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Moms: Your dreams don't end with motherhood
Motherhood doesn't require us to put our personal dreams in a box and take them out 18 years later. - photo by Erin Stewart
Four years ago, I made a decision: I was going to write a novel. I had a 1-year-old and a 4-year-old, and absolutely no free time, but I discussed my goals with my husband and forged ahead anyway.

Four days ago, a literary agent in New York sent me a contract to officially represent my finished novel and try to sell it to a publisher.

There are about a million obstacles between now and actually seeing my book on bookshelves, so perhaps my excitement is premature. But heres the thing: My moment of success came in the moment I achieved my goal. I wrote the book despite children, work, life and all the other things that fill up a mothers day.

Dont get me wrong, I was also ecstatic about the agent. I jumped around the house for 15 minutes and found at least 50 ways to use the phrase my agent that evening with my family. But the fact remains that I could never have had that celebration if I hadnt committed four years ago to pursuing a lifelong dream of mine that I had lost for a while.

I think mothers (especially stay-at-home mothers) often fall into the trap that when our children are born, the torch is officially passed to the new generation. We lay our own talents and skills and dreams on the altar of motherhood. We give up our dreams for those of our children because they are now the center of our universe.

We become the person who author Erma Bombeck described when she said, There are people who put their dreams in a little box and say, Yes, Ive got dreams, of course Ive got dreams. Then they put the box away and bring it out once in a while to look in it, and yep, theyre still there. These are great dreams, but they never even get out of the box.

As mothers, we don't need to box up our dreams and open them up 18 years later when our mothering is done.

Yes, sacrificing parts of who we are is a huge and necessary component of motherhood. But as I pursued this writing goal of mine these last few years, I realized that being a mom and pursuing my dreams are not mutually exclusive.

First, I had to admit that I cant have it all at least not all at once. I couldnt suddenly become a writer 24/7. I still had children who needed me, and paying writing and teaching jobs I had to continue. But just as with prioritizing my husbands career and my childrens needs, my own dreams needed to be put into the mix.

Then I had to address the issue of time. Theres simply not enough time for everything. Theres only enough time in a day to accomplish the top few things on your list. So in our house, some things just dont get done every once in a while. When I was bogged down in revisions, we ate a lot of takeout, and I finally broke down and did laundry only when there was absolutely no clean underwear left in the house. But you know what? We all survived.

The truth is, I only started making real progress when I carved out specific writing time each day and protected it ferociously no matter what else didnt get done.

Even with my sacred writing time, I had to accept that life comes in waves. Life happens while we pursue our goals. At one point, my daughter stopped napping and my writing time vanished. Well, thats the end of that, I thought. Then she started preschool the next year, and I rededicated those precious morning hours to writing.

Life is going to keep moving at breakneck speed, and thats OK. Kids get sick. Husbands get new jobs across the country. There were times I had to put my writing aside for a bit because of something bigger. But even in those moments, I never lost sight of my goal.

Sure, there were plenty of times when I thought, This is a gigantic waste of my time. Guilt plagued me about not spending every waking second with my children. I sometimes felt self-indulgent spending so much time on something that might never be anything more than a Word document on my computer. But then a good friend told me, Youre using the talents and skills God gave you and doing something that makes you happy. How could that ever be a waste of time?

As I pushed forward despite my doubts, I also found unexpected cheerleaders in my children and husband. I worried at first that they would resent me taking time for my writing. Instead, my children love to talk about my book or listen when Im stuck at a crucial plot point. When my manuscript won an award a few months ago, my kindergartner proudly proclaimed she couldnt wait to tell her teacher the next day.

I love that my daughters get to see me achieve my goals, and I hope it reminds them that they can do anything they set their minds to.

And that brings me to the most important thing Ive learned so far: I owe myself at least the same amount of faith as I have in my daughters.

When I look at them, I see so much potential and possibility. I dream huge dreams for them of using their talents and growing into extraordinary young women. I also envision them finding the joy that I have found in motherhood one day.

When they do, I hope they know its OK to continue dreaming their other dreams, too. Their talents and skills and desires dont end when they earn the title of Mom. Although thats the most important name I wear, I am also so much more.

So I give myself the same permission I give the little women I am raising: Dream as big as you can, and then get to work. You deserve it.
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