Scientopia Guest Bloggers Nicole and Maggie have a post up that's got a lot of relevance to my current family situation. They found a post on the Get Rich Quick Slowly blog that provides the perspective of a woman - a self declared "sugar mama" - who is financially supporting her husband while he attends college. Nicole and Maggie note that this kind of arrangement doesn't always end well:
One thing I would caution for women in general is not to sacrifice their own career goals for their husband’s education. As an academic, I know plenty of couples where the woman worked at what she considered to be a temporary job to put her husband through school, but rather than return the favor later (as implicitly promised), they got divorced. Sacrificing one’s own ambitions puts a lot of stress on the marriage, no matter which spouse is doing the sacrificing.
This is something that sounds a lot like a good chunk my life trajectory. I guess a little background is in order here.
I started college right after high school. I didn't struggle in high school - "struggle" implies effort, for starters - but my grades were not good. (The teacher comment that stung the worst, made the most lasting impression, and contained the most truth read, "Michael has achieved the mediocrity to which he so obviously aspires. Thanks, Fr. DiGiacomo.) The reputation of the school and my SATs were such that I was still able to cruise into a state school without expending substantial effort on my application. Made Dean's List first semester. Somewhere around a 2.5 my second semester. Somewhere over a 1.0 my third.
The truth of the matter is that I didn't have a single freaking clue what I wanted to do with my life. I strongly considered three or four different majors during those three semesters, had a hell of a good time actually experiencing life on my own, decided that dropping out was preferable to flunking out, and did the Gen-X thing for a couple of years. Moved out of the house, moved back in with my parents, moved back out, worked at a few different jobs in a few different fields, and just generally flowed along the path of least resistance. Fell in love, got engaged, conceived a child, got married.
The woman I married - who is still absolutely the love of my life - spent the same four years working and studying her ass off. She got into medical school, and started seven weeks after we had our eldest child. She went through medical school on active duty in the army, so we had (just) enough income to let me stay home with the baby while my wife was at school during the day.
Over the last decade-and-a-half, I've worked some, gone to school some, spent a couple of years as a stay-at-home dad, and moved around the country a bunch as my wife's military and medical careers have moved us from base to base. My wife's been the breadwinner, I've made every one of the parent-teacher meetings. It's been a hell of a ride, and I've enjoyed it. But it definitely has involved some sacrifice when it came to my own career and educational ambitions. (Fortunately, it took quite a while for me to develop real career and educational ambitions, so that bought us some time.)
For the most part, that's actually wound up working very much in my favor. (And/or I'm good at lemonade-making.) I've had the luxury of quite a bit of time to explore different options, and the ability to not get locked into something I wind up not liking in the end. It's entirely possible that this has saved me from becoming a miserable son-of-a-bitch of a scientist.
There is still some resentment. That part is real. My wife's doing an important, meaningful job. I'm going to parent-teacher meetings and taking the kids to appointments. I've been catching myself feeling jealous more often, and starting to get a little resentful - this despite the fact that most of my sacrifice has been entirely voluntary. I'm going back to school in the fall, and it looks like we've (knock on wood) managed to arrange things so that I'll be able to move through school as a full-time student and on into an actual career, and that seems to have done the trick as far as my own petty and unfounded feelings of jealousy and resentment are concerned.
This is all a really long-winded way of getting to me mostly agreeing with Nicole and Maggie. Sacrifice stresses marriage. The less sacrifice is involved, the better. But that doesn't mean sacrifice is universally a bad idea, or even something to go out of your way to avoid. Sometimes, it's the right thing to do under the circumstances, and love is often worth a lot of sacrifice.