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.