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Gayle Ermer on Balancing Profession and Family

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, September 12, 2013


Gayle Ermer

As a female engineering faculty member at a Christian college, it is not been uncommon for female engineering students to stop by my office and ask for advice. Several years ago an ambitious, God-fearing Christian young woman presented me with the following question: how will a career as an engineer in industry allow me to also spend time with my family?

The issue of how to balance professional work with a family life is a hot button topic for female students. Interestingly, I have never had a male student express this concern. I suspect many young guys have simply not thought far enough ahead to consider issues of family/work balance. And I would not be surprised if the majority of them were unconsciously assuming that their eventual female spouse would be handling the kids and family management tasks while they would be free to put as much time as necessary into their engineering work. However, many young women are already conscious, even before they have obtained their engineering degrees, of the need to manage their own expectations for success in achieving their career goals and in fulfilling the responsibilities of motherhood. Women are aware of the pressure to do it all. They intuitively understand that they cannot let career take over at the expense of raising godly kids, nor can they focus entirely on nurturing a family at the expense of applying their gifts and talents in God’s service through significant time devoted to a professional career, especially in a technical field.

My initial response to questions of this type is always the same:  It is not up to you as the wife and mother to figure out how to balance work and family responsibilities. It is up to you and your spouse together, in a balanced partnership, to decide how parenting responsibilities will be allocated in your family unit. Most careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are demanding in terms of time and mental energy, but there are many, many possible ways to arrange your life to perform Christian service on the job as well as provide Christian discipleship for the children God entrusts to us. There is no one right way to balance these tasks, either as a mom or a dad. The solution for my family has been for my husband (also an engineer) to work full time in industry, while I work part time (~70% of a regular faculty load) in academia. When my kids were young, this meant three days of week of daycare. For two of my colleagues, this has involved sharing of a single academic position. With each spouse working 50% of a full time load, careful scheduling of courses allows both to contribute equally to childcare. I have a cousin who is a medical doctor. Her husband stays home full time to watch their two boys.

I will admit that I have not always found support for my career aspirations in church or from Christian friends. I live in a conservative community where the norm is for Christian men to be breadwinners and Christian women to be stay-at-home moms. And arranging child care has personally been one of the most stressful aspects of pursuing my career. There are no perfect solutions. But the reward of knowing that God is using me in my work to reach students and improve the flourishing of the world through technology is what makes negotiating the tensions worth it.

So, whether you are just beginning to contemplate your career and family goals, or are in the midst of the struggle to have it all as a working mom, be sure to keep an open mind. What works for someone else may not work for you. We need to keep from judging each other, allow and encourage our husbands to participate in nurturing our shared offspring, and continually seek God’s guidance through prayer in balancing the various vocations in which God has called us to participate. In the words of Proverbs 16: 2-3:

"All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.”

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Lynn L. Billman says...
Posted Monday, September 16, 2013
Thank you so much, Gayle! This is a critical topic for CWIS. Where I work (National Renewable Energy Laboratory), the number of Christians is smaller than where you work, but what I see may be helpful. The twenty-somethings I supervise are all starting their families. Most are two-career famlies, and I see a very supportive culture of sharing the parenting roles, such as trading taking time off for sick kids. I have one person with a Mennonite background, and though his wife is fully at home, he takes time off for some family needs as well. Lesson I see is to talk about this BEFORE getting serious. As well all know, kids are a major stresser in marriages -- so it is imperative to be honest about your desires and talk it out, before you decide on someone.
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Alice C. Linsley says...
Posted Monday, September 16, 2013
This article will be helpful when I talk to young women who are wondering about this. I remind them to take one day at a time, be faithful today. Such matters tend to take care of themselves when we are taking the small steps in faith.
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