardship within a local context. As I prepare to jump back into the professional world, I realize that I must either sacrifice my ability to be committed to homemaking according to my values or sacrifice elements of the career I have spent my entire adult life building. This realization comes with a re-envisioning of what it means to be successful. Like many others of my generation, I grew up being told that I could do “anything I wanted.” Usually, such statements were meant to convey the message that I could have any professional career that I wanted and that as a woman I would not be expected to stay at home and raise children. I always wanted to have children, but perhaps naively assumed they would fit neatly into a professional life.
Now, I begin to question the meaning of success handed down to me by academic mentors. I still feel called toward professional work, and I will continue to scour job boards and update my CV. But, I am growing toward the idea that perhaps it is not what I do for “work” or even where I live, but how I live that should define success. Nothing emphasizes life’s brevity more than a baby’s astonishing rate of growth and development. When I am gripped by anxiety over job decisions, I must re-center myself with the knowledge that life does not begin once that dream job is secured. This is life, here and now, with all its messiness and complexity. Colossians 3:23 instructs, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” My call is to work for God, whether as homemaker or professional and in all of life’s shifting seasons. I still feel torn between my new identity as a mom and my career aspirations, and I don’t think that tension will resolve anytime soon. But I sense that there is no right or wrong path to follow as long as I work unto the Lord and allow Christ to confirm the work of my hands.
I think we have to stop saying to our children, boys or girls, that they “can do anything they want” — because they can’t, even if parents wish that for them. I don’t think there has ever been a harder time for married couples to figure out how to do life when married life also means having children. As much as everyone says the world is better without assigned gender roles, this is part of the price paid for that change. We are now locked into a reality that generally demands (not just allows) both spouses work in an income generating job or business. But at some points of their life especially, children require the same time that both spouses must be spent working. Not easy.