Saturday, 13 July 2013

What next?

Many women say that they have only ever wanted to be mothers.  And they feel lost when that turns out not to be an option.  Whilst I have never said that I only ever wanted to be a mother, I too felt lost when that turned out not to be an option.

This week, Kathleen on Life Without Baby pondered the "what next?" question we all find ourselves facing.  She said:
As I grieve the loss of my dreams of motherhood and family, I sometimes get really stuck. I can’t figure out what to do with the next week let alone the rest of my life. Do I focus on my career? Do I become my community’s most giving volunteer? Do I challenge myself to break the marathon record for my age group?


When a big life goal - whether you've held it for your entire life, or simply the years in which you were trying to conceive - is taken away as an option, we often feel that we need to replace it with something equally big. How do we save the world, make a difference, feel as if we've achieved something, and leave our mark on the planet if we're not going to be a parent?  We feel a huge loss, and a huge pressure to fill this void. That pressure comes from ourselves.  But from others too.  "Are you going to do something else now?"  "You must have so much free time without having children, how do you fill it?"  Etc.  Etc. 

I know I felt this void, and this pressure, in my case largely self-imposed.  I wanted to change the direction of my life completely.  I wrote a list of all the things I dreamed of achieving in my life.  And I wanted my husband to write a similar list, and see where we over-lapped, or how we could help each other to achieve these other big goals.  My husband - not particularly into such things - never wrote his list, and to my frustration I felt as if we were drifting along for 5-10 years.  But we didn't actually drift, as he has pointed out.  He had a great job and was happy, I achieved some really interesting things career-wise, and also in other fields.  We were able to stay in the city to be near elderly parents.  I was able to support my mother during and after the death of my father.  We travelled to some amazing places, places I had always wanted to visit.  I found that I could help people, and  I know I made a difference in their lives.  And yet that was something I fell into, unplanned, yet enormously rewarding.  I discovered (or remembered) too how much I liked writing when I found blogging (way back on my first blog).  Whether this ever comes to anything or not, it is something I enjoy.

Best of all, I found peace in the little things in life, as Kathleen has suggested. Yes, I loved my travel and trips and some of the professional achievements, and I wouldn't be without them.  But I also appreciated the little things in life:  dinner with friends, cooking new dishes, writing a simple blog post, going to the gym, sitting with a coffee on the harbour on a beautiful or stormy day.  I found that I didn't envy the huge achievements of others, because I know what that costs them.  My ambition now is more about what matters to me, than how I look to others.  I feel sorry for those who have only one big goal (career, money, family), and who base their happiness on whether or not they achieve that.  They judge themselves harshly, and yet without that goal - whether it is impossible to achieve, or is taken from them - they wonder, what else do they have? 

Perhaps these thoughts are a result of my age.  But they're not unique to those of us without children.  I look at people whose children are growing, have already left home or will leave home soon, or those who have retired, or lost their jobs (like us), and they wonder what they will do next too.  They've never had to think about their lives, and often flounder around looking for a purpose, or worse, grieve that their lives have no purpose now their children are grown/their jobs are gone.  Sound familiar?  We just had to do it earlier.

So perhaps the answer is simply to realise that sometimes the best things in life are those that aren't planned. And that life isn't a failure if we don't reach the big goals.  All we need to do in life is make sure we live the life we've got.

19 comments:

  1. Well-written. I am still trying to figure out my next steps, but it's nice to know it can be done.

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  2. I didn't make a conscious choice to focus on my career, but I have had some great opportunities come my way in the last three years. Though we made the decision to live childfree only 3 months ago, I too advantage of the career opportunities that came to me. I am thoroughly enjoying what I am doing, even though this is not where I thought my life would be at this point.

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  3. Beautiful post. Very true about the aging parent thing. I mean, because we have no children, so when FIL died, I could go visit MIL and be there for her without any restriction or distraction.

    And you're right about the best things in life sometimes being those unplanned things. :-)

    P.S. And I couldn't help smiling reading about that dream list. My hubby won't be doing such a thing, either he he he...

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  4. Thank you for your eloquent post. While motherhood is not totally off the table for me biologically speaking, I find myself grappling with a possible childfree life after IF and an ending of a marriage.

    My hope is to find a man to be my partner, to share a life, and I'm hoping that children may happen, but that would be a bonus. I have a boyfriend and we are in a lovely place of seeing how the relationship is growing and deepening.

