What will you do once your children have grown?
When I was in high school I wrote down in one of my many journals what my plan for the future was. With teenage arrogance and idealism I had my life mapped out.
I have lost the written plan, and certainly the plot, since then but I seem to remember it went something like this:
- Complete school – 1989
- Go off to study Graphic Design (hopefully at University) – 1990-1993
- Work in the advertising industry, build up an amazing career, eventually have my own company with my name in bold writing across the front of the building.
- Get married in approximately 1996 – you know it’s necessary to have a few years of single life before settling down.
- Have children in 1998 – because it’s important to have a couple of child free years of marriage just so that you can get to know one another and build up your relationship. Strong foundations and all that).
- Stay at home to look after those children – note how speedy was my rise to career stardom (five or so years max).
- Be content with that decision for ever because obviously, who could compare a successful career to human lives?
- No idea what I wrote next.
In reality my actual life didn’t exactly mirror my ambitions. Surprising really as I was so confident in myself and of course, I could be anything I dreamed of couldn’t I?
My timeline looks like this instead:
- Finish school 1989 – yep, got that one right thankfully.
- Graduate from Stellenbosch University 1993 with a degree in Graphic Design – just about managed that.
- Spend a year working in a student mission – didn’t expect that one now did you?
- Get married at the end of that year (aged 22) – WOAH that was quick.
- Spend next 6 years freelancing, travelling overseas then working full time while hubby completed his Masters.
- FINALLY have a baby in 2002.
- Move to Ireland
- Have another baby in 2004.
- And another in 2006.
- OOPS, and a fourth one in 2009.
- Delighted with all my babies but too exhausted and busy to care about seeing my name anywhere. I see it often enough anyway on the top of letters home to the parents of…
To keep myself occupied with a life that could revolve around little ones I got involved with helping out at our breastfeeding and local toddler groups. I was also busy with our church mum’s group so there were hardly any dull days.
I found volunteering is a great way as a new mum to mix with other adults and not feel quite so lonely or isolated, especially having moved house.
Now I often wonder how mum’s who go to work when their children are young manage to cope with balancing all the pressures of home life and work life. I also sometimes envy their career successes and freedom that comes with being able to be an adult for a day and make decisions that will be meaningful outside the confines of our little world at home.
I am glad I made the choice to stay at home but I still wonder what it would have been like to not have done that. Was my frustration at being stuck at home with them while my class mates from school and varsity seemed to be living glamorous lives having negative effect on my kids? Or would they have suffered emotionally if they were raised by other loving adults instead of me?
Would I appreciate my children more if I saw them less? Or if I had gone back to full-time work when they were all very small would I be filled with regrets at not having spent time with them while they were little?
I don’t know the definite answer to all of those questions except the last one. I knew that I wanted to be the one to raise my kids and I know I already regret those moments that I did spend with them when I wasn’t fully present, when I pushed them away instead of drawing them closer.
I remember when my youngest was less than a year old, a bouncing baby on my knee, we were out to dinner at family friends and I was asked “What will you do once your children have grown up?” The man who asked the question was my Dad’s best friend and had been his colleague. Sadly my father had passed away before my daughter was born so in a way he was possibly taking on a fatherly role by asking me a question which has come back to bite me on the bum.
Perhaps it was because his wife was now at that stage herself, or because he was aware that my father had paid for my third level education and I was seemingly ‘throwing it all away’ on ‘being just a mum’. (Not his words). Maybe he recognized something naive in my life approach or perhaps he was genuinely interested in my work. I’m not entirely sure why he asked that question.
I was a little taken aback as I felt like I had only just begun my parenting journey and had plenty of time to think about the future. I can’t remember what my reply was but probably something muttered along the lines of keeping my hand in though freelancing while I raised a family.
Now my children are all at school and this is the time in my life that I never anticipated in my earlier plan. It never occurred to me that once my children were grown up, I’d have a life that didn’t involve them. What happens once my kids don’t need me so much anymore? Can I easily slip back into the career I left behind in 2002?
