“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
That’s a question every kid gets asked-probably on a weekly basis. When I was little, I wanted to be a veterinarian and a mommy. That first dream led me to be a volunteer and intern at the zoo for nearly fifteen years, choose a certain college major, and more. My parents made huge sacrifices for me to fulfill this dream. I think in a way, it became their dream, too. If you ask her, my mom still says she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. Surely, that wouldn’t be me. I would find that thing, and I would achieve it.
Then the reality of college classes and life hit me like a truck. I didn’t want to be that veterinarian anymore. I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to hack it through ten years of school, among other things. Accepting the news myself was hard; delivering the news to my family was harder. Would I disappoint them? How would I repay them for all of the sacrifices they made for me to achieve the dream that wasn’t my dream anymore? My dad sold his boat to help pay for my education. They accepted it with grace, and I fear it worried them a little. Me? I still feel guilty.
In a sociology class I took while trying to figure out what it was I did want to do, I read that even though we are all fed the “you can be whatever you want to be, as long as you work hard” mantra, a shockingly high percentage of people end up in the exact situation that their parents were in. Would that be me, I wondered?
I finally figured out what I thought I wanted to do.
I changed my major and added a minor to include my broad spectrum of interests; surely something would come of those polar opposite things. I loved every one of those English and Wildlife classes. I prepared to move away and find a job after graduation where I could work with the natural world and write great reports about it.
And then Katrina hit, and I was called home by an invisible force that was stronger than my life aspirations. I knew I had to be home, no matter the cost. I took a job I wasn’t totally thrilled with, but I would be working for my old boss, and I had a chance to help rebuild our beloved city.
Two years later I was burnt out, on antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication, and feeling like a failure. Deep down, I also realized that while I was still at that job, I couldn’t fulfill that other dream I had of being a mom. Just six months after our marriage, my husband told me he couldn’t keep picking me up off of the floor every night and I needed to make a change. I knew he was right. I had known it for months. But what would I do? I couldn’t live in the city I needed to be in and find a job in my chosen field. I applied for jobs for months and heard nothing. A chance phone call from a friend sent me to apply for my current job. It wasn’t in my realm of what I ever thought I would do, but there was room for growth and I could leave my job AT my job instead of wrestling the demons after hours.
In the six years I’ve been at the “new” job, I’ve tried to figure out what it is that I want to do. I thought I could stay here forever, but budget cuts changed the financial benefits I was promised at hire. Then the babies came, and here I am today, thankful to have a job, at a great family-friendly place at that…but where my husband and I both have to work extra jobs to make ends meet.
Every day I ask myself what I want to be when I grow up.
Every.Single.Day. I still don’t know what my purpose is, other than being a devoted and involved mama. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe that IS my purpose.
So mama, if you’re feeling like you can’t work that 9 to 5 anymore, and you think you can find a way to stay home with your babies, but you’re afraid to try? I think you’ll be great.
Are you happy with your career, but wish it allowed more time with your kids? I see you taking them to the empty office with you on the weekends so you can have special time with them and still climb the ladder.
Are you feeling like you can’t do the stay at home thing anymore, and the workforce is calling you back? I’ll hold your hand while you hit “send” on that job inquiry email.
Are you still feeling like you don’t know what you want to do, so you’re just trying to go through the motions to keep everyone fed, healthy, and happy? I’m here to tell you you’re not alone.
You don’t have to know what you want to be when you grow up.
You may never actually know. But, in the meantime, find something that makes you happy. Find something you love to do and find a way to spend an hour a week doing it. Read a book. Paint. Take your kids outside and play around with your camera. Start a blog. Buy a new cookbook and get adventurous, and fling some chicken nuggets at the kids if they don’t want to eat it. Make sure your form of survival doesn’t hinder the nourishment of you and your soul. You are worth it, you know. Those little people that love you think you’re great, no matter what you may think of yourself. Lead by example, even though it’s hard.
I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to get my dad that boat I owe him, but I do know he’s proud of me. I don’t know if my mom will ever figure out what she wants to be when she grows up, but I had a great example of an involved and present mother. I watched her work a job that may not have fulfilled her dreams or her bank account, but allowed her to be present at everything we did. Sometimes, I have to fight the that little voice of doubt that tells me I suck. Perhaps that’s the same voice my parents had to fight. But when my three-year-old runs to greet me at the end of the school day and my twin girls’ eyes light up when I walk into daycare to get them, I remember that that is how I saw my parents. Even if they weren’t happy with themselves, I was happy with them.
What I have learned from feeling lost is appreciation.
Appreciation for the job I do have, for how hard my parents worked for me and my brother, and how hard my husband and I both work. It’s all for our babies, so that maybe, MAYBE we can make their dreams come true. And if their dreams don’t turn out the way they thought they would, I guarantee I’ll love them and be proud of them anyway. Isn’t that what parenting is all about?
So until I figure out what I want to be or do when I grow up, I’m going to try and give myself the grace my children give me. That grace is my shield against the voice that tells me I’m not good enough. I will continue to work hard and work hard to be present. That is what I want to be as THEY grow up.