When faced with the prospect of an average of over $30,000 in student loan debt to pursue a bachelor’s degree with the average borrower taking 20 years to pay off their debt as interest accrues all the while, and on top of that, no guarantee of gainful employment afterward, women who hope to marry and have children may benefit from reexamining how they pursue their education, career, and family goals. As many new moms find that their feelings toward their work change as their love and attachment to their baby grows, they may desire more flexible work, part-time work, or to pause work altogether to be able to spend more time with their child. By side-stepping an education that requires monthly loan payments, which in turn builds the pressure to keep kids in full-time daycare, women can find other, perhaps better, ways to prepare for both their career and motherhood.
The truth is, unless your goal is securing a high-level corporate job or a profession that requires extensive schooling like becoming a doctor, there’s no real reason that you need a college degree to pursue your passions. In many cases, having children doesn’t limit your intellectual and career development. You might even find that having a child gives you a burst of energy and creativity you didn’t even know you had and the motivation to make your own personal dreams come true too.
Start with Your Passions, Talents, and Interests
So where do you start, and what could this look like? You can begin by asking yourself where your interests and talents lie. Do some journaling, let yourself dream, make lists, or ask family and friends what abilities they see in you that you might have been taking for granted. Think about the activities that make time fly for you or that make you feel like you’re contributing something valuable to your community. Then consider the sorts of career paths that would incorporate these things that matter most to you and can still give you the time and space to be the mom you want to be.
This kind of soul-searching might save you some of the time and money that I spent on my own degree, a BFA in music. While I did find it valuable to be around other serious musicians and to intensely dedicate my focus to my craft for those years, my degree wasn’t actually necessary for my career. The money I earn from music is largely from teaching private lessons, as well as performing and recording my own music as a singer/songwriter. For the latter, no degree is necessary. For the former, most music schools value experience on an instrument or your performance CV or your previous teaching resume much more than a degree. The first company that hired me out of college didn’t require one, and I used that job experience as a springboard for the next, better opportunity. Other ways I earn money are by making and selling jewelry, and writing the occasional article, like this one. Neither of these require a degree either.
Explore Alternative Education Options
Especially now, there are so many ways to get an education that have nothing to do with attending a university, and some of these ways are actually much more interesting, challenging, and fulfilling. As Mark Twain put it, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” One of these ways is getting on-the-job experience, like I did with my first teaching gig. If there is a way you can get an entry-level position in your field of interest, by all means, start there and work your way up, learning invaluable job and life skills as you go.
For some, trade school is a better route to a job that pays well, gives you a chance to learn and grow your skills, and save up money so you can have flexibility during the time you’re raising your children. If you love to take care of people, you might enjoy becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse through a trade school program. If you love cooking and food, you could study Culinary Arts. If you’ve always had a knack for makeup and aesthetics, you might find studying Cosmetology fulfilling.
If trade school isn’t for you, look into local or online courses or study one-on-one with a teacher.
If trade school isn’t for you, but you do want to dive deeper into a certain topic, craft, or field, you could look into local or online courses or study one-on-one with a teacher. I’ve found taking private music lessons, for example, to be one of the most valuable ways to study music, and it’s also much more cost-effective than enrolling in a degree program. Additionally, I’ve taken advantage of affordable, non-college classes on subjects like starting a small business, jewelry-making, and music teaching certifications, both locally and online.
No matter which way you choose to seek your education, if you’re a young woman hoping to become a mother someday, you might especially want to seek flexibility in your career. One way to find that flexibility is by being your own boss by starting a small business. A new mom of a 9-month-old girl I met recently started a small business selling vintage clothing at pop-up markets and through her social media. This allows her to work when she has the time and to only take in-person opportunities that make sense for her and her family.
Freelancing is another great avenue for flexibility. If you’re passionate about something like writing or design, you could work on your portfolio in order to freelance those skills. You might build name recognition by starting out with some discounted projects or reach out to friends and family to see if anyone currently needs the skills you have to offer. Freelancing also allows you to take on as many or as few clients as you might want at the time, so you could, for instance, start with one or two and build to full-time when your children are older.
I’ve tried aspects of all of these things. As an independent contractor, I’ve been able to set my own teaching hours so that I only work when my husband is home. I’ve been able to move most of my lessons to our own home to maximize work time versus commuting time. Although I’ve significantly cut back on the number of students I work with each week, I know that I can eventually add more as it works for my family. When I find myself with unexpected free time, I can write or work on my music or jewelry, and our baby enjoys popping over to the post office with me whenever I sell something online.
You can work while your baby is sleeping, while your husband is home, or with a part-time babysitter.
Part-time work for a mother with young children can look like anything from 28 hours a week to a few hours every other Friday, depending on the mom and the family. You may find that you can work while your baby is sleeping, while your husband is home, or with a part-time babysitter or doting grandparent over to help. There are also various opportunities for part-time daycare or preschool. Many community centers also offer “kid care” at very low rates while the parent remains in the building, with quiet areas where you could get some work done hands-free. There are as many ways to balance this as there are mothers.
Consider the Financial Details
Some non-college career routes can also provide options that traditional post-college jobs don’t. For instance, some help you develop skills that can be used to save money in your own life, like hairstyling, interior decorating, or party planning. Career skills like baking or running a small business translate directly into the skill sets needed to run a household effectively.
Then there are non-college careers like photography, coaching, or massage therapy, that offer high hourly rates that can compensate for the lower number of hours busy moms might have available for work. With the right motivation, dedication, and ambition, all of these options can be available to women who decide to take alternative educational routes. And it’s not too late for current moms to rework their work/life balance in a similar way either.
At a time when it can be difficult for families to make ends meet on one income (66% of married couples are dual income today compared to 47% in the 1960s), along with the soaring price of college tuition and still no guarantee of gainful employment, I’d like to suggest that women give themselves permission to consider alternate educational paths. It’s possible to find your way to a fulfilling career future that uses your talents and interests without going deeply into debt, sacrificing your ideal experience of motherhood, or putting off or forgoing motherhood altogether.
I, and many others, are living proof that a woman can use this holistic approach to craft a flexible and engaging work life that can wax and wane alongside the demands of being a mom while providing flourishing and fulfillment for both her and her family. I know you can find the right balance for your career goals, financial situation, and the needs of you and your family, too.
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