A few years back, when my three kids were nine, seven and four, I hit one of those turning points. A demarcation. I lived in Minnesota at the time, in a school district where summers were looooong, and I remember sitting at my computer one hot July day, looking out the window at my kids running around on the lawn, completely independent. They no longer needed me to tie their shoes or wipe their bottoms, rock them to sleep or buckle their seat belts. In many ways, it was a time to celebrate my own independence. Finally, I had some air to breathe, a little corner of quiet. Sleep. Oh, the sleep! It was everything I’d been yearning for.

Yet.

Yet I felt unsettled, unmoored by my impending freedom. For the better part of the previous decade, I’d been a mom of little kids. Sure, I’d done other things while they were small, but in many ways the tying and wiping and rocking and buckling were the actions that defined my days. Defined my life. The future was yawning (and I was well rested), which begged the question:

So what was I gonna do now??

What I did was get pregnant again. Halfway through my third child’s kindergarten year, we welcomed our caboose—our fourth and final child—whom my husband called our “hobby baby.” He’s been darling and fun (and crazy and exhausting). But this post isn’t about babies. It’s about choices. It’s about that time in your life when you stand on the dividing line from one phase to the next and find yourself wondering who (whom??) the heck you are supposed to be.

Perhaps it’s my age—I’m thirty six—but I feel like recently I’ve had an abundance of conversations with women my age about how to handle the next phase. The “kids are all in school . . . now what?” conversation. And inevitably, in almost every conversation, somebody says this:

“I want to (fill in the blank) but I’m afraid . . .”

I want to go back to work, but I’m afraid the other stay-at-home moms will judge me.

I want to have another baby, but I’m afraid I’m getting too old and too tired.

I want to go back to school, but I’m afraid I can’t hack it.

I want to stay home full time, even with the kids gone all day, but I’m afraid some will think I’m wasting my time.

And so on, and so on. And it’s not like I have any corner on wisdom or have received any special conferment of authority (other than being born the oldest child in my family and therefore have an irritating penchant for big sisterish meddling and advice-giving), but despite the fact I don’t know you (well, most of you) and you don’t know me, I still want to say this:

You hereby have permission to do whatever you think is best.

Do you want to go back to work? Part time? Full time? Does the thought of getting back into (or entering for the first time) the world you left when you had your babies fill you with excitement? Could you really use the money? Have you talked about the pros and cons with your husband? Have you prayed about it, and do you feel the spirit is stirring your soul, telling you now is the time, that this is something you should do? Then do it. So your sister will judge you. So you’ll sometimes feel guilty that you can’t visit teach during the day. But you know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.

Do you want to stay home full time for now? For ever? Even though the kids are all in school and you know you’re not having any more? Do you feel you’re at your best when you’re within the walls of your home—productive, happy, in touch with your family and neighbors and friends? Then why are you searching for jobs you don’t want? So your mother-in-law won’t look down on you for “wasting your education?” So when you go to your 20 year reunion you’ll have a paying job to talk up? You know those aren’t real reasons. You feel, deep down, it’s best if you stay home. You know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.

Do you want to have another baby, even though the other kids are so much older and it doesn’t seem practical? Should you have donated those baby clothes to the DI years ago, but you can’t (or won’t) because it just doesn’t seem quite right? Have you prayed about it and felt the spirit tell you that another baby might not be practical or easy . . . but another baby will be just what you need? So your husband might take some convincing. So you’ll have to lose that baby weight (again). So you’ll be tired—bone tired, soooo very tired. But you just can’t shake that feeling that it’s the right thing to do. You know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.

Do you want to go back to school after all these years? Whenever you find yourself on a college campus, does your heart spin around in your chest? When you buy your kids their school supplies do you yearn for a notebook of your own, some really nice ballpoint pens, a pack of multicolored note cards? You loved school so much when you were young—but you know you’d love it so much more now. You would appreciate it. You would soak it up. You’d approach it as the blessing it is. So it might seem impractical to the ladies you serve with on the PTA board. So it might be scary to have deadlines and grades and assignments and tests. But in your heart you know it would fill you up. And you’d be good at it, too. You know yourself, you trust yourself. So move forward.

None of these decisions is easy, which is why we’re so often paralyzed by fear when we have to make them. When we reach a crossroads in our lives, it inevitably opens up the possibility that we’ll make a mistake, that we’ll zig when we should have zagged. But I also believe that the best—no, the only—way to make big decisions in our lives is to try our best to take fear out of the equation. Fear of failure, fear of judgment.

I stole this from Anne Lamott, but I like it, so I’m using it: Pretend like those voices chattering judgment or fear are mice. Imagine taking them by the tail while they’re squeaking away and plopping them inside a nice big mason jar. Now screw the lid down, tight. You can see them in there scratching around, screeching, probably, but you can’t hear a thing. Just silence. Ahhhh . . . silence.

Now decide.

(Oh, and in three and a half years, my hobby baby will be going to kindergarten. I know my mice will start chattering up a storm. We’ll see if I can take my own advice . . . :-).

