A Scientific Love


The trouble I have with romantic comedies is that I can never really relate to the conflicts within them. Mostly because the conflicts are usually so far fetched they don’t reflect any kind of reality or are easily avoided. (Try not to lie to someone the first time you meet them. Don’t tell yourself that Gerard Butler is going to turn into a nice guy. Avoid breaking up your best friend’s wedding. Etc.) But the stuff that Novem Auyeung writes about today, about the fear of what it means to step into the role of wife, that is much closer to the kind of thing that used to keep me up at night. (Also, who knew that about Thai marriages? I certainly did not.)

—Maddie 

A Scientific Love | A Practical Wedding

Chris and I have been married for almost six months. While the fact that I am married to Chris makes me want to strut and dance like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in (500) Days of Summer after he got together with Zooey Deschanel’s character, I actually never expected to be a married person when I grew up.

I grew up with the idea that I can either choose to be a single, independent woman with a career, or I can be a married woman and spend my life putting my husband and eventually my children’s needs and desires before my own. This may have had to do with where I grew up—in Thailand and Hong Kong. It may have also been largely because of what happened to my mom. She thought she would be able to continue to work as a statistician, a job she loved, while she was a mom, but eventually she was pressured by relatives into quitting her job and becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom. Even though I realized that I was living in a different time and place, and I am extremely grateful to have had a stay-at-home mom, a part of me was still terrified of becoming a wife.

For a very long time, I just accepted the fact that I would grow up to be a single career woman because the alternative didn’t seem as good a fit for me. It wasn’t until I went to college in the U.S. that I fully appreciated the fact that 1) women had more than just two options in life and 2) marriages where both parties are equal partners exist and aren’t just made up like unicorns and the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. Logically, I understood those two things to be true, but for a long time, I had an irrational fear that marriage would force me to give up my career as a scientist, which had become a huge part of my identity. Modern American chick flicks—my guilty pleasure—were no help: there’s often some conflict between the leading lady’s career and her love life (e.g., The Devil Wears Prada, Kate and Leopold, You’ve Got Mail), and very few movies with men in the same situation (um, The Family Man?). Research on modern American marriages wasn’t very encouraging either: it all seemed to find that married working women spent a disproportionate number of hours on household chores and childcare compared to married working men.

So, for most of college and beyond, I experimented with serious dating and casual relationships. Maybe I fantasized once or twice about living together with a partner indefinitely in that artist-bohemian way, but that was as close as I got to fantasizing about marriage, until I met Chris. It was nerd love from the beginning: he’s a mathematician; I’m a scientist. (Cue: romantic music.) We talked about invasive plants and the Mean Value Theorem on our first date. Then I discovered that we were actually on the same page when it came to gender roles and the division of labor within and outside of a household too. (Swoon!) Then we dated for a couple more years while I wrapped my mind around the idea that getting married in the U.S. did not mean literally signing away your rights as it did in Thailand. (Okay, so this part usually doesn’t normally happen in a romantic comedy, but it’s still important: according to Thai law, my mom needs to have my dad co-sign every legal document, even things like a credit card application. My dad, however, doesn’t need my mom’s signature.)

Thankfully and not surprisingly, after we got married, Chris and his family did not pressure me to change who I was. But unlike a romantic comedy, my story doesn’t end there. As luck would have it, I spent the first four months of our marriage unemployed, and I ended up doing (what felt like) a lot of cooking and cleaning for Chris. To say that I felt terrible would be a vast understatement. Suddenly, every laundry load, every meal I cooked, and every time I vacuumed reminded me of the fact that I was unemployed. I felt ashamed that Chris was supporting both of us financially. Again, logically, I understood that doing housework while being a married woman did not literally erase my identity as an independent person and aspiring scientist. I had just finished graduate school during a major economic recession, so I kept on telling myself that it was a tough job market for everyone. Chris was also tremendously supportive throughout all of this and dealt with my random bouts of crying with his customary patience and lots of hugs. He—and also both of our relatives and friends—constantly reminded me that my unemployed status was only temporary.

Like most romantic comedies, my story does have a happy ending. I found a job as a research associate doing the exact type of research I’ve been hoping to do. More importantly, I am even more grateful than I was before for how much earlier feminists, like my mom and her generation and the ones before, have accomplished so that their daughters (and to some extent, sons) can redefine marriage and what it means to be a wife and a husband on their own terms and make the institution of marriage richer and more diverse.

