Love’s Labor’s Cost

Caring for my daughter isn’t a matter of degree.

May 2024

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Hands surrounding an image of an adult and child

Illustration: Anna Resmini

“You’re really using your Stanford degree,” said my neighbor with a sarcastic chuckle.

We were sitting around a patio table, a group of moms sharing wine and unburdening our hearts. It was the fall of 2021, more than a year into the pandemic’s pressure-cooker effect on parenting. I had just mentioned how much time I spend at our kitchen sink, washing dishes from one meal, preparing food for the next, then cleaning up again. And how my education hadn’t really prepared me for the intense daily work of being a mom.   

Her comment still stings.

Although I work part time, I haven’t made my career a priority since 2013, when I became a parent. Instead, I’ve focused on being a mom—a decision that, despite the joy it brings, feels like a necessity, considering the cost of childcare versus my income, the demands of my husband’s job, the health status of my parents, and the needs of my daughter.

Yes, I was complaining about the dishes. Yes, I have a loving, engaged husband who does his fair share of household chores. But I felt angry that caregiving is so undervalued that it is seen as inappropriate work for a Stanford grad. For many families, there is no clear way for both parents to work full time and maintain a work-life balance; others don’t have the luxury of that choice. Parenting can be a catch-22.

Still, it’s true that my degree in English didn’t prep me for motherhood. How could it? The all-nighters I pulled at Stanford in Oxford trying to finish 12-page papers on Wuthering Heights were just a teeny taste of those I would spend comforting my newborn. And the stress of getting along with a messy roommate at Roble was nothing compared with living with a tantrum-throwing toddler.

For many families, there is no clear way for both parents to work full time and maintain a work-life balance; others don’t have the luxury of that choice.

But when you get down to it, no degree comes with a free pass to avoid the realities of parenting in a society that offers little support to caregivers of any type, from moms and dads to day care workers and dementia care providers.

If I could go back and restructure my Stanford education to align with my current life, I’d study how certain policies perpetuate inequity, and I’d learn how to fight them. I’d seek lessons on building community, and I’d work toward creating the change necessary to give all parents agency and respect, regardless of whether they participate in the paid labor force.

For now, I’m determined to educate myself while nurturing the traits in my bright, spirited daughter that have also sustained me as a mom: compassion, creativity, and grit. I’ll celebrate not just her accomplishments but also her acts of kindness, love, and friendship. I’ll champion her strong inner compass, her way of questioning the world, and her resilience. I won’t expect her to simply “use her degree” but to follow her heart and connect with others.

And perhaps she and I can work together to shift people’s perspective on caregiving and help them recognize the work for what it is: a pursuit worthy of a Stanford grad.

Jennica Peterson, ’99, lives in Louisville, Colo. Email her at

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