For the better part of our youth the path is clear: go to school, get a job, find a partner, buy a house, get married, have kids. Maybe a few things trade places or you skip one or two, but the gist is 'here's what you do when you grow up'. The next step is usually obviously in focus; it's easier to accomplish goals that are clearly defined.
So I did all that shit. And I did it with gusto. Found a great career I enjoyed, a husband that was loving beyond compare, we bought the house, we planned the wedding, we got knocked up. It was all so fucking exciting because the milestones were huge and everyone cared about them. People asked you about the wedding venue and the dress and then they asked you about honeymoons and ultrasounds and names and genders and birth plans. You and your spouse are a focal point and soon you have tiny focal points of your own.
So you give birth. The baby arrives. You work together (hopefully) to raise said baby and then you move on to the next familial milestone which is generally a sibling or two. You conceive (if you're lucky). You give birth again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
But now. Now you're married. You have kids. You either had (or still have) a career that's moderately satisfying but certainly isn't new, or exciting. All of a sudden those steps, those socially predetermined goals, have all come and gone. What's next on the list? Retirement? Thirty fucking years from now? What the hell am I supposed to do in between now and the early bird special?
It hit me hard. The realization that all of a sudden I felt an overwhelming lack of direction, a lack of significance. Was my life really only about child rearing? Should we have another baby? Does it make sense to have a baby just for the sake of setting a goal or having a plan? I felt like my steady march forward had become a meandering, circular stumble. I felt lost in the midst of what I can only explain as an existential crisis.
It occurred to me while rolling all this around in my brain that this is a fairly common time for people to get divorced for the exact reasons I mentioned above. There's an overwhelming desire for newness and I can see how one would try to extrapolate that newness from an alternate partner. However, that wasn't the path for me. I was fully aware of the issue I was facing and also aware that my marriage wasn't part of the problem. Sure we'd been together for what sometimes felt like (sorry babe) a million years, but I'd much rather be staring at his junk every morning than some other dude's.
So, to placate my desire to do big things with my life I sat down to try and figure out what exactly I WAS doing, even if it was little. What I discovered was life changing for me.
For many of us stay at home (or work at home, or not-the-primary-breadwinning) parents, we feel our role is supportive to our partners. They go to work, we hold down the fort. Right?
Our partners go to work in support of US. In support of our families. In support of giving our children the best possible environment in which to thrive. I'm the one with the most responsibility and arguably the most important role in the family; that of the caretaker of our children. Although my job might involve changing diapers instead of budget meetings it is no less commendable.
All of a sudden I realized that my job as a stay at home parent was full of potential, not only for the growth of my children, but for my own personal growth as well. Because of my role as a mother I was also able to launch a successful business I could do from home. Because of my role as a mother I could take an hour every day to work out. I could have coffee with a friend. It allowed me flexibility that those in a structured workplace simply didn't have. I might not live the most glamorous life, but I do have freedom. I have freedom and I have my kids. What more could I ask for?
I decided that in order for me to avoid feeling the pitfalls of my perceived lifestyle mediocrity, I would set goals for myself that gave me the opportunity to feel excitement again. Over the years those goals have included bikini competitions, photo shoots, weight lifting goals, writing goals, small business goals, home improvement goals, organizational goals, relationship goals, and financial goals.
I saw the world in a completely different way when I realized my possibilities were literally endless. I saw my at-home business grow to six figures, we paid off debt, I was stronger than ever, and our family flourished. All of this because I decided to shift focus from what my lifestyle didn't provide to what it did. And what a difference it made.
Now on the weeks that I previously thought were mundane, I find joy. I don't just care for my home, I do it well. I don't just care for my kids, I do it well. I give it the time and attention it deserves and I take pride in it because I'm good at it goddammit, and that's exciting to me.
There are still days that end in tears and cranky kids and wine and fucking chaos, but there is also drive and focus mixed in there. My job as a caregiver might not be as exciting as peeing on a pregnancy test or planning a wedding, but it is every bit as interesting and even more critical to the success of my family.
Your kids are the ultimate life test. How they function as adults will be largely in part to how you raised them and the character you instilled. Don't get lost in the longevity and strain of it like I did; see it for what it is. The most important, most exciting, most challenging, most fulfilling job on the planet.