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  • Rachel Wilkerson

    TREE OCTOPUS?! You just blew my mind.

    • Rachel Wilkerson

      Omg reading comprehension fail. Everyone please ignore me. Damnit.

      • http://www.thedaviesdealings.blogspot.com Kara

        It happens. ;)

  • Kristen

    This post made me tear up. When you talked about how your husband soothes you and hugs you when you were anxious or upset about your life direction – I feel like you touched on the heart of the matter. Because I think like me (although we come from different backgrounds) it seems like maybe you didn’t realize you could marry someone who wanted you to be happy (i.e. have a career and eat your cake too). sometimes when we see examples of marrige that don’t fit what we want ourselves, marriage becomes an uninteresting or in my case a institution to be feared. I had this misconception – I didn’t know that there was someone out there who would care about me enough to want me to be happy and who would only be happy when I was, even if it means he has to change or grow.

    When I found him, I married him and it sounds like when you found the guy who you not only wanted to be with forever but who showed you that having the life you want was just as imortant to him as it was to you, you took a leap of faith. Congratulations on your marrige, your having the awesome life you wanted and for finding the guy who helped you realize your dreams instead of hindering them.

    • Corrie

      “Sometimes when we see examples of marriage that don’t fit what we want ourselves, marriage becomes an uninteresting or in my case a institution to be feared.”

      YES. I think you’ve finally put into words why I’m so afraid of being a Wife (or more so, why I feel so icky about using the word ‘wife” as a way to define my future relationship status).

      But, you know, this is why Reclaiming Wife posts are awesome.

      • Samantha

        This is the feeling I have toward being a mother. I want it but it terrifies me . . . luckily I have a few years before that.

      • Maddie

        The other day Meg and I were talking about exactly this. It was pertaining to motherhood, but I explained that I just hadn’t seen any examples that would prove to me that the decision to one day have children, something I know I want, wasn’t going to ruin my life.

        I used to feel the same way about marriage. I knew I wanted it, I just wasn’t sure it wasn’t the worst idea EVER.

        Good examples can be a powerful thing, and I’m finding they are sometimes the only thing (outside of setting my own example) that helps me get over the fear.

        • kyley

          Yes! I say this all the time about my waffling desire to have children. I love all my family members with children and think they are truly great parents, but I have yet to see parenthood modeled in a way that would work for me. This is a big source of stress for me, because it makes me feel like I’ll have to forge a brand new path, even though I know someone out there must be doing it in a way that would work for me. I just don’t know how to find them, where to look, or even what I’m looking for.

        • http://www.doomedforhappiness.blogspot.com Shana

          THIS.

          I want them babies all up in my belly (someday) but I get scared when I can’t imagine how they won’t ruin my life. (Sorry future babies.)

    • Jashshea

      “that there was someone out there who would care about me enough to want me to be happy and who would only be happy when I was”

      Yuuup. Or that there would be someone whose happiness I cared about that much? That was the big shock for me. Back when I was a youngin’ and my friends were all “changing” when they got into the big serious relationships, I assumed that was a negative. I didn’t really understand until much later that they weren’t changing so much as prioritizing someone else (as well as themselves) and they were getting that BACK from their person (you know, hopefully).

      • http://thiscolorfullife.wordpress.com Lauren

        I had an acquaintance who never quite realized that last bit, even to this day, four months before the wedding. The fact that this person couldn’t get over how I had “changed” moved what used to be a lovely if casual friendship into the dark depths of “I don’t think we can recover from this.”

      • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

        This topic resonates with me, too- there definitely needs to be more discussion around “changing” when you’re in a relationship. I’ve always been surrounded with the message that you shouldn’t change just because you’re in a relationship. And while it’s true that you should be yourself, it’s also true that a committed partnership IS a change in lifestyle and decision-making at its very core.

        My best friend and I discussed often in college how to avoid ditching friends or changing who we are for boys, but that conversation shifts when you find a partner you want to commit to (whether the commitment works out or not). How DO you change when you’re in a relationship like that? It needs to be okay for women (even for strong, feminist women) to prioritize their partnership and talk about how much they depend on their partner without disparaging remarks of how much said woman has “changed” just because she has a boyfriend/partner.

