Chasing Degrees and Economic Independence

Chasing Degrees and Economic Independence

When I was little, my mother ingrained in me that I should ‘never’ become economically dependent on a man. She gave up a college degree in music to become a stay at home mom, and she stayed at home for about 25 years and five children before finding her way back to college to major in Art and minor in Education. She then worked for 15 more years as an assistant in various special education classes, mostly with high school students. Since my father was self-employed and never really thought about things like…retirement, my parent’s comfortable health plan in their sunset years is thanks to my mother.

I never questioned my mother’s advice to remain economically independent. I knew it had to do with her frustration with rarely being able to prioritize her own needs. I also knew she also wanted me to always feel I could leave a bad relationship if I needed to. So, while I loved music my first year of college, I turned to science because I didn’t think I could remain independent as a musician. I first studied botany because I loved plants, but then turned to genetics and molecular biology because I didn’t think I could remain independent as a botanist. I entered graduate school rather than entering the workforce after undergraduate studies, because I didn’t think I could remain independent as a Research Tech.

During my college days I did get married; people called us a perfect match and “two peas in a pod.” However, at times felt I had to fight for what I thought were my career rights. No, I wasn’t willing to drop my education in order to support my partner’s desire to complete a post-doc in England (I did follow him to Norway though, where I completed my graduate studies… and even though he supported me economically in the beginning, I constantly searched for ways to remain independent).

No, I wasn’t willing to wait for him to finish his degree so we could move elsewhere together, I just jumped into the next degree and instead he had to wait for me. At times my guilt told me I was a bad wife, however, the core of me couldn’t let go of the need to remain economically independent. I wonder, do men feel like bad husbands for squelching their wives’ career goals?

Despite my economic independence, I was emotionally needy in the first years of our marriage, but at some point I became less so. I went out with my own friends, began planning my own vacations if he didn’t want to go to someplace ‘warm’, and took up running, something that now takes up a lot of my time.

My career independence caused conflict in our marriage. By the time I entered the workforce in biotech, I found it easier to hand over my business trip per diems to my husband to alleviate the stress from asking him to take care of the house and our daughter while I was gone. This kept the home front less conflicted.

So, yes, I paid my husband to be a house and baby sitter. Interestingly, he never paid me for even one of his business trips during that same time... although, I also never complained when he traveled. It’s all good now, but I did feel resentment from those early professional years for a good while after and wonder if I wasn’t so harried as a mom and professional whether I could have been better at both.  On the other hand though, had he not stepped up and helped out to the extent that he did (more than the average guy I would say), it would have been much more difficult back then and now.

My career drive has resulted in me becoming the main breadwinner in the family, with all the responsibility and work that involves. At times I just want to stay home and garden and raise cute fluffy animals, but I made a choice to remain economically independent… and now I honestly don’t know how else to be.

While my husband and I suffered through years of conflict, I feel finally that we are reaching a sort of understanding, that I am independent but we can enjoy time with each other … and support each other. In fact, he’s incredibly supportive now.

And our daughter? Well… I can already tell… she is definitely going to be economically independent.

The Uphill Battle for Representation in STEM

The Uphill Battle for Representation in STEM

Special Feature: Equal Pay Day

Special Feature: Equal Pay Day