I caught a glance of myself in the mirror the other day and had to laugh. As a work-from-home mom of two, I looked every inch the stereotype: I had sweet potatoes smeared on my face, spit-up staining my black leggings, and a ponytail that was hanging on for dear life. My hands were covered in Aquaphor and I was still in maternity clothes five months after giving birth. Glamorous, I wasn’t.
Growing up, this was exactly how I saw motherhood. And to be honest, I wondered why anyone would choose such a path.
I had plans of working in New York City or Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles. I wanted to wear pencil skirts and clickity-clack heels during the week before spending my weekends traveling the world. I was obsessed with Samantha Brown on the Travel Channel and fully convinced she had the coolest life ever.
But as I grew up, I was suddenly confronted with big questions. Like, literal meaning-of-life questions. What was the point of life? Was it to amass as many stickers on your passport as possible? Was it to climb the corporate ladder until you were a fancy-pants CEO? Was it to make as much money as you could?
Was it to be comfortable?
Kids are anything but comfortable. Pregnancy alone is extremely uncomfortable, as any woman who’s been through it can tell you. Then there’s labor, and middle of the night feedings, and the times you have to pull over on the side of the highway for a potty training toddler to go pee. There’s drool and sweaty stroller walks and spending way more money than you’d like to on fruit snacks. There’s car rides that are spent listening to children’s audio books and the Daniel Tiger soundtrack instead of a podcast. There’s sassy seven-year-olds and moody teenagers and college rejections and heartbreak and slammed doors. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. And it’s not for the comfortable.
But if we simply choose to sail through life as comfortable as possible, we’re missing out on a much greater joy. I have quickly learned raising my two kids that the joy of a fancy first-class flight is nothing compared to the joy that comes from helping other people become who they are. It seems incredibly small, but when I hand my son a snack and he says “thank you,” it rocks my world. Because I—along with extended family, his babysitter, and the village it takes to raise him!—taught him the importance of gratitude. And sure, he probably doesn’t understand the entire concept of living a grateful life when he mutters “thank you.” But it’s an important start. Or when my daughter is incredibly fussy and nothing will calm her except her mom holding her tight and leaping across the room with her like some sort of ridiculous gazelle. The sense of accomplishment I feel when I have worldly success pales in comparison to getting my little screamer to relax. Lowering yourself to help others, whether it’s changing diapers or helping with homework, is infinitely more meaningful to me than trying to keep up with the Kardashians.
There’s nothing wrong with travel, or career goals, or making a solid living. But the more I thought about what I wanted the purpose of my life to be, the more it centered on family. I grew up one of four, just down the street from my cousins and about a mile from my grandma. Weekends meant Sunday doughnuts after church and camping trips and the pool—all with my family. I would look at my grandma and realize she had left the most lasting legacy a person could. Because of my grandma, there are entrepreneurs, teachers, and parents in the world who wouldn’t be there without her. A person’s presence in the world isn’t just what they can provide, but who they can provide.
It’s not as glamorous as I imagined my life would be. Sure, there are the days I catch myself in the mirror and laugh out loud. And we certainly don’t have as much cash as our childless friends. A lot of our date nights consist of takeout and Netflix movies. But our life hasn’t been put on hold either. When my son was six months old, we went to Europe for the first time, wearing him around Prague in an Eddie Bauer baby carrier. I have a thriving career I never dreamed possible. In fact, I signed my first book deal, a life-long dream, while pregnant with my second baby.
Not everyone is called to have kids, but if you’re thinking children mean the end of joy, it couldn’t be less true. Parenting isn’t glamorous or pretty or comfortable, but it’s meaningful. Try not to cling too tightly to the you you’ve always dreamed of being. I’m ridiculously thankful that my fifth grade self couldn’t pick who I am at twenty-seven.