        • Jashshea

          Agreed. And I think this is particularly tough at college age – when people really are feeling themselves out to see who they are, being away from home, etc. At that age “changing” when you start dating someone might actually be a normal part of age appropriate evolution. (Or if you’re like me and were single 99% of those years, you’re really still quite immature and hurt when people stop wanting to be YOURVERYVERYBESTFRIEND all the time)

          The funny thing I found out (over the many many moons since I was 18) was that the qualities that I truly cherished in my VIP friends weren’t the things that were changing about them – they’re still hilarious and loyal and kind to animals even though now that they go camping? with their boyfriend? for some reason.

          Now that I’m married and closing in on 35, it’s SO MUCH fun to meet my friend’s new love interest. I love the new boyf/girlf at once because, well, my friend loves them (and because most of my friends are making better decisions by this age :)).

        • Heather L

          But still, there’s a difference between changing some things and completely ditching your friends while in a relationship. I have had friends enter relationships who I then never saw and hardly spoke to.

          • http://snippetsof.blogspot.com SarahE

            You’re right, it’s definitely a tough balance to strike. In my own life, I just experienced so much more narrative around “you can’t change anything at all, and your friends are absolutely always #1.” But really, any relationship- romantic interests and friends alike- can “change” us, if we really value the other person. My friends change my perspective and challenge my priorities, just as my partner does.

  • Aero

    This is a great post – I love it and all the apw discussions that help redefine different marriage and career options. Both my fiancé and I are professional engineers and I find it tough because their doesn’t always seem to be many role models or guidence on how to navigate the path when both partners have equally tricky jobs (in terms of commitment/hours and work availability/location) but I am really glad to hear you have got it working!! Congrats!

  • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

    There is definitely pressure to conform to societal norms, but it sounds like you found the perfect fit- someone who makes you happy and shares your values as well as supportive families on both sides. I’m so happy for you!

    I have to say that I’m a little nervous about family pressure to conform after I get hitched. Although he and I are on the same page, we both come from religious families who may (really really really) want grandchildren. I’d like to focus on career first, and work my way up to the level where I could work flexible hours (ie work while the kids are in school and then be there to pick them up after, and then work from home in the evening) when I have children. Unfortunately that might take a while and I’m worried there will be some pressure on both sides. How do you face disappointing your family?

    • KATIES

      “How do you face disappointing your family”

      I would love to see an APW post on this with regards to your family/parents being ready for you to have kids WAY before you consider it yourself.

      • http://www.devabydefinition.com deva

        I totally agree. I’d also love to see a post about you being ready for kids before your family/parents are ready for you to have them (which has been my experience). Surprisingly enough, we don’t have kids yet, and our timelines will end up matching up with our parents’/family timelines. At least in theory.

    • Kristen

      I guess this question confuses me because why does it matter what someone outside your marriage wants? Does anyone have the right to pressure you or even express their opinions on something so personal? Everything in me says no, why would you ever consider what your mom or grandmother wants you to do in regards to family planning, life plans, etc.?

      I can’t help but wonder if this is one of those things I can’t grasp because I have no family and no one in my life who would dare try and tell me what THEY want because its my life. Maybe I’d feel differently if I did, but I feel lucky not having to deal with that. Just wedding planning brought out the absolute worst in my in-laws and hubby had to tell them they were being selfish and it was not something they got to make demands on. Of course wedding planning can for some be a family involved event. But life planning? Unless you’re counting on family to help you monetarily or with child care, I don’t see why the position isn’t, it’s no one’s business but mine and my partners?

      • KC

        I think different people (and different families) are wired in different ways.

        If disappointing people you care about makes you feel *horrible*, or if you dislike conflict, moving in opposition to what people want can be very much like trudging through a really nasty swamp instead of walking on a convenient pre-paved path. Possible to do, potentially, but very “expensive” in terms of energy and sadness and muck.

        If your family/friends pile on to that load with approval-based affection/prioritization or lots of opinions on what you ought to do and how terrible of an idea it is to do X, it just gets uglier. And yes, you have the right to not include people in your life if things get really bad, but that is generally very, very hard, too, especially if they’re not, like, stealing property from you. And you may not want to; if part of your community/family expectations is that your extended family will be significantly involved in your offspring’s life, ideally you would like to be able to be a part of that *without* hearing snipey comments about how everything would have been so much easier if you hadn’t delayed things unnecessarily (whether or not that’s true *at all* does not seem to influence some “I told you so”-ers when you have not followed their suggestions).

