The two sisters referenced in the title are not actually sisters. One woman is my younger sister; the other is my DH’s younger sister, so my sister-in-law. Both are in their early 30s. And that’s about where the similarities end.
My sister is planning a wedding for next year, and moved to the other side of the country last year to start a new job with a freshly minted degree. All is proceeding according to plan, in other words. She has expressed to me that children will enter the picture … someday. Sometimes she gives that idea some thought. Most of time, though, she does not. The idea still seems far away and magical, like a picturesque ideal that may be attainable at some point, but right now seems too far ahead of everything else on her plate to really merit much critical analysis and planning.
My sister-in-law, on the other hand, has been married for about 4 years now, and just wound down a military career in order to stay home with a baby who is now around one year old. I would say here that, likewise, all is proceeding according to plan, but from what I gather, the “plan” is a loose one at best. In her situation, a disinclination toward serious career planning seems to have led to a comfortable default as a SAHM. Unlike my sister, there is no tenure track, there is no five-year plan, there is no wistful thoughts of a family after all this career stuff is well underway. In the absence of an organized and executed career, motherhood fills the time nicely, and after all, this kid is already here, so it just makes sense.
Cue the frantic screeching from a wisened mom of two preschoolers:
“You can’t just wait until you’re 40 to have kids! Your fertility is declining as. we. speak!”
“What are you going to do when you’re done having kids? You need to have a plan, now!”
“You think it’s just that easy to have a baby while trying to become a tenured professor? You’re going to need a nanny!”
“You’re just turning your back on all that training and experience? What if your resume is seen as completely outdated in a few years?”
“You have no idea what it’s like to have a kid! Your mind is going to be blown when you see how hard it is!”
“You’re so lucky you can stay home right now! I never had that luxury!”
Yeah. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the wisened mom who brought you today’s frantic screeching is yours truly. Can you tell which of the above statements are directed to which of our two heroines in this story?
It’s really, really, really hard for me to hold back when I see new parents, or parents-to-be, going through all this for the first time, no matter what dreams they possess or position in life they happen to occupy. Hell, even if I were dealing with a mom who was just like me — doing the dance of mediocrity between having an intense career and using daycare as a crutch to get through the days of early childhood while hobbling along, pretending I’m still having an intense career — the screeching would ensue: “Don’t you see how I already effed up my feeble attempt at doing the same thing!? Don’t doooooo it!” It’s to the point that, when I’m not feeling in a really great place, I warn moms of one not to have a second child, because going from 1 to 2 is so much harder than going from 0 to 1. Hashtag truth. Seriously.
But you know what those moms do when I warn them, in all earnesty, not to have a second baby? They nod and smile, then roll their eyes, or laugh, or whatever it is they probably do when they walk away. I don’t know, I’m projecting here. My point is, parents are just going to do what they think or feel is right for them and their families. It’s like giving birth. Everyone tells you how much it’s going to hurt, and you smile and think to yourself that you know better, and then, HOMG, it’s horrible. But then you get through it, and you’re ok, and now you have your own wisdom and experience to dispense.
So I guess that’s what it’s like when I’m resisting the urge to warn these two young women about what they’re facing down the road. I know they won’t really “get” it, but then, I won’t really “get” their current situation either, nor do I need to. I can just worry about myself, and they will figure it out, and everything will be ok. Especially if you can broadly define the state of being “ok” as something like this:
Wow, that was not what I expected, but it somehow worked out. I’m in a bit of a state of shock, but then, I can look back and laugh. I just got through something crazy. It was very difficult, but life changing, and meaningful, and I did it my way. I may have been able to do better if things had somehow been different, but I own the choices I made, and there’s no changing the past anyway. Truly, everything is ok.