24 Comments

  1. Johnna

    October 17, 2008

    wow, this is so where I am.

  2. Jennie

    October 17, 2008

    I still have two todders, but I am dreaming–DREAMING–of the day when the world is mine, all mine.

    I plan on taking the first year off and doing the lazy housewife thing. Sitting around a quiet house all day. Going to movies whenver I want. Lunch with girlfriends. My husband will be green with envy but I was the one cleaning barf out of the carpet at 3 am, so I deserve it.

    Then I’m going back to school to become an architect. I was too scared to study architecture when I was younger (Math! Aaaaagh!) but I’m brave enough now.

  3. Ginger

    October 17, 2008

    I plan to volunteer more and quilt as much as possible. I figure with the quilting, I can pretend like I am thinking about starting a quilting business, and then people won’t really question my decision, but really I have no plans to ruin a perfectly enjoyable hobby by turning it into a business.

    Thanks for this great post!

  4. dalene

    October 17, 2008

    Jump in–the water is great!

  5. wendy

    October 17, 2008

    Angela, this is fantastic! I love that you granted us permission, and I love the questions you proposed about each option.

    Even if we don’t adopt a second or third baby, I will be nearly *46* before numero uno starts school (yikes!!), but I already know furthuring my education is it. I may even take some night classes before then, when ds is 3 or 4 perhaps. Or maybe I’ll discover some latent talent that I can really get into and make money off of. I love the possibilities, even those that are tainted with fears. There is so much we can do!!

  6. Janet

    October 17, 2008

    I have thought about this for years. I had six children in 13 years. From the time I was 20 until age 40 I had at least one preschooler as my constant companion. I had big plans that when I turned 40 and all six were in school I would have my “dream job” (whatever that might be – still trying to figure what to be when I grow up) and start my “other” adulthood. But then when my baby was in first grade I needed to take care of my aging mother-in-law. Then after she passed away my husband was called as mission president in Korea – another three years down. When we came back I still had a home to care for, high school students to be home for and grandchildren coming. And so I continue to be a “stay-at-home” Mom and I really do love it. I love caring for my home and family, I love being “Nanajan” to five grandchildren, I love having the freedom to plan each day with a little more of what I want to do, not just what HAS to be done while taking care of little ones. I still think about going back to school or getting a part-time job, but my days are full with temple going and church service and sometimes lunch with friends and so I continue. Plus, I hate to mention this, but I really am slower as I age so the same things I could do quickly even with children under foot just take me longer. I’m just grateful that I’ve never HAD to work. I really can take each day and try to listen to the Spirit and do His will.

  7. jendoop

    October 17, 2008

    This week I’ve been working on my resume and cover letter for a class and it is making me cry. I’m taking classes through the BYU BGS program (which is GREAT)to finish my degree through distance learning. For the cover letter and resume we’re supposed to find a real job that we’re qualified for. After 10 years of being a stay at home mom the only thing I’m qualified for is a glorified day care worker. I’m going to school so I don’t have to wipe noses anymore not because I want to do it more. Being a stay at home mom is not my dream job, I love my family dearly but the walls close in, my brain petrifies and I feel suffocated.

    There are legitamite reasons to fear the next step: there are prejudices towards women, especially older women; There are time constraints; money constraints and always an unforseen wrench in the works. Just because you have the desire to do something doesn’t mean the planets will align, the sea will part and your way will be paved with gold. Instead you must steel yourself against the forces that will fight against you. You must know why you want it and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get it. Don’t be fooled, sometimes the red flags of fear mark very real pitfalls.

  8. Angela

    October 17, 2008

    Jendoop, you’re right. There are all sorts of real reasons to be afraid, and there are all sorts of real life monkey wrenches that make the best goals difficult to achieve. The difficult thing for me has been clearing out all the voices in my head telling me what I “should” be doing and learn to hear my own voice, or the voice of the spirit whispering to me. Identifying the voice is only the first step, though. Then there’s the actual *doing* of the thing, which is rarely easy.

    And Janet, I loved your story and how you try to listen to the spirit and “take each day.” I struggle sometimes with the idea that we all must have this grand plan that we strictly adhere to. Sometimes listening to the spirit, one day at a time, will lead us to the best place of all.

    And Jennie the Architect! That would be awesome!

  9. courtney

    October 17, 2008

    I’ve just started a different stage– just had my first in April. So I am wondering what to do with myself in a whole different way. But I still appreciate the permission to find out what I need/want to do and to do it.

  10. Randy B.

    October 17, 2008

    Great post; love the nod to Oingo Boingo.

  11. Angela

    October 17, 2008

    Randy, I was hoping people would know the reference. I’ve had that song going through my head ever since I wrote the post. And if I have to be just like somebody on TV, I want to have Heidi Klum’s legs and Tim Gunn’s heart.