        Family-honor cultures; heavy-guilt cultures; “now be a nice girl and make everyone happy” cultures; community-based cultures; they all make a lot of decisions more internally and externally complicated than “the only people we will factor in are the two of us”.

        • Kristen

          “If disappointing people you care about makes you feel *horrible*, or if you dislike conflict, moving in opposition to what people want can be very much like trudging through a really nasty swamp instead of walking on a convenient pre-paved path. Possible to do, potentially, but very “expensive” in terms of energy and sadness and muck.”

          My only issue here is how not healthy this mindset seems (in my opinion). I’m a people pleaser to a pretty unhealthy degree and I wish I lived in a world where more people were selfless and want to do right by others. BUT its also important to put oneself first sometimes. I’ve worked hard to find the line between making someone else happy because it makes me feel good and making myself happy because I’m the one who has to live my life – no one else does.

          I always wished I had a different family, that I knew of my heritage or had a culture to hold on to, but its sounding like I may have lucked out in this regard. No one can control me with guilt or bad feelings and I see that as a very good thing for my life. I’m just sorry that having a close family or growing up with a culture that fulfills you, means for some people, putting others above themselves in the most personal choices we make in our lives. I just don’t see it as a good thing I guess.

          • KC

            Also trying to work on moderating my people-pleasing inclinations here. So, take with a grain of salt?

            But I would note that including other people’s opinions/priorities as you make your decisions is not necessarily putting their opinions/priorities *ahead* of your own. I was attempting to answer the question “why does it matter what someone outside your marriage wants?”

            Kind of like with weddings; if it’s super-important to your mom to have napkins that match the flowers, and you’d vaguely prefer just plain white but don’t have a really strong opinion, then you might either choose to have plain white or you might choose to have flower-matching napkins. It’s “your” wedding, and “your” life, but that doesn’t mean that other opinions should always be totally and entirely ignored as irrelevant. There is, or at least should be, a difference between compromise (taking other opinions into account when you make your decision, hopefully weighting them as appropriate but not more so) and being steamrollered.

            That said, some cultures do go more for the “you can live your own life later, vicariously, when you have children to live it for you” sort of route, which seems more steamroller-y and which I would have massive problems with but apparently has worked for some cultures?

    • SHANON

      My FH and I have been together for six years (come this May) and we’ve been fielding baby questions since year 2. Six years sounds like a lot…and maybe it is…but I’ll be 26 this April….so we’re actually not in a hurry. That’s our stock answer. Maybe it will help.

  • Class of 1980

    Just curious whether Thai law would require you mother to have a co-signer if she was employed? Even in the U.S., you have to state income to get credit.

    It sounds like the main difference is that in Thailand being employed as a wife or mother is frowned upon.

    I was born in 1958 and grew up in the sixties and seventies. I recently had a conversation with my mom about that time. She said in the middle-class, you were either a single career woman or a married stay-at-home mother. Women worked until they had children. Mom worked until I was two years old and my Grandmother took care of me till then. She said she didn’t know any married mothers who were itching to go to work until feminism. She feels that while feminism brought more choices (which she took advantage of), the downside was the rhetoric made once proud stay-at-home mothers suddenly feel worthless.

    She said credit as we know it didn’t exist until the seventies. People bought major items on “time payments”, but that only applied to a few big-ticket items. Even husbands didn’t have credit cards. Once credit cards became an established thing in the seventies, married women had to get their husbands to co-sign. Single career women didn’t. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 forced credit card companies to offer credit to ALL women.

    Mom got a divorce in 1979 in her early 40s, and even then she had to have my dad’s name on her new credit cards. I think that was because she was still getting reestablished in the work force, so it was a temporary situation. Her main career was from her 40s to 60s.

    There’s a history lesson for ya.

    • Novem

      That is a really fascinating history. As far as I know, my mom would need my dad’s signature regardless of her employment status. I looked into the law more closely — just in case folks out there are interested in the nuances of Thai marriage laws :D — and found that Thai law actually requires spousal consent for *both* husbands and wives during any legal transaction. In practice, however, husbands rarely have to submit documents showing their wife’s consent. So it seems that although the law is written to be gender neutral, in practice, unfortunately, that’s not how it’s being applied.

      • Class of 1980

        Interesting. So they just need to work on having the laws more respected in Thailand.

