There’s one question that every mother has to ask herself. Usually more than once. What’s next?
Mothers face that life-altering question after maternity leave, when the last of their kids start school, or eventually when they have an empty nest. It’s liberating and terrifying all at once. We give so much of ourselves and we lay aside our dreams and ambitions for a season, but sometimes we lose a bit of ourselves in the process. Sometimes we forget how to dream. Or sometimes we simply forget how strong and capable we are.
Last year, I sent my fourth and final child off to school. It was an emotional time. A sign that all my babies were truly growing up. It signaled the end of an era, but it was a fresh new phase of life, and I was excited. I relished the quiet hours of the day. How I could finally eat my lunch in peace, run errands, and watch Netflix while I folded laundry. I worked from home a little, but something was missing. I lacked passion, purpose, and a dream, so I faced a question I’d been running from.
I was afraid. In my mid-thirties, I felt too old to dream. I felt too old to achieve. And I know that probably sounds crazy because that’s not by any means old, but however irrational it may be, I felt it deeply.
Before having kids, I hadn’t really set my eyes on any career path. My one goal was to be a mom, and I threw myself into that wholeheartedly as I raised my four beautiful kids. I have no regrets over that choice, but here I was a decade later with no idea what I wanted to do.
Fear was a huge factor. I felt unqualified for everything. With a largely empty resume, what job could I get? And would education be a factor? Because I couldn’t fathom trying to write essays and study for exams as an already tired and overwhelmed mom.
My husband was great. Always pushing me to dream and explore. “Figure out what you want to do,” he said. “Set your goals and I’ll help you go after them.” My support system was there, but I couldn’t get past the million reasons to say no in my head. Every single career required too much education, was too expensive to train for, or would take too much time from my family.
It’s hard to dream when you have a family to consider; it’s even more difficult when you’re battling insecurity.
What is the end game anyway? Is it simply a paycheck? Or are we aiming to find passion and fulfillment? I don’t have enough energy to add another thing to my list simply for a paycheck. I want to contribute more financially. I desperately want to help our family reach our financial goals, but I want purpose too.
My husband is very ambitious. He has two jobs and is a grad student. The man is more motivated than anyone I know. If my kids need an example of how to go after your goals, they’ve got a great one in him.
But I think of my daughter, and how I’d like her to live her life if she ever becomes a mom. I’d like her to dream. I’d like her to set goals and chase after them full throttle. I’d like her to live her life without ever questioning if she’s missing out on her full potential.
If it’s not too late, I’d like to model that for her.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in devoting yourself to motherhood. And I’m not saying you can’t dream and continue to be a stay-at-home mom. In fact, I believe you can stay home with your kids and still do it all. I know that’s what I want, but I also know I want more than the empty hours spent at home. I want to get off the hamster wheel of daily life and explore my opportunities.
Most importantly, I want to show my daughter and sons how to live a life full of purpose and meaning.
So I let myself sit with that exciting and yet terrifying question. What’s next? What do I want to do with my life? How do I want to spend those quiet hours of my day?
It was tough, I had to battle my fears, and I had to push myself, but I’m getting there. Slowly, I’m learning to dream. I’m setting goals and challenging myself to reach them. I’d be lying if I said the future isn’t still a little daunting, but thankfully, it’s looking very bright.