While I was growing up I didn’t really have a clear picture of what kind of career I wanted as an adult. For a number of years I wanted to be a marine biologist because I loved the ocean and was fascinated by whales. Then I got into harder science and math classes in high school and felt like I just couldn’t keep up. My senior year in high school I had to write an essay about my future career plans; I wrote about becoming a full-time stay-at-home mom, but it was mostly just to annoy my English teacher because at the time I assumed that my extreme nerdiness would always keep me from getting married. I applied for college at BYU, was accepted, and spent my first three years trying to figure out what I wanted to major in before settling on English because I really liked books. I still had a hazy idea of my future and assumed that after graduating I might find some kind of office job because that was the kind of job I worked while I was an undergraduate.
After my junior year at BYU I left for a mission in Spain, and then returned to BYU and got married less than a year after coming home. At the time of my wedding, my husband and I both had about two years of school left. We took classes together, each worked part-time, and then had our first child three months after we both graduated with our bachelor’s degrees. We spent a lot of time talking about our future; we weren’t sure what we wanted, but we knew that we both wanted to be equally involved as parents and that neither of us should have a career that took precedence over the other. My husband went back to BYU for graduate school a month after our daughter was born; I studied for the GRE and worked on my application, and the next year started a master’s degree in Spanish at BYU. We only had one small child and my husband was in graduate school, so getting a master’s degree at that time was actually a fairly easy decision for me to make.
As time went on, we continually reworked our vision for our family. We realized that our initial plans to share part-time work and part-time parenting didn’t really work out for us as well as we had wanted them to. We found that good part-time jobs were scarce, especially ones with job security and health insurance benefits. After having my second child, I first discovered the depths of post-partum depression and anxiety, and then found that I actually enjoyed staying home with my children much more than I had anticipated and couldn’t really think of a job that was more fulfilling at that time then parenting my young children. Two parents juggling part-time work and graduate school was also emotionally and physically exhausting. We spent a few more years trying various combinations of graduate school, part-time employment, and shared parenting. Then my husband found a good full-time job that he liked, we bought a house, had another baby, and I settled into stay-at-home parenting supplemented by occasional adjunct teaching.
After a number of years trying to decide what career I wanted and feeling like I couldn’t think of anything in particular, I finally made peace with the fact that I was OK with mostly being a mother and not having a career. I had a graduate degree and I felt that this worked well as a “Plan B” just in case something happened. I spent most of the ten years I was married trying to balance my employment and education to prepare for a possible future with the needs of my family at the present time. I didn’t want to waste my opportunity to more fully parent my young children because I was worrying too much about what might go wrong down the road. I often asked God for guidance, and I followed the tiny crumbs of personal revelation along the path to my future: “take this job now; try this class; it’s OK to stay home with your kids right now.” My marriage had many ups and downs, but I still found it easier to assume that I could rely on my husband to support our family while I primarily focused on parenting. Instead, over the years he gradually left the church and withdrew himself even more from me and our children until eventually he left us.
Then I found myself a single parent trying to find work that would offer good job security, a decent wage, and health benefits for myself and my children. I discovered that a master’s degree in Spanish Literature and fifteen years of occasional part-time jobs and teaching weren’t going to get me very far. My “Plan B” was a good start and better than nothing, but suddenly it had to be “Plan A”. First I took a part-time job at a local public library and spent a year supplementing it with adjunct teaching. Then last year I responded to a fairly strong prompting to apply for a job at a nearby university library. I celebrated my thirty-fourth birthday with my first full-time, benefited job; it was an entry-level position at a fairly low pay grade, but I recently used that experience to switch to an even better job at a different institution. I have been blessed in so many ways; I’m grateful that my ‘Plan B’ included completing a college degree and that I live in an area with a good job market. I also have an ex-husband that pays child support and is an active presence in our children’s lives—a blessing that most women in my situation don’t have.
I think the biggest blessing I have experienced, however, is the peace that comes from knowing I have followed the Lord’s guidance in my life. At times I doubt myself and wonder why I didn’t spend more time building my career when I knew that my marriage was on shaky ground. Now that I am going back for an additional degree as a single parent who works full-time, I question why I didn’t get that degree five years ago while I was still married and not working. That would have been the more logical answer and I would have been more prepared for my life now, but I also know that I felt the Lord directing me and made the right choices for my life with the knowledge I had at that time. Life is full of contradiction, and I marvel that I can simultaneously see all the different paths I could have taken, while at the same time seeing clearly that the path I did take has been just right for me for me and my family. I feel sorrow at my missed opportunities while simultaneously rejoicing in the life I have right now. Somehow, what I thought was “Plan B” was really just “Plan A” all along. Or maybe there was only ever just one plan, the same plan we all have to follow—stumbling and bumbling as we each try to find our own way to get through this life, reaching out for the Lord’s hand for reassurance that He is walking beside us and we are not lost.