        The thing that increasingly bothers me about our history, is that some of it is revisionist history, written from the point-of-view of someone who wasn’t even born yet.

        I recently read an article that held itself out to be “historical” about all the poor women who couldn’t get credit because of “evil white men” (yes, they called them that) who didn’t want to extend credit to women, when the reality is that NO ONE used credit cards until the seventies. The short period of time where married women were at legal disadvantage was remedied by law in 1974 once it became apparent that the new credit card situation wasn’t good for women.

        I remember clearly that by 1980, young men and women starting out were advised to establish a credit history. And married women were advised to have their own credit history.

        There are a lot of nuances to the past that get overlooked in the effort to view it through the lens of the present.

      • dysgrace

        I didn’t know that about Thai law! Would that change (in either direction) now that Thailand has a female PM?

  • Steph

    I had similar fears for different reasons about the term Wife. Even though my husband married me knowing I’m “domestically challenged and proud of it” and also knowing that my career is important to me and I don’t want to have children, I had this irrational fear that the domestic stuff would suddenly be expected of me once I became a Wife.

  • http://www.thedaviesdealings.blogspot.com Kara

    DH and I have been married for almost 6 years now and have two kids. Through both pregnancies it was discussed and decided and understood that I’d go on maternity leave for at least the first year and after baby turned 13 months old, I’d decide when I wanted to go back to work. If I wanted to go back to work. If I wanted to go back in a reduced set of hours, or not go back at all.

    In my opinon, ***Until you have a child, you don’t really know what you want to do after they’re born.***

    That said, after our first baby died in the womb and after she was born (our lil Julia Rose), I had 2 weeks off from work. As that was coming to an end, I was itching to get back to some semblance of normality and chose to go back to work. I probably should have taken more time off but I was going nuts at home doing nothing!

    While pregnant for the second time, it was again discussed decided and understood that after our son was born, I’d go back to work when he was 13 months old. (Where I work here in Australia -IKEA, ftw!- PT/FT coworkers can take one year at half pay or 6 months at full pay or maternity leave. Dads get 2 weeks paid leave unless you work things out otherwise with your manager and HR.) I wanted to be home with my son for the first year of his life, that’s important to me. After he was to turn 13 months old, I’d go back to work on my husband’s days off. If he had 2 days off in a row, I’d work one of them. If he had 3 days off in a row, I’d work two of them. That way, no matter what, we’d have at least one day a week together as a full family. And that while one of us was working, the other would be caring for our son. Neither of us would be sacrificing the jobs we love, nor would we be putting our son in daycare unless we both had plans and we couldn’t find a sitter. DH would get “time off” of being daddy, I would get “time off” of being mama, baby son would get bonding time with both parents at once and bonding time with each parent separately. After a couple months of me back at work, then we’d decide if I wanted to go back with more hours, less hours, or not at all. We’d have time to pick and choose what was best for us as adults, best for us as parents, and best for our son.

    That was the plan until I gave birth and our little man had to be resuscitated moments after gasping twice and never breathing on his own again. At four days two hours old, our little Evan Riley breathed his last and joined big sister Julia in Heaven. I took 3 months off before going back to work. I wasn’t ready to face my colleagues or my direct supervisor until then. My favorite manager was on holiday and I wanted to face her first before coming back to work. Once I did go back to work it was difficult, but something I needed to do.

    We’re still trying for baby #3 and no luck yet. Once we are pregnant again though, it’ll be the same game plan. Wait until after baby’s first birthday, go back to work a day or two a week and after a couple months, make a more informed decision. It is one that suits me, my husband, and our parents think it is a good idea. (Plus, if they work out their schedules and want to take baby for a day or two so I can get some weekend work -which pays higher rates- in, then I can. Bonus!)

    For now, I enjoy being a married working woman with a good paying job with (sometimes) lousy hours. Some part of my mind would love to be the baking bread cloth diapering playdate scheduling SAHM, but the other part of my mind likes the “I need set aside adult time without my children clinging to me!”. That can all change once we get to bring a baby home. For now, I enjoy my work.

    • Class of 1980

      Kara, you sound like a trooper. What you’ve been through is mind-boggling to me. Wish you all the best.

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    Are you me? I grew up in Mexico, also believing that either you were a perfect housewife and childmaker / homecarer or a succesful career woman who would be crazy and bitter and own a lot of cats (“Te vas a quedar a vestir santos” they would say to girls who were not married or on that path by 26, or worse 30).

