Our sky: on having goals mid-parenthood

I received my college newsletter the other day. It opens with a pep talk by our class president, in the equivalent of a drill sergeant’s 0500 whistle: “We all need to have GOALS, people!” (I paraphrase; this is how her words sounded to me when I read them in my pajamas at 1200.) “We’re in our mid-40s! It’s time to GO!”

Continued, on page 2, is the feature article, written by one of our classmates whose recent novels have been nominated for awards and praised by Oprah. The books are being translated into multiple languages and there is discussion about a possible television series, or a movie. But she is not here to talk about success, she says; she’s here to talk about failure – the many failures that she had overcome before she won her first book deal, and the fear of failure that we can’t allow to stand in the way of our developing our goals.

Good ideas all around, except she was apologetic… apologetic for bringing up the taboo topic of failure to our class of female glass ceiling shatterers. My alma mater carries a long history of women who have changed the world, women whose names are too big for this humble blog.

The newsletter jarred me. My first instinct was to cry and crawl back into my own womb of girlfriends, writers/bloggers and fellow mothers with whom I have shared my real life these last three years, into this world where I never have to apologize for being anything less than human.

The truth is, I don’t feel like GOing. I’ve gone, I went, and I don’t want to go back. In fact, I want the opposite. I’m trying to slow down. There was a long time in my life when it was exhilarating to keep getting better than I was and to keep learning more than I knew. I threw caution to the wind and moved to Tokyo when I was 30, working 6 days a week and trying to absorb every ounce of intercultural newness. I had a seemingly permanent zip code in Outside My Comfort Zone. Then one day I turned inward. I wanted steady, and predictable. Maybe I needed that because this new project called parenting that dive-bombed into our lives was so new and explosive that I needed everything else around me to be constant and easy.

While I sat there momentarily judging my class president, I stopped to think about her pep talk. Ear-splitting whistle and whip cracking aside, maybe there is validity in her words. The idea that I have to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company or break the frontiers of science or write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel are expectations that I read into her words, because I viewed her not as a friend or fellow mother but as a spokesperson for the alma mater that had long ago made the sky both our limit and our goal. We all need purpose, but perhaps we need to make it up to us in what direction we want to reach.

I’ll be honest. For the last 6 weeks or so since my work season has quieted down I have dragged my feet from one day to the next. I worked hard these 8 years to finally achieve this balanced life style that I now have, and instead I find myself feeling listless and without purpose. What do I want to do now? What will be meaningful for me? My relentless years of nursing and diapering and chasing a little child around are over. My years of trying to build up a fledgling business are over.

I need a goal and another form of purpose. But before I can figure that out I need to re-define my sky and know that it will be a different one from the alumna next to me, and from the one that shone on me a decade ago before I became a mother.

Do you have goals outside of parenting? Do you feel you’ve also changed in how “ambitious” you are since you became a parent?

12 thoughts on “Our sky: on having goals mid-parenthood

  1. So timely.

    You and I are always on the same spot of the path together.

    The other day in the car, my ten year old asked me what it means to be alive.

    I answered, “If you make just one person’s life better or easier, or possible: then it matters that you were born. You want it to matter that you were born.”


  2. I love this post! And, yes, I do have goals outside of parenting. But since I’m in the “thick” of parenting right now, I am not really actively pursuing them as fervently as I could. But I do pursue them.

    Writing professionally more is a goal of mine, as is writing a novel. I am taking baby steps now to get there, while fully aware that in order to stay sane in the season I’m in, I must actually live in the season I’m in (if that makes sense).

    I do believe in goals and meeting goals and exceeding expectations for the limits of one’s sky, but I’ve learned, too, and am learning, that there’s something rewarding in deciding that where you are is enough for now.

