It's OK to have New Dreams
Did you know that OJ Simpson’s murder trial happened to take place during the Rwandan genocide? Probably not, because the genocide received only a small fraction of news coverage while the mainstream media scrambled to report on OJ’s fate.
As a college freshman and International Relations major who was passionate about human rights, this reality appalled me. I came home one weekend and pointedly asked my mother if she remembered the Rwandan genocide occuring. She said she vaguely recalled it.
I asked how she could have ignored such a massive human rights abuse. Didn’t it bother her that so many innocent people had lost their lives? I was only four years old at the time, but she was an adult. She could have done something about it. At the very least, she should have been paying attention to such a pivotal world event!
My mother quickly grew defensive, snapping that she’d been a little preoccupied raising her three young children.
At 18 years old, this explanation wasn’t good enough for me. You see, 18 year old me was going to change the world. I’d work for the United Nations, negotiating peace deals. Or, I’d be a foreign correspondent for a major news network. I’d uncover atrocities that my own mother failed to recognize as she was lost in a baby bubble.
After all, I told myself, the world doesn’t grind to a halt when you have children. I’d make the world pay attention.
Fast forward ten years. I earned a master’s degree, gained work experience as a writer covering public sector events, and began a PhD program. Along the way, my dreams to change the world tapered as I realized what hefty goals my 18 year old self had set. I considered my work meaningful, but I certainly wasn’t making the large-scale impact I’d once dreamed about.
Were my childhood dreams attainable? Sure, if I had wanted them badly enough. If I’m being honest, though, as I moved out on my own, got married, and became pregnant, my priorities shifted.
Now, as the mother of 6 month old, I’m beginning to understand my own mother’s perspective. I’d been naive. I didn’t yet understand how all-consuming being a mother would be. I used to scoff when parents explained how exhausted they were at the end of the day. That they simply did not have the energy to complete even one more task. I now know motherhood is the most physically and emotionally draining job I’ve ever had. But it’s also the most fulfilling, by far.
While I still firmly believe that negotiating peace deals and promoting responsible journalism is very important work, it’s not for me - at least not right now. Being present and spending time with my family is now my primary concern. Heck, as my maternity leave is coming to a close, I’ve even contemplated becoming a stay-at-home-mom, which would have horrified my 18 year old self.
Sometimes, when I think too hard about it, I wonder if I’m doing enough to spread good in the world. Did I give up on my dreams too quickly? Couldn’t I be a good mother and have the career that I used to yearn for?
But I’ve realized something along the way. I may have let go of my old dreams, but I’m now pursuing new ones. And you know what? It’s OK to have new dreams.
Today as a wife and mother, I now dream about having the flexibility in my career to be home to kiss my kids goodnight each evening. That might mean pursuing part-time or freelance work so that I can attend my kids’ soccer games and pick them up from school. These days, I’m usually covered in spit up, my hair in a ponytail. I consider it a successful day if the baby has had three decent naps. If I’m really lucky, I’ve even completed a freelance article or two. The career I now dream about needs to work around my family life - not the other way around.
I now realize that I’m still doing work that matters. I’m raising a son who knows how to distinguish right from wrong. Who will work hard, but remember that family is everything. Who will stand up for what he believes in. Above all else, I hope he will be kind, and I’m doing my best to lead by example.
Whether he wants to become a world leader, a stay-at-home-dad, or anything in between, I’m taking the time during this season of my life to nurture him and give him the tools that he needs to go into the world as a confident young man. To me, that’s the most important job of all. My dreams have changed, and that’s OK.
Brittany Van Den Brink is a PhD Candidate and freelance writer living in small-town Ontario with her husband, baby son, and their Golden Retriever, Chevy. She founded Motherhood Her Way to collaborate with other moms as they go through the ups and downs of motherhood. Say hi on Instagram @brittanyvandenbrink.