“But I’ll be so old when I get my PhD.” I whined to my professor. “Either way you’re going to age: you choose — get older with a PhD or without!” she replied.
She had a point. Time wasn’t going to stop; I could spend the next six years keeping myself busy by focusing the bulk of my energy on my two children, or I could work towards a degree in a field that was fascinating to me. Granted, I was worried about being older than the other students, but I was more anxious about losing time with my children. Yet I also knew that as my kids grew up, I risked experiencing empty nest with a vengeance, lost without any sense of my own direction beyond being a mother.
Many women of my generation experience this very same dilemma. Some of us stepped off a successful career track to stay at home with our children, and after the children started school, we began to grapple with the question of how to, or more importantly, whether or not we wanted to get back on. Women who had children before they established a career also face this dilemma. We all wonder what we are qualified for after spending five to ten years “just” being a mother.
This quandary might seem like a luxury, especially when compared to the struggle of women who must work and raise children at the same time in order to make ends meet. I, and other women who face this issue, are extremely lucky that we have a choice. But sometimes too many choices can bring paralysis and indecision. None of the options seem viable: go back to a career of a 60+hours a week and rarely see your children, stay at home full time and never feel the reward of career satisfaction, or try to find something new that would allow you to spend time with your children and exercise your brain — if you could only figure out what that was. We’re modern women who stopped our careers to tend to another part of ourselves, motherhood. We are supposed to be able have it all, so why are so many of us so frustrated?
I never imagined that full time mothering would feel this way. When I became pregnant, I decided to stop working so that I could experience motherhood without interruption; truth be told, I couldn’t wait to leave my job. I had a fantasy that being a mother would be blissful and relaxing in contrast to my stress filled life as a movie executive.
I soon realized that although motherhood was indeed blissful, it was also exhausting and at times emotionally draining. Moreover, even though I loved being with my children, I hated not working. But I was determined to stick it out until my second child was in pre-school. A bit bored, I took a class in psychology, with no goal other than exploring an interest. I quickly realized I loved the subject and investigated the process of going back to school, even though I was unsure if I would ever actually follow through with it.
As I immersed myself in a university environment, I realized many things. First, my life experience was valuable and allowed me to contribute a perspective to the classroom that is often lacking. Indeed, in the field I am entering, developmental psychology, the fact that I have two children allows me to offer real life experience beyond the theoretical discussions. Second, I hope to work well beyond the traditional retirement age, and an academic career could afford me this option; experience is valued in this field, unlike in my old field where youth and short attention spans are considered major assets. Third, because I’m older and have already had a career, I know the pluses and minuses of the working world and have a deeper knowledge of who I am and what I am interested in. While many younger students go through a period of instability – struggling to define themselves, build families and succeed in their jobs; sometimes the career they spend their twenties building does not sustain them through their thirties and forties. I am arguably more committed to my career path.