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Female College Students: Don't Limit Yourself!

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No one should limit our girls' potential -- not even us.

mother holding her baby

Leslie Adler: I read yesterday's piece, entitled Female College Students: What You Need to Know," and I think the air must be quite thin in Stepford. That could be the only reason an educated woman would suggest limiting the drive and potential of a generation of people who happen to have ovaries.

The author concludes with a wish that women be educated early, before they choose a career, on the "limitations and benefits of the various paths as a future mother." Why doesn't she suggest we just put our aprons back on? Choose appropriate lines of work ... and all become school teachers?

I am a mother and a lawyer. I have found balance, but that is actually irrelevant for this response because, unlike Dr. Cara Gardenswartz, I do not start from the assumption that every woman wants the same things, or defines anything -- including "life-work-motherhood balance," or happiness, for that matter -- the same way as any other woman. Nor do I assume that anyone can know what any of this means before they are there ... or that they should. Perhaps we should have classes in college that teach us about the pitfalls of aging so we can decide whether we want to do that.

Seriously, I am trying to imagine a world in which people decided at college age, their early 20s, maybe younger, to choose career and life paths based solely on their desire to be parents ... and I can't. A world in which we squelch dreams because of perceptions about "mom-friendly or flexible professions"? How would Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Nancy Pelosi -- to name a few -- respond to Ms. Gardenswartz's suggestion?

Watching how our mothers met the challenges of doing it all or staying at home helped us make choices, and hopefully the ways in which we -- our generation -- find our happiness and balance between work and home will help guide our kids. And to be clear, my response also has nothing to do with the "war" between "stay-at-home moms" or women who work outside the home. I choose not to judge that choice ... but to have our daughters start thinking about that choice before they even embark on the journey?

Let me say another thing to address Ms. Gardenswartz's sweeping judgments of the legal profession. A law degree, for example, is yours forever. And the earning potential one has with a law degree is generally good. I have seen too many women who are without earning potential have to deal with divorce, loss of a spouse, loss of a spouse's job ... countless other things that could cause a woman who chose to stay home at some point to re-enter the work force ...

Why, for any reason, including being a mother, would we want to limit the idealism or the potential of young people who enter college and are, in the words of Ms. Gardenswartz, "excited about their future careers and working hard to achieve their future goals"?

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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris November 19, 2009, 5:08 AM

I disagreed with Dr. Gardenswartz yesterday, but I think she had a point. I wouldn’t tell young women not to be lawyers, but I think we do need to be a little more realistic in the advice we give young women - and young men. Let them know that they should be planning ahead about how they will balance things. Let them know that it’s okay to choose child-rearing over a Nobel Prize.

michelle November 19, 2009, 9:13 AM

THANK YOU LESLIE!! And to Black Iris…maybe we can save that advice for when women are actually winning some Nobel prizes! Right now I don’t think we have the problem of too many women abandoning child-rearing in favor of groundbreaking scientific discoveries. The advice we should be giving women is not to be vaguely fearful of some future issue they can’t even comprehend. We should be advising them that passivity is never rewarded. They should ask for the balance (and equal pay) they deserve — no one will just offer it to them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take charge of their own destinies.

Anonymous November 19, 2009, 9:25 AM

I don’t think she was trying to dissuade people from various professions. I think she was just trying to let women take all options into consideration. It’s true that when you are eighteen years old, you don’t imagine trying to balance work and family. I know I didn’t. And while I’m not thrilled with my career choice, the one advantage is tons of time off and I get home by four. It is the reason I am satisfied with it, I have tons of time with my kids. Well worth it. All she was saying is give it some thought. Some of us want nothing but careers, some of us really like being stay at home moms and some of us need to find a balance of both. College kids need to be aware of ALL possibilities.

Anonymous November 19, 2009, 9:48 AM

I don’t agree that women should be discouraged from pursuing their dreams because they may want a family someday, but I do feel that when selecting a career both women and men should be encouraged to consider not only what life at work will be like, but life outside work as well. How much of your life will you be expected to devote to work? Will you have any flexibility to choose how much you work and when? Will your earnings support the lifestyle you want?

The truth is that some career paths do demand a lot of time in the office and/or traveling without a whole lot of flexibility to work decreased hours or to take an extended leave. This could not only interfere with family life, but any number of outside interests or hobbies. Some people are fine with and even thrive in this type of environment. But I think it would be foolish for a woman or a man to jump into such a career before considering how it will impact other aspects of their future life, including but not limited to family.

Skyraven November 19, 2009, 8:35 PM

After reading both articles I have to say that female college students should be encouraged to follow their dreams. Whether or not that includes having children. As a freshman in college if someone told me I should think about my future family life, I would have laughed. Why? Because I never thought I’d have a child. I never thought that I would fall in love. That being said, even though I had the time and opportunity to go to school - I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. My parents simply wanted me to do something I enjoyed and that paid well so that I could take care of myself. Do you know what pushed me far; to go after my dreams; to find my dreams in the first place? It was getting pregnant at 22 and being stuck at a dead end job. Sure, I left work at 4:30. But, from 8:30 til then, I was completely miserable. This was not the kind of life I wanted for my son. To have a mother so unhappy with her job day in and day out. While being a mother was a dream fulfilled, it was not all of my dreams. It was one of several that I had for myself. Having my son only solidified my belief that one can find their dreams and if you fight and work hard enough, you can have them. I didn’t have the option or luxury of staying home with my son. I had to work. There was no choice for me with that one. But, I had a choice in the quality of my life with my child. I wanted to show my son that you can achieve your dreams regardless of what happens. Ie even if you have a child. I finished my last year of undergrad when my son was three. And he was my biggest cheerleader at my graduation. And then again when I graduated with a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling last year, when he hugged me after I received my hood. Yes, I missed some things in his life. But, the quality of my life now is far better than it would have been had I not made that decision to finish college and continue on to grad school. I’m not saying it wasn’t hard. It was very hard. My time with my son was limited to morning time dropping him off and afternoon phone calls when he got home from school or when I had breaks during class. But, I made it work and I had support. I feel that women can accomplish anything as long as there is support in place. I don’t feel that women should be deterred from their future goals because of future family. If in fact, that’s what one person wants, then she can think and plan. But what about someone like me, who never dreamed of having children and who didn’t know what career she wanted? My child was the best thing that ever happened to me and my career. My hope is that my son (who by the way has an A average in the 3rd grade) will follow his dreams. I encourage him to finish college and ask him what his goals are. He wants to be a scientist. I fully support that for him. But, in the event that he becomes a father, I will still continue to encourage him to follow his dreams. Because dreams are to be had even if we are parents.

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