“Why should I get a degree when I’ll spend the rest of my life raising children?” New Era, Mar. 1971, 38
Answer/Sister Emma Lou Thayne
Last night was Thursday and everyone was home (untypical), and everyone was busy (typical). Rinda, seventeen, had to write a paragraph for English using a wild list of vocabulary words, and she wanted some ideas. Dinny, twelve, was struggling with a report on Treasure Island to be given orally and wondered how to make it interesting. Shelley, fifteen, was sandwiching geometry theorems between preparations for a report in American Problems on movie ratings and pornography, and she wanted my views. Becky, nineteen, wanted to know a good book to read and asked what I thought about the issue of faculty tenure as reported in the college newspaper that day. Megan, eight, needed some poems to take for library day and asked where to find some information on planets.
On a night like that, I am especially glad for some resources provided by my past to bolster my pretty-tattered present.
This was not an unusual night, either. It’s like that most of the time—everyone wanting a quick hand with some homework or, more important, a little advice on this or that—an opinion or an idea or a way to go. Ever since I started “spending the rest of my life raising children,” I have been constantly challenged to keep alive my children’s interest in learning by drawing on my own. Never once have I wondered about the value of those years spent in the classroom and on campus that prepared me in unexpected ways to meet this so-called easy challenge of being a mother.
But at the time I certainly never planned my education around motherhood. When I majored in English, it was not with any thought concerning my future offspring and stories they might like to hear; nor did minoring in speech have anything to do with the fact that in years to come I would be wistfully listening to small voices at the pulpit echoing beginnings and endings born of classes taken “just because.” And little did I dream that registering for Greek Mythology or Anatomy 1 or tennis would prepare me for times ahead when myths would soothe sick tummies, naming of bones would help construct “The Visible Man” in the play room, and swinging rackets in Little League would unite a family in happy play. Also, in addition to the specifics gained from subjects, the essence of them sank in somewhere and gave me a feel for finding and using facts and organizing ideas and material. And how was I to know that such skills could also help in organizing a household or a birthday party, locating answers to algebra problems, or supervising the remodeling of a basement sewing room?
Besides classes, there were other aspects of college that intrigued me and later colored my whole life as a person, a wife, and a mother. Everywhere there were new people, new ideas, committees and causes. A university is a uniquely focused, moving, generating, smashing, and building thing that can pry open latent abilities and creative thinking, while it squeezes out prejudice and shallow-mindedness. It exposed me to respect for the past, awareness of the present, and concern for the future. More than anything, the university gave me a feeling for my own potential, together with a genuine reverence for the skill, knowledge, and possibility in others. I learned there the most valuable lesson of all—to listen and to give other people’s ideas a chance.
Now I ricochet through any night before any morning like thousands of other mothers, trying to supply incentive, sources, and satisfaction for minds that wonder and seek and ask. And I unconsciously utilize then, as in every other challenge of my life, the tools that help me to help my children because of getting that “useless” degree.