Sunday, 24 October 2010

Peers and promise

I had the benefit of an amazing undergraduate education at a prestigious university. I learned so much, academically, socially and personally. I was no doubt quite a different sort of person than I am now. Yes, I was concerned with saving the planet and the people of Myanmar, and was an early supporter of the Fair Trade movement in the UK. I tried to stop motorway development with direct action and got a Member of Parliament's fellowship withdrawn because of his contribution to education cuts. But it was still pretty much all about me.

It was, admittedly, a fantastic time to be young and enjoy oneself. Rave culture, recreational drugs, Glastonbury, and the LGBT community were an important part of my world. Student politics, stage managing a drama production at the Edinburgh Festival, busking Christmas carols and dabbling in journalism were also things I got involved in. I knew a lot of my peers, but had quite a small, close group of friends; we spent a lot of time sitting around drinking, smoking and castigating the state of the world.

Fast forward almost 15 years since graduation, and many of my friends from that time are fulfilling their early promise. One is Director of Strategy and Planning at the British Library (and a wife and mother of two.) Another writes a regular column for a national Sunday newspaper. A third is a research scientist, a fourth a published academic who has held a professorship. My dear friend Edmund, godfather of my middle child, has many composition credits to his name. It's the same with my wider peer group. The president of our Junior Common Room was private secretary to our last Prime Minister. Natasha Kaplinksy (who used to bounce in to breakfast in her netball gear, having not partaken of any of the debauchery down in Hertford College Bar the previous night) is a famous TV personality and newsreader. It may not be long before people I knew at university are trying to run the country.

But not all of us have continued down the prestigious path, myself included. My husband sometimes jokes that if I had done the 'milkround' for a job in the City I'd be pulling in 60k per annum and we'd be rich. Instead, I'm a wife and mother to three girls, doing volunteer work and studying towards church ministry. But it seems that career riches weren't to be. And if I had sought them, I possibly wouldn't have been in the place to meet my husband, develop our relationship, and start a family.

But I don't feel disappointed, bitter or insecure. It doesn't make us any of us other graduates less worthy (or, for that matter, those who haven't been exposed to a college education.) All of us have paths to follow, and promise to be fulfilled. There may be several different ways we can travel through life, but ultimately we need to find what is right, and what is meant for us. For me, a glittering academic career was not on the cards. Yet I have never felt second best to those whose job titles attract more attention than 'wife and mother'. That's for them, and my path is for me. I know I'm fulfilling my potential in terms of the person God hoped I would be and the role I currently carry out. Looking at it from a human point of view, it may look like a failure to succeed in an aspirational arena. But I have long since stopped seeking the praise of individuals and this post was never designed as an apology.

Since the Child Benefit debacle, I have spoken to so many 'wives and mothers' who believe that the role is their most important achievement, and I think I agree. My education to date has placed me in a good position to develop my understanding of theology, and hopefully a wider ministry once my family needs me less. I am not contributing directly to the economy, nor a shining light of my university alumni. Yet, my role is crucial, valuable and special, and if it were all I ever achieved, it would be more than enough. I contribute widely and importantly to my family, just not in a financial sense. I don't measure my worth in income, possessions and appearance, but in relationships, happy girls and how supported my husband feels this week. There are thousands of us who feel this way, and I'm proud to fly our flag. This thinking may have confounded me as an undergraduate (more than all those books on archaeology and anthropology!) but it doesn't make me defensive or disappointed now. If people don't get it, they don't get it; I'll continue standing up for what I believe in.

This post was part-inspired by what Kate Wicker wrote about her feelings at a recent visit to her alma mater and a previous post about being in the company of her husband's colleagues. We are all challenged by what others think (and what we think they think!) of our role at times, and need to boost each other up. Boost up the mothers (and fathers!) around you as often as you can and let them know how important they are and what a great job they are doing. Do it today!

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