Motherhood and Planned Obsolescence

People write about “leaning in” and “opting out,” and I just feel entirely outside of that conversation.

Ever since I was a little girl, the only thing I’ve really aspired to is motherhood. I had other careers in mind—waitress, clown, firefighter, long-haul truck driver, writer—but those were always secondary to being a mom.

I didn’t say this past childhood, though. Past about fifth grade, it didn’t feel acceptable to say, in answer to the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question (or later, the “what do you plan to do with an English major?” question), “I really want to be a mother, but if that doesn’t work out, I might be a writer.” (Of course, it seemed only marginally more acceptable to say, “I want to be a writer,” but that’s another post.)

Even now, it doesn’t seem acceptable somehow to say, “You know, I really want to put all of my time and effort into being a mom, and I don’t have any particular plans for what to do after that.”

My son turned four almost three weeks ago, and although it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, this event blind-sided me with an unpleasant reality: My era of mothering babies and toddlers is over.

With the decades of planning that went into becoming a mom, I hadn’t banked on was how quickly this phase would end.

My spouse has left open the discussion of adding a third child to our family (even though his vasa deferentia are closed for business), but I don’t think the grief I’m feeling is related to family size. I pretty much have my hands full with the two kids I have. I’m still ambivalent about growing my family, but I’m leaning heavily towards not adding more children.

Trouble is, if I’m done bearing children, then the end of my fertility is essentially at hand. It’s not even that I want to use my fertility again; I’m just grieving the end of the birthing-and-babies era and the fact that I no longer have that to look forward to.

Even before I got into this “mom” gig, I knew I wouldn’t be intensively mothering indefinitely. I’ve had a lot of interest in other things. I like language, especially: Writing, reading, editing, learning foreign languages. But the only thing I’ve ever really had a passion for was mothering my kids.

One might expect that it would make sense, then, to plan to go into a field after I’m done raising my own kids in which I could be involved with young children, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t work for me. I don’t have a passion for motherhood, per se, nor do I have a passion for children. I don’t like reading mommy blogs and parenting books, I don’t like discussing parenting philosophy or stages of child development. I don’t even much care for spending lots of time with other people’s kids.

I have a very specific passion for raising my own particular children, for nurturing my family and tending it as it grows.

Which gives me a bit of a problem now that I realize just how short a career this passion has led me to. I’m loving being a mom, and I’m even looking forward (perhaps naively) to the challenges that await us in the teen years, but with as fast as these past eight years have flown, they’ll be grown-ups in an instant. Sure, once a mom, always a mom, but they don’t need me like they did when they were babies, and they’ll need me even less (or at least in dramatically different ways) as they grow into adults themselves.

If my job goes as planned, I will work myself out of a job. I have planned my own obsolescence.

And that’s a happy thing, in its way. But where does that leave me?

I envision a Robert Frost-like road branching in the distance. I can go anywhere I want to from here, but the only place I really want to be is exactly where I am right now, and that’s the only place I can’t stay.


3 Replies to “Motherhood and Planned Obsolescence”

    1. I’m glad that you enjoyed it, alisha! It’s been percolating for a while for me.


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