    My mom also pretty much gave up her career (she would have been a biologist/pharmacist or studied computer science) because she had me, and then, when she was ready to go to school again, a year and a half later, had my brother. She is one of the strongest women all now and started her own business in face-art makeup for kids, bred rabbits, and is now working at a patchwork / quilting school.

    I thought / was comfortable with the idea that I may never marry, I had come terms with it and was ready to take over the world. I even studied 2 degrees (Biology and Veterinary Medicine). And then…. I got married with a boy I met in a very romantic comedy way (in an airplane!). But as life is not indeed a romantic comedy, I find myself:

    a). unemployed (for 3 years now, if you don’t count the 2 years I worked in the tourism industry doing a job a well trained monkey or a robot could do or unpaid internships) and

    b) struggling with infertility, which means I am failing in the 2 main womanly tasks: bringing children to the world or being a succesful professional super doctor animal saver / scientist.

    So what now? I find myself reinventing it all, discovering that there is more to life and to being a woman than what I was taught.

    Thanks for this post. I couldn’t have written better. And I love that you discussed about invasive species… I worked at a project dealing with invasive fish in a closed lake / canal system and the consequences for the endemic species.

    • Natalie

      Thank you for sharing this. I can relate. I find myself wrapped up in anxiety about not being able to conceive, but then also not being able to progress in my career. As you have asked, what’s left? …But it is so wonderful to explore over and over again the things that bring us joy as people, outside of so many perceived gender roles and cultural impositions that are made on us. xoxo

  • Sarah

    This was the post I was trying to write when I saw “Not a Rom-Com” Month. Thank you.

    –Another girl who never expected to be married.

  • http://www.mollyeverafter.com/ Molly Ever After

    I had no idea that Thai law was like that. Makes me even prouder to be an American. (Not that we’re perfect when it comes to gender equality, but at least I can have my own credit card.)

  • Beaula

    While you are able to get credit cards etc without your husband, often times they don’t need you to sign as wife on joint purchases. When my parents bought their second home together, my mom was told that her signature wasnt necessary but she could ‘add it on for fun’. Even though it was a joint purchase!

  • Natalie

    Wow. Great observations made here. I needed to read this today.

    My mom was also a stay at home mom. My dad’s family, which is basically made up of highly accomplished women (two are high ranking state judges; one is a chemist) judged my mom for not having a career and made her feel less of a woman because she stayed home with us. Mommy wars aside, I am happy that my mom stayed home with me, especially during formative years. I am grateful for what she did for me to help raise me.

    Fast forward 27 years and here I am, recently married and, as of this week, in my first full-time job EVER (Thanks, Economy). My husband who is 34 years old wants to start trying to have a family one year from now, which is very soon in my mind; I don’t foresee being ready to make the kinds of compromises involved in starting a family in a mere 12 months from now. I am finally in a job that I love and that is IN MY FIELD. I have a job that was so competitive to get, it took me 2 years just to be able to apply and be taken seriously.

    So I see why my husband wants to start trying so soon…his life won’t change as much as mine. (Am I bitter/resentful? Yep.) We have already discussed our roles, and when we have children, we’ve decided that I will be the primary caretaker of our family, making me able to work part-time at most. Where does that leave me and my career goals?

    My mom’s decision was to stay at home, and I feel like I will be a ‘bad mom’ if I work, but how do people save for college, have a mortgage and pay their bills with children on one income? I feel like I am screwed either way…if I work, then I am neglecting my family. If I don’t work, I have no autonomy and I have no identity outside of my marriage and family role.

    And the way I was raised—-with a stay at home mom—-influences my guilt about either scenario, and it’s just really tough.

    • Class of 1980

      People are far more than their jobs or careers. You will still be you. I have never understood the whole “my job is my identity” thing.

      As far as autonomy, what autonomy won’t you have if you choose to stay home?

      No one can tell you what is right for you, except you. The financial issue is very real, but the “identity” thing is manufactured by modern culture and it’s a real insult to women who choose to stay at home.

      My grandmother stayed home. My mother worked till I was two, and then stayed home until I was in high school and went back to work for the next thirty years. I never once thought of either of them except ladies FULL of their own personalities, talents and interests. I admired both of them.