The short answer is NO! My old career is not alive anymore and there’s no way on this planet I’m ever going to slip into anything dead. (Eek, sorry if that comes across as a bit gross!)
Once my youngest started school I admit I faced a bit of a crisis. Although I had been doing the occasional piece of freelance work, I hadn’t been investing enough time in building up enough clients again. Also the arrival of our children coincided with a massive move across the world from Johannesburg to this small corner of Ireland – I had left all my biggest clients behind.
I was no longer attending toddler groups and I retired as a breastfeeding counsellor. I was sending my CV out and applying for interviews, I even went to a few but never had any success. I was depressed at the thoughts that the only thing I was now good for was spending the rest of my days keeping the house clean.
That question from all those years ago had come back to haunt me and I finally realised what he was asking me, how would I plan ahead for the future? Well I’m not sure I could have anticipated all the changes and unforeseen house moves but perhaps I could have been more intentional about my work. Most importantly I should have not left my portfolio behind when we moved thinking I’d never need it again!
Looking back though I can see how each stage of my life has worked as a building block to the next. Every time I was refused a job I tried something else and as a result have had opportunities I wouldn’t have dreamed of.
In fact I fell in to blogging when I applied for a job two years ago that I knew I wasn’t qualified for and never got. One of the requirements of the position was to know how to use WordPress so I looked that up, started a blog and have not looked back since. I discovered how much I love to write and in the meantime have learnt a whole new set of skills.
The biggest hurdle I have had to overcome and I still battle with is self confidence. They say it’s a common problem for women at this stage in their lives. I see so many younger adults with way more self belief and yet also way less experience. Now that there’s time and potential for me to embark in a new direction, do I have enough courage to make it work and stick when things get tough?
You tell them Hillary!
One of the greatest lessons I have learnt through these changing seasons is that I don’t believe that women can ‘have it all’. In other words I think it would be almost impossible for a women to have a full time job as well as raise their children without support or childcare. We each have to make a choice about what we do and at what stage, which is never an easy choice to make. Obviously, for many this isn’t a choice either, or it’s a choice made with great sacrifices whether financial, emotional or parental.
However, I think that in either situation, whether stay at home mum or working mum, it is possible to have regrets about not having chosen the other path.
If I were to go back in time to tell myself anything, it would be to not worry about my future but to appreciate each moment that passes. I have learned that life comes in seasons which change and through them all the greatest gift we can ask for is patience to endure those seasons which are exhausting and stretch us to beyond our capacity to cope.
Also I would tell myself to be content within each situation as I will come to see I have been placed in them for a reason, usually for my good even though I didn’t recognise it at the time and even though some times can be extremely painful.
Would I go back and make different choices? I don’t think so.
I’d tell myself that I will make mothering mistakes as I go along no matter how hard I try to do what I think is the right thing, but my identity and worth are not based on any prestige or success, they are in spite of what I do.
Finally, because I’m a woman who prays, I would remind myself that if I commit each situation in prayer knowing I have a Heavenly Father who protects and guides me, then I can trust Him to walk with me along which ever path life takes me. I know I have a God who loves me and desires good things for me, that He is working all things for my good and His glory, even though I don’t understand it all now.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails”. Proverbs 19:21
I wrote a post over on Rachel Bustin’s blog about ‘Having it All’ as a mum, here’s the introduction:
Can Women have it All?
I don’t believe so. Assuming that is, that HAVING IT ALL means to have a successful career while simultaneously raising your children, with no other child care (no crèche, no nanny, no au pair, no granny). There simply isn’t enough time in the day! You can ask any new mum and they will not remember when the last time was that they shaved their legs or had a shower or drank a cup of tea while it was hot. There’s just no time for little luxuries like those. Let alone a booming successful business!
I was one of those Mums who decided that I’d give up my full time career and stay at home to raise my babies…
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