“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I’ve come to realize, looking back, that I never sincerely asked myself this question. I already knew what to do. I was going to be a mother.
So, to me, college seemed more like a summer camp: something that would be a good experience, a fun place where I’d meet new people and learn some interesting thi ngs. Getting that piece of paper at the end saying I did it would be nice, but it was definitely not the point. And, let’s be honest here, I was pretty sure College was where I’d meet Mr. Right. THAT was the point.
But it turns out that although the thought of attending classes had not inspired excitement in me, once I got there I actually loved it! I loved the interesting lectures and discussions between classmates and got immense satisfaction in getting a good grade on an assignment I’d worked hard on. There was a thrill in learning, striving, and pushing myself. The subjects I was studying fascinated me and I was surprised to discover real skill within myself there. And yet despite all of that, I did not hesitate to put it all behind me when I got married.
Oh, I had flirted with the idea of becoming a school psychologist, but in my mind it had always been a backup plan. It would be something that I could do — if I had to — while the kids were in school. *Note, when having these thoughts, not only did I not have kids, I didn’t even have a husband. That didn’t matter. I was sure that I would.
And as promised, the husband came along. We got married and immediately moved to a new city and I looked for work. Instead of taking a position related to the subjects I had loved in college, I took an uninteresting administrative job that paid more. This decision wasn’t made out of financial necessity; we could have easily made do with the other job. While it would have been a stepping stone to even better paying, more interesting work, I did not see myself being in the workplace long, and so it felt selfish and pointless to take the lower-paying job. I didn’t really like my job, but knew it was really only until motherhood took its place, and so I settled into my new role of wife and awaited the fulfillment I had been promised would come.
I then spent four years trying to get pregnant. My focus was entirely on getting to the promised land of motherhood and how incomplete I was as a person until that happened. I did not continue my education or work towards a career. It honestly never occurred to me to do so. Years of my life passed, month by month, waiting for a stick to turn blue. I baked, babysat, decorated, and slowly died inside.
One day I stumbled upon an online community of women and discovered my situation was far from unique. With their examples and support, I began to look outside the home for things that would help give me a sense of purpose. As I began to do so, I felt recharged. I found that I truly enjoyed the process of solving a problem: researching options, taking action, and witnessing a plan take shape. To me, a problem to fix became an opportunity, and I looked around me for more.
And then it happened. The stick turned blue. A bump began to show, and I finally heard the words, “It’s a girl!” While reading a book in preparation for childbirth, I came across this quote: “If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any.” They had meant it in the context of labor/delivery, but it exploded and expanded in my mind. I had grown up in a world that assumed my future was motherhood, and I had not questioned that. In fact, it was only when facing infertility, defined by what I was not, that I had begun to wonder what I could be.
Growing up, I did not see another legitimate path to womanhood, than motherhood. I did not see another legitimate form of motherhood than being a stay-at-home mother. Any alternatives were spoken of in sad, worst case scenario language. I know now there were women out there who happily made different choices and who purposefully did different things, but I did not see those women. I did not hear those stories. And so, I did not truly see those options.
Recognizing that I did not want that for my daughter sparked something new inside me. I was in my 30s, but I finally asked myself what I wanted to be. And while I discovered within me definite ambitions for a role outside of motherhood, there was also still the desire to embrace my role as a mother. Not only that, but by finally, sincerely asking myself that question, I was able to consciously own my motherhood for the first time. It wasn’t until I truly felt the choice in my decision to be a mother, that I could truly understand its value.
Watching my daughter grow, I opened my eyes. I learned to find and embrace my voice. And amid dirty diapers and crushed cheerios, my love for learning re-emerged. Inspired by this process, I worked to educate myself on women’s issues. I read books and articles. I watched documentaries and TED Talks. I listened to podcasts and to the concerns of the women around me. And, eventually, I began attending college classes for the first time in over 11 years, determined to give myself options.
In so doing, I’ve found an option that allows me to share my passion, to spread this message. Because there is a great power in understanding that we can increase the options available to the girls in our lives, simply by making sure they know what’s out there!
Now that I’ve shared this message with you, put it to work! Increase the options of the girls in your life. Talk about women who’ve pursued their education and career goals! Point them out! Talk about what you admire about them. Encourage the young women in your life to keep an eye out for the women around them on a variety of paths and to be open to new ideas of what their life could be.
Danielle Christensen, former Initiative Coordinator at the UWEI, has a B.S. in Psychology from Utah State University and is currently a graduate candidate at Westminster College. Pursuing a Masters in Community Leadership, Danielle’s studies focus on understanding and addressing the impact of cultural and structural influences on Utah women’s participation in Higher Education and beyond. She likes to spend her free time with her two daughters, her partner in crime (and marriage), and with supportive communities of women, both in real life and online.