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Is a College Education a Waste for SAHMs?

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Why seek out higher education if you don't intend to use it? It's a question that's being thrown at stay-at-home moms across the nation ... and causing a big debate.

Certificate of Education

Christina Montoya Fiedler: My frustration with the question flared up when I read a rousing piece on MSN entitled, "Is Mom Wasting Her College Degree?"

Well, am I?

I graduated (with honors) from Chapman University, a small, private liberal arts school in Orange, CA. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, I have the loan payments to prove it. Am I working in some high-powered position bringing in a six-figure salary? No. But was it worth it? Of course. I am a mom and a college-educated woman -- a college-educated woman who made the educated choice to stay at home with her child.

First of all, this concept that mothers are wasting their money on college if they decide to "just stay home instead" totally demoralizes being a mother. It's flawed in so many ways. It insinuates that being a stay-at-home mom is somehow less important than other so-called real-world jobs. I beg to differ.

College degrees are much more than a means to make a monetary living. Perhaps I speak for myself, but going to college made me a well-rounded person. My knowledge of life, history, culture, literature, science spreads far and wide. I met some of the most interesting people in my life in college, and all of them touched my soul in different ways, shaping me into the person I am today. All of this I pass on to my children.

Because I was a journalism major and now I'm not following a beat at a local paper, or writing a memoir, or donning a business suit and riding the subway to work, am I making less of that education than others? Nope.

Ever heard of "the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world"? I'm pretty sure my job has some serious relevance in today's society, yet I should not have to defend why I choose to stay home. In fact, I might have the most power position of all.

I use my college education in every decision I make, every word I write, every conversation I have -- it's part of me. One thing cannot be separated from the next.

What do you think?

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64 comments so far | Post a comment now
Jenny December 16, 2009, 5:54 AM

I agree that college is a great experience, I went, I didn’t get my degree because I fell in love with EMS and went into that field and at that time you didn’t need a degree for it. I am glad that I don’t have school loans because then I wouldn’t be able to afford staying home. I do think a degree is a good idea though, heaven forbid your husband dies or you get divorced!

Jennifer December 16, 2009, 6:00 AM

Sounds like something my ex used to say to me, because in his mind, all I was good for was housework and babies. I dumped him, majored in English/Sociology and now work as an Underwriter. The only value of my two degrees is I can write a clear, coherent e-mail.

Robin December 16, 2009, 7:19 AM

It’s great if your spouse can provide for the whole family, but you also have to be prepared to support yourself and your children if something happens. What if hubby gets hurt? Even if he gets disability it won’t support an entire family. What if he dies? My mother found herself widowed with a baby at the age of 20 when her husband was killed in Vietnam.

LM December 16, 2009, 7:30 AM

A college degree…or rather the education behind that degree is a wonderful thing to have. As others have said, you should be capable of supporting yourself and your family even if you don’t have to at the moment.

And even as a SAHM having that education is valuable. SAHMs negotiate health insurance and doctor forms, have to argue the legalities (lack there of rather) of perpetually open sewer mains with stubborn city officials, help children with schoolwork, and hundreds of other tasks every day.

To top it off, not all SAHMs don’t “work”. I am a SAHM, work from home, and homeschool my daughter. If nothing else the college experience taught me to multitask and open doors with my feet when carrying enough stuff for 3 pack mules.

Anonymous December 16, 2009, 8:47 AM

As a person who is still paying back huge student loans (I guess all the SAHMs had theirs paid for) I think yes, a degree is a waste of money on a SAHM. If you KNOW that’s all you want to do I would say don’t waste the money - stay home, have kids and after they are in school you can go to school. You’d get a lot of financial breaks that way.

Good choices December 16, 2009, 10:41 AM

One can get an excellent college education without debt or very little debt (working through college, going to a state university, taking advantage of the community college option.) It’s insane to go into a huge debt for a college education that does not have a promise of a lucrative pay, or if you don’t intend to work. But to say SAHM don’t benefit from college education is insane. What is insane is anyone going into debt over their education without a plan to repay.

Anonymous December 16, 2009, 12:00 PM

Good choices - I DID work FULL TIME (in addition to my part time job)while in school AND went to community college and a state school. Still cost 35K - there’s not much cheaper than 10 k/year in the northeast. I did have a plan to repay until my work did not follow through on their end witht he promised position. And I AM repaying.

I’m sure you had some kind of help from your parents at some point in your life. I however, have not. I come from a poor family and have been completely paying for all my needs since 16.
And clearly you agree w/my statement - if you plan on staying home a degree is a waste of money. I planned on working so my degree won’t go to waste.

Susan Millberry December 16, 2009, 12:14 PM

I am a SAHM w/ a masters degree…a lot of people in my family say that I wasted my degree…hello? my degrees are in education…I use them every single day…and w/ a degree in education, when my DH and looked at my going back to work, after childcare, purchasing another car, insurance on that car, etc, etc…I would be bringing home about $700 a month w/ the pitiful paycheck teachers get..therefore, it is worth more to our family for me to stay at home…and use my degree w/o pay…

Diana Landen December 16, 2009, 12:45 PM

I am amazed at how little people value taking care of children. We say that the first five years are critical. We want high-quality care for all our children. We know they are our future. Then we suggest that child care workers should be uneducated?

