My oldest daughter is coming back from seminary and I am feeling a huge amount of anxiety about it. She doesn't know what she wants to do and I don't know what she should do. I really think she should go to one of the colleges where she can get a degree in one year and had tried to convince her to take those tests for credits when she was in high school but she refused. Now she is undecided and seems paralyzed (like me) about her choices. Nothing the colleges are offering interest her (like speech and special education degrees) but working in an office scares her too. She probably would want to teach, but I feel that teaching is a dead-end job. What should I do?



Your question gives me the opportunity to really speak my mind on a topic that until now I had confined to my nearest and dearest who were stuck sitting next to me at those endlessly long weddings in which we had little to do except talk.

In a nutshell, although in theory it seems very nice that our girls have the opportunity to attend college and earn a decent salary per hour, my opinion is that it is causing a lot more harm than good. And this is from someone who has attended college, loved college, and is reaping continuous benefits from my college education. In theory, am not against college; I am against the manner in which our daughters are attending college. Even more, I am against the manner in which parents—usually the mothers who have never attended college—address the issue of college with their daughters.

Disclaimer here.

This article is NOT a hashkafic discussion about whether or not a girl should attend college. That is a question for parents, their rav, and the needs of each person.

This article is also less a discussion for those outside the so-called heimish community in which college is a natural segue from high school which fosters this expectation, and where traditional four-year colleges are those which are attended. Again, I am not saying it would be appropriate to attend those types of colleges; my point is that this article is addressing the college system within the heimish community and its negative impact emotionally on our girls.

Another disclaimer here.

As a religious woman, I deeply appreciate the opportunities our girls have to better their lives financially in a framework that allows them to make the most money in the least amount of hours, in an environment that tries to filter out the negative aspects of traditional colleges. Such as clepping (not as in Kleptomania, but as in the CLEP tests!), and all-woman classes.

What I object to is how we have bought into this manner of getting a higher education at the expense of other aspects of quality of life that is meaningful to a Jewish, religious girl, sometimes even more than the financial benefits of a college degree.

And one more disclaimer here (to avoid getting my head chopped off by various angry letter-to-the-editor people).

All opinions are strictly my own, not based on any psychology whatsoever (unless you want to count the fall-out I see in my practice with those people suffering from the college syndrome described in the reader's question above). Pretend I am not a therapist and simply some narrow-minded Bais Yaakov girl who is working undercover at Binah to put everyone back in the boxes they left when all these great college options flooded the market and opened up a whole new world to Jewish girls and women all over. (Ha!)

So here's the rest of this column addressing a mother's anxiety about her daughter returning from seminary without any definite plan for her future.

So what?

Since when does a religious girl from our community need to know what job she wants to do for the rest of her life, when the seminary she has just returned from, the high school she has attended, even her immediate familial and social culture has most likely encouraged her to think only in terms of getting married, and perhaps taking a teaching job in the interim?

If a girl likes to teach, and she is academically inclined, then attending the sum total of two options for college may be perfect (speech and special education, of course). But otherwise, if those don't interest her, then she may appear to be reluctant to begin something that she knows will be difficult without any real satisfaction at the end.

Has your daughter exhibited any skills or talents over the years? Has she been encouraged throughout her teen years to develop talents that may be translated into financially lucrative opportunities? Her skill at hair-cutting? Baking? Dancing? Probably not. Because our community is not endorsing those jobs for the most part. How many people are looking for a professional dancer for a daughter in law? Someone who bakes cakes for simchahs or is a chef at a catering hall?

It's a problem you see. With the daughter who just came back from seminary, with a society in which special ed and speech therapy remains the two socially acceptable college degrees. (Yes, I know, occupational therapy, social work, and nursing are beginning to enter into our lexicon. Great. That's a total of five careers from which to choose from.)

It appears that our girls have choices, but with these limited choices, we have limited our girls so much more than when I returned from seminary. Where college opportunities were non-existent for the mainstream religious girl, where everyone knew that after school an office job or teaching them awaited them. No indecisive angst for the most part.

And this is the piece that bothers me the most.

The mothers who have not attended college, who remained stay-at-home mothers, only want the best of their daughters. Perhaps someone like you. And that best, in some weird way, doesn't translate into their daughters being stay-at-home moms, but getting college degrees.

And here is what happens. The pressure on these girls is to not only get their degrees so they shouldn't end up like their mothers (gasp!), but to finish their degree in one year. In two years for a Masters. So that they are fully cooked by twenty and able to get married with the degree under their belt (or under their wig). So you have girls who don't even have a chance to really think through this decision. To decide if they want to be special ed teachers for an endless amount of years. Or a speech therapist. But by the time they have finished their degrees, on the back of long days and nights studying and turning in papers, time they might have spent with family, with friends, with new husbands who may really want a wife and not a college graduate; and they wake up and realize that after all, they may want to simply be stay-at-home mothers, they may want to teach math, or take a make-up course and work with brides, there is no way they are throwing their sacrifices, and their parent's money into the garbage.

This whole marathon college situation is ridiculous. College is meant to be four years. The first two of which a person decides which direction she will take for the third and fourth. But in our community, the concept of four years is a horrific one. She needs to be all set before her first baby with a degree. But why?

And don't start me on the argument of she-needs-to-support-her-husband-in-kollel. Which is a valid argument, but not one for which many girls actually do the marathon college life.

So take a deep breath. Yes, your daughter needs to do something when she comes home. But she may need to work first until she knows what she wants to do. She may need to try out a few jobs before something clicks. She may need to start college in a slow way, taking 2 courses until she knows what speaks to her. 

If her whole life she would have been encouraged to make her own decisions, despite the specter of mistakes along the way, then she would have more of a sense of herself now. So give her that space now, even if the stakes are higher. She is still only beginning her life.

And for your anxiety about her job/college decisions? I know a terrible therapist who writes these awful columns in Binah.




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