  12. hennchix

    October 17, 2008

    Great post! I think we often commit emotional masochism because of what we “should” be or do. The important part of a fulfilled life is accepting the fact that we are all elect women,and here for different purposes. For instance(dare I go here?), even though Sarah Palin has heavy family responsibilities, maybe she was placed here to advocate for families.

  13. Karen

    October 17, 2008

    Who do I want to be today?
    I don’t think I am the person I wanted to be 23 years ago.
    Now I’m not sure what I want to be when the kids grow up. I’ve been a stay at home mom for 21 years. I still have little kids, the youngest is two. What I want to do for myself still seems so far in the future, because if it is possible, I want my youngest to have me around as much as my oldest did.
    So for today I want to be a stay at home mom for a while longer.
    When I think about it I realize I have been what I wanted to be all this time.

  14. Red

    October 17, 2008

    My youngest is 3. I’m in GRE prep classes to get ready for grad school. I love this post. I’ve found that most of my SAHM peers don’t like to talk to me about my future in school and then work. I think people get uncomfortable when you grow beyond the version of you they have in their head.

  15. tonya

    October 17, 2008

    Honestly, sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with all the things I want to do, that all I can manage to do is take a nap!

    My kids are older (20,18,15) and I seriously thought time would slow down.What a joke! Time moves much more quickly now, and before you know it you’re 42 and wondering just what the heck happened? How did I get here? And why haven’t I done all the things I wanted to?

    Time to jump in to life again…

    Shoot – I just reread this and realized I’m 43 – where in the world did that year just go?

  16. meems

    October 17, 2008

    whew. Several of your examples could have been written by me. I secretly want to be a sahm but I’m afraid to give up the job, money, seniority, lifestyle, etc. Also, if I quit and I don’t like it after a few months, I won’t be able to get my old job back.

    At the same time, I wish I could notch myself up professionally, but I don’t have the time to devote to my job when I’m mom starting right after school and girl scout leader and primary activity co-leader, and etc etc.

    It’s very fearful having to make a decision and in the end I (we?) try to do it all and be everything to everyone and aren’t completely happy with any of it.

  17. Justine

    October 17, 2008

    I think I’m afraid, “What if I succeed?” That is WAY more scary to me than failing. I need to get some extra mason jars for those mice, I think.

  18. The Normal Mormon Husband

    October 18, 2008

    As a father who works full-time and has already completed his education, I rarely struggle with this dilemma. As a 33-year-old LDS, happily-married dad my life seems to be set for the next couple of decades. The question I keep asking myself is, “How can I save enough money to retire at 55?”

  19. Leslie

    October 19, 2008

    Great post. I think we constantly find ourselves at crossroads, determining which direction to take our lives and what to do with our time and energy and passions. It requires alot of personal inspiration to know how to divide our lives the best to fulfill our purpose, the measure of our creation, and use the talents God has given us!

  20. Stacey

    October 19, 2008

    Thank you for that!

  21. jendoop

    October 19, 2008

    Angela,
    You are very right, is difficult to hear our inner voice, to hear the spirit and do what is right for us and only us. When we do come to the realization we need to store it in a box under lock and key so that when the days come that make us doubt ourselves we can be reminded that it was confirmed, spirit to spirit.

  22. Terry Allen

    October 20, 2008

    This is such a great post! I think I’ve said or thought most of these things. I’m in college again, and my heart does “spin around” in my chest. I just love it! I have an even older friend on campus that told me when she grows up she “wants to be educated”. She is probably 65. I’m not too old…I’m not too old. (Those blasted mice:)

  23. Hollydoll

    October 20, 2008

    I love reading all of these comments. My youngest turns 9 next month and over the summer I went back to school full time to get my esthetician and laser license. It was so hard being gone because I felt like I abandoned my kids and my responsibilities at home. I have never had to work (much to my husband’s chagrin, he has always wished I would get a real job to help pay the bills, but instead I worked at home doing permanent makeup…not steady income.) Now that the economy has turned sour and I really don’t have any more excuses to stay home during the day, I have to find a “real” job. I hate that!! I want to be a sahm forever, but it is not my lot in life. The one good thing about school though was I realized when I was working (I really am good at what I do) I loved it. So, I am torn…I love the actual act of being gone and working, but when I am home I love to be there and never want to leave. I guess having the best of both worlds is a luxury that we can’t afford. Wow, I am blessed!I guess if I look at it the right way, I got to stay home with my kids when they were little and now I get to go and develop other talents that really do make others happy!! How cool is that. Thanks for the post…it has given me pause to think and say Thank You for all that I have.

  24. Shannon Best

    October 30, 2008

    First time reader….Great post. I have 2 year old twins and I want to stay at home when they start school. For the first year at least. I want to volunteer a bit. But most of all I want to do what I want to do most of the time…..thank you for allowing us to explore the possibilities. I have a college education, but maybe I will further that….my dream was to always be an interior designer….even though you couldn’t tell it by my house!!! LOL (two 2 year olds….cmon! In another year I can put my end tables and the lamps back!!!! YEAH!)
    Shannon in Austin
    via C Jane

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