Like many Latter-day Saint girls, I was raised to anticipate marriage and motherhood. But I was also raised with an equally consistent injunction to be educated and ambitious, and it was never really questioned that, at least at some point, I would have a career.
I grew up outside of Utah in a home where the values I was taught regarding my future role in life were fairly well-balanced between family responsibility and career pursuits.
I appreciate that parity even more now that I have spent the last six years living in the Beehive State where many other young women within my demographic have had a different experience. Though my father had a college degree, my mother had started having children very young – in fact, she graduated high school two months after giving birth to my older half-brother as an unwed teenager. Still, these differences in educational attainment (and the fact that they divorced during my childhood) did not affect their shared expectations for me and my siblings in the least.
While my mom, in particular, emphasized the importance of family, both parents were strongly supportive of my academic and extracurricular pursuits. Discussion of college had begun before my age had entered the double digits. I was just 11 when I first visited a campus.
As a result of my egalitarian upbringing, it had never occurred to me that I could not have both a family and a career (after all, my mom did). I was seventeen before I encountered a certain idea typically prevalent within my faith culture: that good, worthy motherhood was only of the full-time stay-at-home variety, and that I should never expect to work outside my own four walls except in emergency circumstances. Realizing that this was the way my faith community expected me to behave left me devastated and confused – especially since I had also been taught by that same faith community to value education and progression. I loved learning. I had exciting aspirations. I didn’t understand why my gender automatically decided my fate, requiring me to completely sacrifice my goals.
I wanted (and still want) children, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
Still, I put this confusion out of my head, moved to Utah, and had a great, rewarding college experience. In addition to classes, my five years included a research assistantship, two internships, and daily work alongside professor mentors who prepped me for my career of choice and aided me in the job search.
Also during this time, I met a great guy at my university and we got married. I was only 20 at the time and a sophomore. Though I had observed that it was fairly common for other girls around me to quit and devote themselves entirely to their new families upon marriage, there was never a question in my mind that I would finish my degree and find a job. I graduated, and since then have been the full-time breadwinner in my field while my husband finishes his own education.
It has been a very empowering experience, not just to know that I could provide for a family in theory, but because my ability to do so has already saved us.
This past year, completely without warning, my husband experienced numerous severe health problems unusual for someone of his age. In the last twelve months, he has had three surgeries and about seven separate hospitalizations. Not only has this set him behind in his schooling, but I cannot imagine where we would be financially if I had chosen to drop out. If I didn’t have a stable, well-paying career that enabled me to look to our bills and other needs while he has spent months convalescing, our circumstances could truly have been dire.
Many frame the need for a woman to have an education in terms of these emergency circumstances, and while I think that this reasoning is overly simplistic, I am living proof that it is not wrong.
But even if I hadn’t learned this lesson in such a drastic way, I would still feel the way I do about the educational path I have chosen because I can see the benefits in my life. I strongly believe that life is about finding joy in a journey of growth, betterment, and service. I love my life and my work. A life juggling work and family can be difficult and I know better than to romanticize it too much. But overall, I would not trade the confidence, knowledge, and opportunities I have had from completing my degree and entering the workforce. The people I have met and the experiences I have had have been invaluable.
My education and professional experiences have already instilled in me a love for learning and a drive to help others. I believe that my marriage, children, and community will be better off because of my choices.
I am so thankful for the many women who have so ably demonstrated a life beyond the “either/or” dichotomy of family and education and pushed me into the richness of finding the path that is meant for me. I have a mother who has found a rewarding career despite a life fraught with challenges – who has succeeded in her field despite her lack of traditional higher education. I have friends who have challenged stereotypes to attain degrees in science, medicine, and business. And I’ve had female bosses, professors, and mentors who run organizations and companies, write books, and publish research while still being fantastic mothers – one of which managed her personal and professional responsibilities while living in a foreign country for several years.
It may not be easy, but I have seen that it is possible, and I’m looking forward to this challenge.
Katy Barnes is the Editor at Legacy Tree Genealogists, a research firm based in Salt Lake City. She holds a B.A. in Family History and Genealogy from Brigham Young University, where she spent over two years as the lead research assistant at the academic Center for Family and Genealogy. Katy grew up in Texas and is married to Chase, a computer engineer. In addition to her major field, she is interested in immigration, education, music, and philanthropy. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, music, travel, and snowboarding.