Attacking SAHMs this way is an insult to all child care workers. Child care is valuable, important work. Educated care givers will do a better job. If you were hiring a nanny or pre-school teacher, all other things being equal, wouldn’t you want the one with a college degree?

Melanie December 16, 2009, 12:51 PM

I can’t believe there are WOMEN on here saying a SAHM shouldn’t waste the time and money. How many of you knew you were going to be a SAHM before you went to college? I sure didn’t think that is how I would spend my 20’s. My life plan didn’t have children schedualed in till 30 but I chose to get married and have children in my 20’s. A college education is a great thing for everyone. Would any of you tell your daughter not to go to college because she thinks one day she would like to be a SAHM?

Erin December 16, 2009, 1:04 PM

I am also a SAHM with a Master’s Degree. I definitely feel like my education is not going to waste. I can use that learning experience every day to help my children grow. SAHMs are managers and multitaskers. And when my kids go to school, I’ll be able to go back to work and pay for THEIR college education that they deserve, as well.

Melissa December 16, 2009, 7:13 PM

I am a SAHM who also works 3 jobs from home AND is going to school full time working on my master’s. I tried to go to college after high school but decided that I wasn’t dedicated enough. I waited until I was 24, had kids, and knew what I wanted to do until I started again. I plan on being a SAHM until my kids are all in school and then I know that having my degree will allow me the freedom to work on my own schedule and help provide for my family and my childrens’ future education.

Azucar December 16, 2009, 8:19 PM

Something I learned in Econ 110:

The number one factor in how successful a child will be is its mother’s education.

Father’s education? Socio-economic levels? Parent’s professions? Race? NONE of it is as important as how educated the mother is.

So just remember, the next generation of citizens is being raised by mothers—shouldn’t we be begging women to get a college education?

Alicia December 16, 2009, 8:43 PM

I was a SAHM for just a year, right after I finished my PhD (my second child was born 12 days after I graduated). It was maybe the most difficult year of my life! I have tremendous respect for SAHMs. I decided to go back to work after that year (but chose to teach middle school special ed, another low-pay, “you’re not using your degree” choice). I did that for three years before opting for a higher-pay job (still not “six figures,” though, ha) that’s geared more toward my degree.

It’s insulting to be told that you’re “wasting” your degree by being a SAHM. First of all, you get SO much more out of being college educated than a degree that can “do” something for you. I was the first college graduate in my family, and I went to an excellent private liberal arts college 2,000 miles from my family. Those two things alone were priceless. Yes, I have HUGE student loans (most from grad school, though), but I am who I am because I went to school there. It goes so beyond the classes, the money, the degree.

And secondly, it’s not like staying at home is a choice you make FOREVER.

I think it’s funny we’re not discussing SAHDs at all (my husband has been a SAHD at different times too)… Double standard?

Dr. Gardenswartz December 17, 2009, 8:58 AM

I think a college degree is very important for SAHMs. First of all, many SAHMs are employed before and after children, and the ability to learn, grow and experience a higher education is valuable for everyone and applied to all areas of life, conversation and intellect.

Ingrid Winckler December 17, 2009, 11:22 AM

I couldn’t agree more! With two college degrees, I chose to be a stay-at-home-mom because I felt the best contribution to society was not earning money, but raising respectful, productive citizens who had received consistent training in a loving environment. I thought of my position as professional homemaker instead of “just a” homemaker. I continually honed my skills to provide the best parenting model possible for our children and future generations. My college education helped me develop as a well-rounded person with more awareness of the world. I also used my education for income on the side. Using our education doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can stay home and make money. Also, a lot of employed moms aren’t using their degrees in a direct way either.

Beth December 18, 2009, 10:52 AM

Hmm, I have to agree w/anonymous somewhat. Degrees are expensive and it seems most of the women I know had parents pay for their education so in that case, fine get the degree since you’re not gaining any debt even if you don’t technically use your degree. Otherwise I’d say if you KNOW you want to be a SAHM it’s a waste of money to get your degree unless you have someone to pay for it. Even if I wanted to I could never afford to be a SAHM because of my and my husband’s student loans. Ideally in a perfect world I’d work part time and be home part time, but I chose an education instead - but we both had to finance our educations entirely on our own (in a very expensive part of the country). My sisters always knew they wanted to be SAHM so they did not go to school and can now stay home. My older sister’s children are now in school full time and she has decided to get her degree - I think that’s the smartest move.

Kate December 28, 2009, 6:15 AM

A SAHM is what I do now. It is not all the I am, it does not define me, it is a part of who I am and what I do. My experiences directly impact my kids from those of my past, current experiences and those of the future. I’m raising children not serving children.

Katherine January 8, 2010, 1:42 PM

A degree is not a waste for a SAHM. My mom, who was a SAHM, did not go to college and just planned on being a SAHM. Eventually she had to get a job because a family of five can’t get along on a single income salary. I know her options were and are limited in this job market because she doesn’t have a degree. College, I must say, though is not for everyone and technical or trade schools are viable options. My advice to anyone choosing a major is first see if you can make a living on it. Russian lit maybe fun to study but unless you become a teacher, it is not the best choice.

Peter Catalano February 1, 2010, 7:54 AM

I am grateful for my wife’s degree. She has been able to help with income during this economic down turn. Whereas it is not my first choice, it is reality. If she did not have the degree, I am confident her job prospects would be far less.

Whereas I am a big fan of earning a college degree, I am not a fan of mounds of debt. MyEdunation might be a good solution.

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