Ever since my oldest daughter started school, if you asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she’d always say “a mom”. Of course this filled my heart with joy because what better compliment than that, right? For career day in kindergarten, she went with her baby strapped to her tummy and diaper bag slung over her shoulder.
A few months ago, she came home from school with a drawing of her with a dolphin and declared, “I’m going to be a dolphin trainer when I grow up!” Of course I thought this was great and a creative career choice. “I need to learn to jump off the diving board, you know, for when I am a dolphin trainer,” she’d said this summer. She even received a dolphin trainer Barbie as a gift. “You know that means you’ll have to move far away from mom and dad,” my husband said to her at one point. “I know, but you’ll come visit me,” she answered nonchalantly.
A few weeks ago for career night at Wednesday night church, she eagerly planned to wear a snorkel mask and bring a stuffed dolphin. But that evening as we prepared to leave, she became quiet and worry swept over her face. Something was wrong.
Her voice quivered as she spoke, “Mom?”
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
Her voice was soft and slow. “Well . . . I think I want to be a mom instead.”
In the split second before responding, a million thoughts raced through my head. Here is one of those defining moments in parenthood, I thought. One of those times where my answer is really important.
I wanted to say I wouldn’t trade the path I chose for anything, but you, my daughter, can choose your own path. It doesn’t have to be mine, and I’ll love you and support you through it all. It’s OK to want to have a career that you love—and kids, too. Or have kids and no career. Being a mom is a joy that cannot be explained, but it’s OK if you don’t want to be a mom when you grow up. It’s OK if you do.
To my children, I’ll always be mom first, before anything else. While, I am OK with that and I love being a mom, that’s not all I am. And you, my child, if you choose to be a mother—that will not be all that you are either.
You are strong, smart, capable and confident. You can absolutely be “other things” without betraying your motherhood. Be a dolphin trainer, a scientist, a teacher, a doctor, a writer—please, chase after those dreams and fight for them. Those goals and dreams, that desire to “be” is what makes you, you. You don’t have to give up on your dreams you are running after in order to be a mom. You are not less of a mother if you have a career, and you aren’t more of a mom if you don’t.
If you decide to be a career mom, you are not alone if you are exhausting yourself trying to give both your work and your family 100 percent. Here’s a little secret: whatever you are giving to each side—it’s enough. Let the rest of it just be. And breathe, mama.
And if you decide to be a stay-at-home mom, you are not the only one on a difficult day wondering, as you stand over the sink eating cold mac ‘n cheese for lunch with your toddler begging for “uppy,” while hearing yet another sibling fight, how can I do this one more day?
Mothering is in no way glamorous, career or no career. It’s marathon nursing sessions, a sink of dirty dishes, piles of laundry, in which you actually ponder if death-by-laundry is possible. It’s cold coffee, yoga pants, lunch-packing and grocery store tantrums. It is holy work.
But it is also bedtime stories, sand castle building and Candyland playing. It’s singing littles to sleep, pillow fort making, sloppy kiss and gigantic hug giving. Its bouncy curls, homemade crafts, Christmas concerts, nature walks and piggy back rides. And a house full of laughter.
You see, becoming a mother adds a layer of richness to your life; it fills a part of your heart that you didn’t even know existed. But it doesn’t take away from who you were before. That person still exists too. She may become lost in motherhood for a while, but she’s still there.
I wanted to tell her all of this, but instead, I looked her in eyes with a smile on my face and said, ” My sweet girl, you don’t have to choose.” Her head perked up with a glimmer in her eyes and a slight smile crept across her face. “I can be both?” She asked. “Yes, you can be both!” I answered. With a sigh of relief and a huge grin on her face, “OK,” she said excitedly. “Then I want to be both!”
Satisfied and joyful, off she went—the future dolphin trainer AND mom. And my heart is full.
Originally published on the author’s blog