I said that someday I would go back. After all, we were expecting our first baby, my husband needed to get his education under way, and the thought of juggling a new baby, a young marriage, his schooling, and then mine too… well that just seemed like too much to contemplate.
I made the conscious choice to step away from college. I had only taken a few classes, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, so it didn’t seem to be that much of a sacrifice. I went to work raising babies, supporting my husband as he worked and learned, and taking pride in the fact that I was doing the most important work of all.
Four babies later (with one more still to come), my husband had completed his undergraduate degree and was beginning the process of postgraduate work. I realized that unless I acted, no one was going to force me to go to college. I realized that someday was never going to come. Instead it was time for me to act. I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that having a college degree was an important first step.
When the acceptance letter to the local community college came, I hung it on the fridge with pride. I was going to be a college student. Maybe I was a bit older than the average college freshman, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.
My first role and responsibility was my family, but I also knew that caring for myself would help to make me an even better mother and wife. I began getting my general education credits. Every class that I took was online. I did homework during nap-time. I studied early in the morning and late at night. Instead of collapsing on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and the TV remote, I had a textbook and a highlighter.
My identity shifted. I was still a mother and a wife, and I gloried in those roles, but I was also a student. I was learning, and I was taking advantage of today instead of waiting until someday. I had begun by taking two classes, then I moved on to three, until eventually I was taking a full course load of five classes.
People would ask my children what it was like having mom in school, their answer was a confused look. For them it was normal to work around midterms and professors and scholarships and obscure social science terms. Education had become a part of our family culture.
Eventually I completed my associate degree and then transferred to a university. From the time I applied to the community college to graduation day this past May, was seven years. There were many long days and even longer nights, but the time really did fly by. There was the pressure of final exams along with the awesome responsibility of parenting, but I was able to put on my cap and gown and wave to my family as I was handed my diploma. The feeling of gratitude for my journey was unlike any other.
Did going to college make me smarter? Well, I certainly learned things that I hadn’t known. I also learned that I was a person who could do hard things. I set a goal, and even when it seemed like I would be in school until long after my children were grown and gone, I kept going. I needed to learn those things about myself.
Research by the Utah Women and Leadership Project (2018) has shown that children who live in a home with educated parents are healthier, happier, and better off. Women who have college degrees give birth to healthier babies, on average live longer lives, participate substantially more in civic and community activities, and have better intellectual and cognitive skills. In addition, the many benefits to the individual include improved self- understanding, greater independence, better self-esteem, an openness to diversity and racial understanding, and an increased quality of life.
In our home, education seeped its way into our everyday life. When I had a lecture to watch, there would often be a child or two by my side. Research projects always involved a first presentation to my family. Dinner time conversations included the pros and cons of different colleges or what major would best fit our family’s goals. It’s expected that everyone in our home will seek further education. Whether that’s at a university or somewhere else, we know that education doesn’t stop just because you’re an adult.
I knew that God wanted me to stay on this education path. He provided inspiration for how to manage our time and money to make this possible. In return, I felt it was important to make a visible sacrifice. When my husband and I began our education paths, we promised that we would never do any kind of schoolwork on Sundays. I reserved that day for Him. As with many of the so-called sacrifices that we make for God, I was blessed in incredible ways. One of those Divine interventions came by way of laundry day. When I did the laundry I never took the time to sort white clothes from colored clothes; instead I just threw it all in the load. Miracle of miracles, we never had a laundry mishap. I believe that my Father said, “You are keep keeping My day holy and I will take care of the laundry.” And He did. There were many times when I felt my efforts magnified, when facts came to my mind during an exam, or when I simply had the energy to keep studying.
I also learned that receiving my diploma didn’t mean that learning was over. I still read books about gender, families, education, and child development. Now it’s for fun rather than for a grade. We live in an unprecedented age of learning; watch that TED talk, read a book, talk to a neighbor, be intentional with your time. Education isn’t limited to the classroom and knowledge isn’t limited to the young.
Utah Women and Leadership Project. Why Should Utah Women Graduate from College? The Benefits of Higher Education. March 1, 2018. https://www.uvu.edu/uwlp/docs/collegebenefits.pdf
Written by Kristen Miles