Tuesday, February 28, 2012

mommy wars

Since I am a psychology major I had to take a one-credit course titled “Science, Practice, and Policy.” The basic premise of the course is that we learn about the different fields of psychology and what careers we can pursue with a psychology major. The two final assignments for the class are a journal reflecting on all of the different speakers and how they relate to a career we may want to pursue and a résumé that we would give to potential employers. I knew beforehand that I want to be a clinical psychologist, so this is what I focused on in my journal and résumé. Yet this career path poses some potential issues for me, and it has to do with what gender studies refers to as the “Mommy Wars,” or the seemingly opposing goals of devotion to motherhood and a professional career.

I am a very driven individual, and I worked and continue to work hard in school so that I can earn my Ph.D. in clinical psychology and practice as a clinician. The work of psychologists corresponds well with my personal values, and I feel like I will be able to achieve my personal and professional goals through this career. Yet it involves a lot of training. Graduate programs range anywhere from 5-7 years depending on how disciplined I am in writing my dissertation. So that puts me between 27 and 29 years old upon graduation, and that is if I go to graduate school right after I am finished with undergrad. And of course this is not the advised thing to do. Graduate programs stress experience, both in the lab and life in general. Not to mention I would love to take a break for a year or two to do service. When else am I going to be free to do this? So let’s say I take off two years between undergraduate and graduate school. Now I am between 29 to 31 years old by the time I graduate. For those who are okay with immense amounts of schooling, this seems perfectly fine. After all, I’ll have 30-40 more years practicing my career. So where is the problem?

Kids. Though my career is important to me, I feel like my true calling is motherhood. And I’m not talking one or two kids—I’m thinking four to six. Of course I am speaking before having a child of my own, but as of now this is what I want. And as long as I am physically able, I would like kids that share my DNA. So here’s where the profession vs. family issue comes in. I could start having kids in graduate school, but a grad student’s earnings are not incredibly sufficient for raising a family, and then I would be in school even longer because I most likely could not attend full time, since I would have (and would want) to take care of my children. So what about waiting until after I graduate? After all, I would probably have a stable job. But once a woman hits 35, the risk of Down syndrome and pregnancy complications rise. So if I started having kids at 31 upon graduation, I would, theoretically, have four promising years for childbearing. Four years, four kids. All is good, right? Wrong. If I had four kids in four years, I would always be pregnant or nursing. Not to mention when would I be able to work? I would be a new psychologist, and I could not establish credibility and a reputation if I am unable to practice.

So what do I choose? The family that will bring me joy and fulfillment, or the career that I prepared for for more than a decade? Do I necessarily have to choose? Perhaps all of my plans will change or will be thwarted when I reach this age, who knows, but the question is still an important one. Do women always have to compromise at least part of their dream, whether it be related to family or work? It seems that men don’t have to do so. They aren’t the ones knocked out of commission by pregnancy, and they certainly can produce lots of little healthy babies past the age of 35. I’m not trying to throw a man-hating party here. I’m just trying to look at the facts, to examine whether they even are facts.

So, the ultimate question, can a woman really not have it all?

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