I quit my job the day my first daughter was born.
I had been working since I was 15, going to school full-time, and doing various extracurriculars. By 21, I felt tired. The long hours and inconsistent schedule never worked for my list-oriented mind, and the time spent at work seriously cut down on my ability to keep up with my college workload.
What better excuse than having time to spend with a baby you worked so hard to create? I felt then as I do now, so fortunate and grateful to have that option available. It's worked for 10 years and two children.
When my oldest started preschool, I felt relieved I had the one on one time I needed with my youngest and the ability to get things done while nap time still seamlessly occurred.
When my youngest started school, I thought, great I could finally get shopping done in peace and clean the house without the constant storm following me. But I always got them back halfway through the day, and our schedule could continue.
Even when they started elementary school, they needed me a great deal. I would walk them to and from school and be present for most of their events.
Now my 10-year-old is on the cusp of middle school. My 7-year-old being exposed to older kids her entire life no longer needs or wants me to schedule her time and is much happier handling her school things independently.
I find my schedule split wide open, and while that should be a cause to celebrate, I find it frightening. My children's lives have been so intertwined with my own that I don't know who I am anymore without them.
By letting go of my job 10 years ago, I also lost my drive for any life outside the home or children. Yes, I had friends, and I could always apply for a part-time job to get out of the house, but I had wanted more once, hadn't I?
I had clear aspirations to become a writer, a teacher, a chronic student. Amid diapers, breast/bottle, nonexistent sleep schedule, and a husband who was inconsistently home, I barely made it through my associates' program. From there, my once career-driven mind took a back seat and slowed its pace to tea parties on the lawn and baking competitions.
I don't regret any of that, but now that they are grown and barely needing me more than shuffling them to and from school and checking to see if their homework is done correctly, I find myself wondering, What do I do next?
For the first couple of years, I busied my time maintaining the house to an impeccable standard. I also managed to lose my baby weight and started down a paleo cooking path and homemade meals. Though all those activities are fulfilling, I find in the house's silence that I have lost myself in a critical way I never noticed with all the distractions.
I'm 10 years older and on paper have very little to show for it compared to my peers (academically or career-wise). I know this drags on as one big complaint, and believe me, that's not my intention. I've just noticed that this is a topic of rearing children no one ever told me about.
Maybe because it's taboo—How dare I complain that after years of being able to stay home with my kids, my days are so empty I'm bored to tears? That I regret not having the struggle of home/work balance that many other women had no choice in?
A few years ago, I remembered a joke I told my husband, we were discussing the kids going back to school that fall, and he wanted to know if I had any plans to start writing again or what I was going to do with my time and I threw my arms in the air and sighed, "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up."
It was abrupt and weird, and yes, a little funny, because even through all the years and challenges when I thought about picking up writing again, I still felt like an unsure 21-year-old, staring at a college essay wondering if I will ever get to the finish line—this career that would make me feel accomplished.
Thanks to COVID, I've had lots of time to think about this. I realized that many of the constraints placed upon myself, my lack of education or a career, are things I put on myself. No one has ever made me feel guilty for it except for me, and there was never a time limit placed on my contribution to the world. I put that there as well.
I'm still unsure of my future direction, but I'm getting there, and the fear I have of the kids needing me less shrinks daily. It's not shameful to change your ambitions and then realize that you want them back. They will still be there when you decide. You are not grown up yet.