Mom's Not-Entirely-Forgotten Field of Dreams

Mom's Not-Entirely-Forgotten Field of Dreams

I’ve decided that I hate the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Oh, I’m sorry.  I’m a mom.  I’m not supposed to say the word “hate.”  I’ve decided that I strongly dislike the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

My homeroom teacher first asked me this back in elementary school.  After days and days of agonizing, I came up with my response: a psychiatrist.  As some of you reading this may already know, I never made it to med school.  In fact, I barely made it through junior high school chemistry class, which means that, in the 25+ years since this question was posed to me, I’ve been infuriatingly aware that I never fulfilled one of my life goals.

Now I’m the grown up, and for some bizarre reason I’ve begun playing the same Q & A with my daughter.  But her response has been different.  She wants to be a nurse.  And as happy as I should be that she wants to take on this noble profession, I already find myself embarrassingly worried.

Why am I worried?  Because I've immediately translated her career aspirations, even at the tender age of 5, into an estimation of her future salary.  Will she be able to buy a house or go on vacation?  How will she be able to save for retirement on a nurse’s salary?  Will she have to depend on her significant other for financial security?  See, my kid’s not even in kindergarten and already I’m on the verge of stifling her dreams.  I totally suck!

As her mom, I know that I’m supposed to be encouraging her to explore, uninhibited, all of the possibilities out there for her.  And I know that if she wants to become a nurse, I will support her wholeheartedly.  But that nagging question remains: Will her future profession provide her with what she needs to be comfortable and live whatever life she wants to lead?

I guess it all comes back to what I expected for myself.  As a kid, there was no question that I would make just as much and would be just as successful as the boys.  My friends used to joke that my kids would be born in my office’s daycare so I could head right back to work afterward.

Instead, I joined the Peace Corps.  Then came a bunch of years of work, grad school, a baby, three relocations, and the worst economy since the Great Depression.  Before I knew it, that straight and narrow path that I had always envisioned for myself no longer looked so straight, easy, or even possible.

So I started my own gig, and my oh my, do I love it.  I love it all, except for the fact that there’s no steady paycheck, no 401K, and I’m a lot more financially dependent on my husband than I ever thought I’d be.  I see lots of other moms like me, many with super fancy degrees and incredibly impressive resumes, wondering when the on ramp back to Career Land shut down.

Are they like me, trying hard not to push their anxiety onto their kids, who will likely become amazing nurses, chefs, farmers, astronauts, mechanics, psychiatrists, venture capitalists, engineers, teachers, writers, forest rangers (if we have any forests left) and everything else under the sun?  I hope I figure out a way to help my daughter achieve her dreams, without leaving her feeling bogged down by my not-entirely-forgotten ones.

By Wendy Widom, Partner, Families in the Loop

Got the pic from here!

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