Yesterday our church had a special recognition of the high school seniors in our church who are graduating this year. As I watched each student walk up to the podium with their parents, I felt a lump form in my throat. It made me realize how short the time is that we have our children in our home, and how lucky I am to have a husband that is able to support our family and supports my decision to stay home with our boys.
The ceremony also made me reflect on my past 15 years since high school graduation. I listened to all these students plans for their future, and wondered if they were aware of how drastically those plans could change in the next 15 years. At their age I had planned to become a pediatrician. I wanted to help families with ill children, much as my family had been helped while dealing with my childhood illness. As I went to college and started to pursue this goal, I ended up on a very different path. I realized that I would want a family one day, and that I would want to be with my children as much as I could. Thanks to my dad’s success in business, I had the privilege of knowing lawyers, doctors, and successful business people. I was aware of the sacrifices that would have to be made in order to pursue these professions, and I knew the family life I would eventually want. I looked into the cost of medical school, and the time it would take me to actually become a doctor. I also started volunteering at hospitals to see what being a doctor looked like on a day to day basis. I realized that the doctors did not actually spend much time with the patients or their families. I realized that I could help families in another way, instead of being a doctor. After seeing the reality of my dream, my dream changed.
So I pursued engineering because it looked to be a good way to have a profession and a family. Many companies and engineering organizations came to my college and spoke about how well companies were managing dual career families, that you could have both the family life and the career you wanted. And this is true, on some level. My husband and I managed a dual career family for 10 years. It was messy at times, but that is life. As our careers progressed, however, we realized that one of us would need to take the lead, that we would need to follow one of our careers. As we approached mid career, our jobs became more demanding on our time and expectations were higher. Managing a dual career family became very difficult.
I do need to say, this is just our family’s experience. I have friends who manage a dual career family very well. They share in childcare drop offs and pickups so that their children are only at daycare for 8 hours every day. They help each other in meal preparation. Both parents are home by 6 every night. Dads can still coach tball, and moms can take kids to gymnastics. This was just not our reality. As our reality became more evident, so did my dream. My dream changed again.
I think that’s the key to navigating life. We need to allow our dreams to change, to allow ourselves and our spouses to change. The reality is life experiences change us. We should not fight the change, but allow it to happen. Who we thought we would be at 18 is likely not who we will be when we’re 35, and that is ok. More life experience is like being given more data in a problem. The right piece of data can completely change the solution. Certain experiences in life can completely change your plans. My hope for these high school graduates is that they allow the change and embrace it.