By Michelle Horton for Parenting.com
It's easy to turn parents into a caricature of sorts. There's the bumbling diaper-illiterate Dad who intently watches ESPN while his toddler scales a bookshelf, and sincerely can't say if his son just turned 7 or 8. Standing above him is the disheveled, frumpy Mom who wears the (yoga) pants in the family -- chauffeuring over-scheduled kids in her mini van, micro-managing household chores, and withholding sex as a marriage tactic.
And, fine, maybe we can find pockets of truth in these exaggerated stereotypes, but most childless people can find enough competent Dads and rational, hygienic Moms to give them hope. By now the caricatures are looking pretty transparent.
Yet there's one parenthood myth that's continuing to masquerade as fact and it must be stopped. It's found in TV scripts, advertising messages, and casual conversations among parents: You're ready to have kids once you've accomplished what you want to accomplish. Because if you haven't, prepare to sacrifice your dreams and goals when the kids come along.
Magazines publish "bucket lists" to check off before transitioning to The All-Consuming Land of Babies -- the one that sucks your individuality and professional dreams from your fertile body -- and my own 20-something friends compile their pre-parenting checklists: Travel to X countries, have "executive" in my job title, compete in a national triathlon, have all the adventures. Stack up the accomplishments and then succumb to the boring black hole that is parenting.
There's this idea that pregnancy is an interlude between "this life" and "that life." Lofty professional dreams are replaced with responsible yet soul-sucking jobs -- for the sake of the kids. Fine dining is replaced with cold macaroni over the sink -- for the sake of the kids. And so goes the story of a pre-baby life that ends abruptly.
There's also the assumption that parenthood is forever like the first 24 months -- which is understandable, considering there are entire industries devoted to the baby years, from publishing to manufacturing. But here I stand on the outskirts of toddlerhood, with a full day of kindergarten on the horizon, and I have much more time for myself.
More importantly, I'm still myself. (A better version of myself, even.)
Motherhood didn't end my growth or goals. It didn't water down my identity or stop me from traveling. My suitcase is heavier, as are my responsibilities, but nothing feels impossible. I may have lost some spontaneity and free time, but success isn't built on stress and selfishness. Success can also be fueled by a sense of purpose, especially when the stakes are raised.
There's something to be said for a little boy who watches his mommy study for exams, determined and focused, and then cheers as she accepts her diploma. For a little girl who watches her daddy's small-business idea blossom over the course of her childhood -- right before her eyes. For teaching your children to pursue their dreams despite the obstacles.
So it might be easier to accomplish your goals before having kids, but my accomplishments feel so much more fulfilling when I can hug and high-five the little person looking up at me as an example.