    I have a belief that by embracing that first and making that place feel most sane and bearable, then you can achieve anything you want and linger into beautiful “elsewheres.” Or, that’s what I’ve been telling myself for the past year. 🙂

    • That’s beautiful, Jessica, and an important reminder: that we need to first accept and be happy where we are. I have struggled with this. I love your perspective! And I know you will have more time to pursue your writing as your girls get a little older (won’t be long ;-)). Thanks for sharing, as always 🙂


  3. Cecilia, I read this post yesterday and today because so many of your words resonated with me. When I receive my alumni letter from my law school, I see my fellow classmates who are partners of law firms and paving the way to make some kind of advance in their respective legal field. It always gives me pause. I quit my life as a lawyer almost 6 years ago because it did not fulfill me. But part of me always wonders, where would I be if I kept riding the legal track?

    Instead, I chose to raise my daughter at home, take care of my father, and attempt to start a career as a writer. These experiences will not land me in any alumni newsletter, but despite the lack of status, I know I am better person today because of what I learned from moments contained in these life changes.

    I enjoy having goals, but I’ve learned that sometimes they only offer guise of purpose. Sometimes these “goals” are exactly opposite from what we truly want.

    Have you read the book “The Myths of Happiness?” I think some of themes would speak to you.

    Thank you for sharing this struggle.

    • Thank you for the book recommendation, Rudri. I looked up “The Myths of Happiness” and it sounds intriguing. Thank you also for sharing your own story. I give you a lot of credit for being able to walk away from a prestigious and lucrative career in order to fulfill your own definition of success.

      And I love this: “These experiences will not land me in any alumni newsletter, but despite the lack of status, I know I am better person today because of what I learned from moments contained in these life changes.”

      You described it perfectly. Over the years I’ve learned that that is my life goal – to be the person I can be happy with. For me it doesn’t necessarily match up with my alma mater’s definition of achievement, but I can only strive to fulfill my own definition of success.


  4. “I had a seemingly permanent zip code in Outside My Comfort Zone.” You’ve just described my life.

    Thanks for putting it in words, again. And good luck with the search for inner balance away from the expectations set by our Ivy League institutions…

    Delia Lloyd

  5. I had a seemingly permanent zip code in Outside My Comfort Zone. ”

    You’ve just described my life. Thanks, again, for hitting the nail on the head.

    And good luck with your journey to find meaning and balance far away from the expectations of our Ivy League institutions…

    Delia Lloyd

    • I can relate to the feeling that I am in between old goals and not sure of new goals. I need a reason to get up in the morning that includes more than making lunches and doing laundry. The last 15 years have been a wonderful, exhausting roller coaster ride of parenting and now I am entering the land of teenagers and drama and learning to drive and attitude. Thinking back to my own teenage life, how much did my parents actually do then?? They went to work, they made me proud, I figured the rest out on my own. So, maybe I need to get a life beyond parenting to make my kids proud.

      • Thanks so much for visiting and for sharing your story, Patty. I’ve got a newly minted 9 year old now, and I’ve always been curious about how parenting changes as our kids enter their teen years. We need to grow right alongside them. It just all seems to happen so quickly – so naturally for them, and so abruptly for us. It’s nice to see you here.


    • Thanks, Delia. I’m always so glad when one of my posts strikes a chord with you. We’re going through a lot of the same things, it seems. (Though to me you *are* one of those successful alums! ;-))


  6. Last year, I thought I had a career goal. And then summer came and I stayed home with both girls. Suddenly, the goal didn’t seem very important anymore. I was happier veering off than “leaning in”, to borrow from Sandberg.

    I spent years climbing that corporate ladder and fighting the little battles waged against women who prioritize their family over career. I’m done with all that for now. It was exhausting.

    I recently started to freelance again more (hence my severe lack of time with blogging – writing and reading) because I realize I do miss that part of my brain, and I do like a little more financial autonomy. Other than that, I don’t regret choosing this life over the one on the fast track, even if this one seems to lack any clear ambitious goals.

    With a little one still in diapers, it’s an absolute joy to be home with her right now because I know this too shall pass. And perhaps I will then reach that path you’re on right now, wondering, so now what?

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