      • Natalie

        I agree with you. I think my intention by writing the ‘identity’ piece was more of a hypothetical question rather than a question directed at myself or at any woman. I think the identity question, as you put it, IS a cultural problem. I should have been clearer with my words here.

        In my experience, YES it is up to an individual woman what she decides to do, and what is right for her. In my experience, and correct me if you think I am wrong, there is a great deal of judgement from our culture that comes with either choice. It is very unfortunate that there are so many judgments related to the choices we make as women.

        I like your comment about how we stay the same, we are who we are, regardless of our jobs. This is a great point. As someone who is still learning (I am in my mid-twenties,) this is a great reminder. My dad was always the first to tell me that my identity as a human, as someone of inherent worth, should not be confused with how much money I make or my career. Thank you for your insight!

        • Class of 1980

          Eff the culture. That’s my motto. I do what I think is right, because the culture can’t possibly be right all the time. Eventually, cultural opinion will flip-flop, so you’d better figure things out on your own terms.

    • Granola

      I mean this respectfully, and I hope it doesn’t sound judgmental. I know you mentioned that you and your husband already talked about your respective caregiving roles – but could that decision be revisited? If that conversation took place before a lot of other life changes, it seems fair to see whether your priorities have shifted in a way that necessitates more flexibility in your roles.

  • Hannah

    I love this story! Probably because I can relate to it a lot – by fiance is also a mathematician and I am in science! I too worry about the balance between science and marriage/family.

    While feminism has undoubtedly made humongous strides on this issue, I feel like science (especially academia) has such a long way to go. I went to a seminar at a big conference a few years ago about working in academia. All of the people on the panel were men and it was quite obvious that they spent little time at home – half of them never had children. The next seminar was about women in science, but only one of them was in academia! I couldn’t help but walk away thinking about how hard it would be to succeed in academics while also having a family (and actually spending time with them). Since then I’ve met plenty of people who are exceptions to this, but the thought still hangs out in my mind making me stressed out.

  • Kory

    I’m really excited about this post because my husband and I have started talking about this a lot after just 10 months of marriage. He’s 28 and I’m almost 32. I really want to have kids before I’m 35, so even though financially and mentally (I’m scared shitless) I’m not sure I’m ready, we need to start trying soon. Here are my concerns:

    1) CONCEPTION – How hard will it be for me to concieve? Everyone in my family had their kids by age 25, so I have no one to ask about the late in life conception. A friend of mine is on her 5th month of trying but it still positive. How long before we should get ourselves checked out?

    2) MONEY – my husband and I are in a combined debt load of about $300,000 (thank you medical school (him) for adding to my undergrad and grad school debt)! We know his salary will increase once he’s done with training but until then we need two salaries to afford to live in our city. We’re trying to figure out how to make this work. I can take 3 months off work but it will be unpaid. Childcare costs an average of $18,000/yr. in our city. We probably need to get a two-bedroom apartment. I don’t think we can fit all the baby stuff in our 730 sq. ft. apartment. We can dip into our savings (which we’re bulking up now) but my husband’s probably going to have to supplement with overtime. How do you juggle the heart-attack that financing a kid is giving us already?

    3) RELATIONSHIP – I need my husband to be there for me, especially at the beginning. I don’t handle sleep deprivation well. How do I balance that with his need to work overtime to afford our kid?! How did you handle the 1) guilt of wanting him to be sleep deprived too, but knowing he had to go to work so maybe you should handle the night feedings or 2) the jealously that he gets to leave the house when your trapped at home 24/7 with the baby?

    4) HELP – Our family doesn’t live anywhere near our current city. How do you survive without that support system? I’m afraid of not having my mom there to help guide me at the beginning or provide a much needed break when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

    5) CHILDCARE – How do you figure out what’s better in the options of daycare/nanny/private caregiver? We both have to work. I’m not sure I want to be a stay-at-home mom, even if it’s the cost saving thing to do. And how do I make that okay for me when a lot of people around me are acting like that’s what I should do as a “good” mom?

    6) BAD MOM – If I’m going to be sleep deprived and with minimal support, I’m really afraid I’m going to lose it and/or start resenting this kid. Does that happen? How do you get over it? Would that make me a “bad mom”?

    Sorry for all the questions, but I really need guidance. I’m really excited that you guys are covering these issues.

  • Kory

    Woops – had two posts opened and commented on the wrong one. Please remove my comments!!

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