    So, in the meantime in my current childfree life, I am trying to let go of those hopes of being a mother in that focused kind of way. That is too far ahead in the possible future. I have to live the life that I have right now and make it have as much meaning as I can today. So, it makes sense that I have been more focused on my career. Thank you for sharing how you find ways to have a rich and meaningful life while removing the judgment of others. Your life still has purpose and meaning and it is your life, a beautiful life.

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  5. "When did being a good person among good people stop being enough?" -- That line from the movie The Big Chill has been one my guy and I return to often when we need a good reminder not to become caught up in manufacturing a major (often artificial) big thing to focus upon to the exclusion of all else. Like you, I've come to appreciate the little things in life that bring me happiness.

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    1. Like Loribeth, "The Big Chill" is a favourite movie. I do remember that line - thanks for reminding me.

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    2. Oh, didn't know that line...THANKS for sharing! LOVE IT! :-)

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  6. Mali: beautiful post!
    Pamela: perfect question!

    Yes, I have also come to appreciate the little things in life that bring me happiness.

    Lots of love from sLOVEnia to Italy & the USA.

    Klara

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  7. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!!!!! SO much here in this post that I have struggled with myself. You have articulated what I believe so well here. Thanks, Mali!

    And Pamela, "The Big Chill" is one of my favourite movies, but I don't remember that line from it. Very true!!

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    1. In re-reading this, I find myself chuckling over your (& Amel's) husband's never-completed list. Not my dh's cup of tea either. I don't think you're alone. ; )

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  8. Oh, thank you for this inspiring and beautifully written reminder of what really matters. So often we are told by all the subtle (or not so subtle) messages society sends that if we remain childless, we simply don't know, can't get what really matters. But always asking 'what's next?', while it may provide motivation for some important stuff in life, can also become a bit of a prison, because if you just keep going without pause, it ultimately puts you on a conveyer belt of 'achievement'. I'm working on mindfulness and living in the present. I'm so glad (and encouraged) that you can find the true, deep contentment in those things. Thanks for this post.

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  9. Hugs to you! I so love reading what you write, but often have trouble thinking of the response i want to give. I miss my brain!

    Have a lovely day. (I'd put this in the wrong spot before.)

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  10. Well said! What you had written, is what I have been going through, on and off, especially "When a big life goal - whether you've held it for your entire life, or simply the years in which you were trying to conceive - is taken away as an option, we often feel that we need to replace it with something equally big. How do we save the world, make a difference, feel as if we've achieved something, and leave our mark on the planet if we're not going to be a parent? We feel a huge loss, and a huge pressure to fill this void. That pressure comes from ourselves. But from others too. "Are you going to do something else now?"
    I'm still working on determining on WHAT I want now that I couldn't have children- and I feel I'm in limbo at this time. Nevertheless I have faith that one day I'll climb out and find my purpose. :)
    Thanks for the beautiful post!!

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  11. What a smart, well-written, important post. You are so right about all of this. I have felt myself wondering about my "instead"...before my daughter and even after. I've felt pressure to impress in this way or that, to be "the best" at something, etc. I just love your last paragraph. Pure wisdom.

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  12. Well said and thanks for this post. I really needed to hear this today.

    Here from Mel's weekly blog roundup.

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  13. Here from Mel's roundup - really great post. I love this part:

    "Best of all, I found peace in the little things in life, as Kathleen has suggested. Yes, I loved my travel and trips and some of the professional achievements, and I wouldn't be without them. But I also appreciated the little things in life: dinner with friends, cooking new dishes, writing a simple blog post, going to the gym, sitting with a coffee on the harbour on a beautiful or stormy day."

    I think when we have big goals as our main focus, we can easily lose sight of the things that bring us actual happiness. I know I spent years not fully engaged in my life because I was failing at my big goal (of becoming a parent). I wish I would have spent less time concerned about the finish line and more time relishing the small details that looking back, brought me so much joy.

    Beautiful!

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  14. yes, Yes and YES.
    My list? The 7 wonders of the world. I did drag DP along to see Petra in Jordan (with a quick visit to Aqaba). But it was hard on him, and I'm relieved to see many men don't do lists.

    And home made pasta does bring small happiness. If we feel like it again next week, we can do it again. Much easier!

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  15. I really relate to this post and find encouragement in your words. I like that you go before me.
    Much gratitude. Debs

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