My husband and I have been married for almost 6 years. We have 4 small children. And last week, we both graduated from college.
We both took 3 years of college classes, and in 2008, decided not to wait any longer to get married. Since my husband had a full-time job and we were able to support ourselves, there really was no reason for us to put off marriage until after we were finished with college. In that same vein, there was no reason for us to wait to have babies. He made a modest income which was enough for us to live on even with me as a stay-at-home mom. My husband would finish college slowly and I would be content with my associate’s degree.
After 3 years, the regret of spending so much on my education and not finishing my bachelor’s degree began to sink in. I do not believe that everyone needs a college degree, nor do I think that college is very good preparation for the real world! But because I had invested so much time and effort already, I decided to complete my undergraduate degree part-time through a state university that offered a large portion of its classes online. Meanwhile, my husband kept plugging along at his degree while working 50+ hours a week, helping around the house, and being a husband and daddy. (It takes a LONG time to finish a degree when you only have time to take 2 or 3 classes a semester!)
Was it hard work? Absolutely. Many evenings we just wanted to crash, but had exams to study for. Numerous times I found myself nursing an overtired baby while writing a paper with an 11:59 pm deadline. I brought my books to the hospital when baby #3 was born during my second week of classes that semester. I started my last semester of college with a 2-week-old who ended up being a very colicky baby. My husband came home from work every day, helped with dinner, played with the kids, put them to bed, and hit the books. We made financial sacrifices to finish, and were married 5 years before buying our first house. So many times we wanted to quit and wondered if it was worth the effort. But we didn’t, and after all the sweat and sacrifices, we are finally done.
I am under no illusions that this can be done by everyone in every situation. Someone who takes classes that require being “all in”, such as a medical degree or law school, may not be able to work while going to school. Marriage and children may not be prudent for a short time. But if you have a job that pays enough to rent an apartment and put food on the table while you are in school, and you are prepared to take the plunge into marriage before you are finished with college, don’t hesitate because of what you think you are “supposed” to do, what everyone else does. You don’t have to wait 2 years to have a baby because your husband is in school; it is possible to finish while having a family. Part-time, night classes; there are options. And perhaps you will find, like many of our peers have found, that the modest-income job you had when you started your family has become a lucrative career path in a field that does not require a degree at all.
I am sharing our story simply to encourage. Our society has led us to believe that there is only one path; college, marriage, then babies (and maybe a few years in between each of those). Anything else is simply irresponsible. We give more importance to our education and our careers than to our vocation, even though we are ultimately sanctified through our vocation. I am telling you that there is another way; if you are called to the vocation of marriage, and especially if you have met your future spouse at a young age, an alternate path may be God’s plan for you. It requires prayer and discernment, like every path, but it can be done successfully.
If we had waited to get married, we could have finished years earlier; if we had waited to have children, finishing our studies would have been easier. But sometimes earlier and easier isn’t our path. Yes, it took a lot longer and was a lot more work than we ever anticipated. But those sweet, grace-filled babies that we wouldn’t have if we had done it any other way? They are worth all those late nights and tired mornings a thousand times over.