Dear 31-year-old self I used to be, circa 1997,
You are about to have your first baby, and you’re planning
to be a full-time, at-home mom, just like June Freaking Cleaver, minus the
heels. I want you to know you are doing
the right thing. That baby and the one
you will have a few years later will benefit greatly from your dedicated care
and attention. You will see their first
steps, you will hear their first words, you will comfort them when they hurt
and cheer them when they triumph. You
will guide them, nurture them, and love them into the marvelous people they
will be in 10 years.
And you’re lucky to be able to do that. Not everyone can. There’s financial pressure and social
pressure that sends mothers back to work, sometimes a matter of a few short
weeks after birth. You will be 100% with
the kids for several years, and you will find a flexible part-time job you
enjoy once they are in school. The best
of all worlds, right?
I’ve got to tell you, though, you are making a huge
sacrifice, and sometimes that sacrifice will hurt more than others. The other day, for example, I was trolling
job boards in my field, just to keep an eye on the state of the market. And there I found a job I wanted. A job that would entail working on projects
that dovetail with my interests and stretching the skills I’ve developed in my
part-time work. A job that requires
someone with exactly my qualifications.
A job I can’t get, because it’s full time and I have an
almost-10-year-old and a six-year-old who need me most afternoons. So I’m feeling the pain right now.
See, once you have kids, your life will cease to be about
you and become about them. You won’t
regret having them. Not at all. But you will think wistfully about those
prime personal and professional development years that you gave over to
somebody else. You will wonder where you
would be if you’d spent that decade as just you instead of as somebody’s wife and mother. You will wish that you could split into two
separate people so that you could take that job without putting your kids into
after-school care every single day.
Sure, you can go back to full-time careering once the kids
are grown, but by then it is too late to reach your full potential. You will have lost too many years to diapers,
school plays, and chauffeur duty. Will
you mind? Will you still feel a sense of
loss, or will the pride and accomplishment of having raised your kids well
I’ll let you know.