To say my childhood was within “a bubble,” would be an understatement. My master-planned upbringing in Chandler Arizona, a Phoenix suburb, was within the “fifth safest city in the US.” The schools were excellent, the homes were spacious, the majority of families went to church on Sunday and the strip malls all looked identical. Diversity of all sorts was lacking. As a small child I learned only one dream for my adulthood: I would grow up, go to college, marry a Christian man, buy a big house and have 2.1 children.
Since graduating high school, I’ve been able to fill my life with enriching dreams that I never even knew were possible when I was a child. I’ve moved to big cities like Los Angeles and Chicago. I spent years as a pedestrian urban dweller living in a studio apartment in downtown San Diego. I’ve called small towns in Wisconsin and Northern Arizona home as well. I invested into my education earning both a bachelors and an MBA. I traveled so many places (and continue to)… I’m actually writing this on a plane bound for Spain at the moment. I dedicated my career to international humanitarian work for many years. Then I switched gears completely to try my hand at social media marketing and was somehow invited onto the team to help launch Mickey Mouse onto Instagram. I figured out a way to take my personal passion for writing and turn it into a job that people actually pay me for.
As I reflect on my 33 years of life, I can honestly say that it’s been shocking and remarkable. However, despite how deeply proud I am of the life I’ve lived and the ways I’ve been able to serve God along the way, I still feel a nagging sense that I’m somehow failing because I haven’t embarked on the lifestyle that most of the kids who I grew up went on to embody.
I do want a family… But, I also wanted everything else that I was able to manifest in my life thus far. Why can’t I delight in my bright bold experiences? Why do I feel a sense of inadequacy?
I ask myself these questions often and recently it dawned on me–You can only aspire to what you see. I realized that for the first 21 years of my life, I only was exposed to strong female role models who were married. During these formative years, a homogenous message of success bombarded me from every angle. At 21, when I was hired by a 30-year-old powerhouse single woman, she became my first mentor to illuminate a new version of adult success for me. While she had a profound impact on guiding me, by the time I met her, I was already a fully formed adult. My brain had solidified the message that “success equals marriage, kids and a house” from my childhood. This narrowly defined narrative of success was (and remains) incredibly hard to shake.
You can only aspire to what you see. I realized that for the first 21 years of my life, I only was exposed to strong female role models who were married.
Which leads me to my “aha” moment–I want to help prevent this struggle for other kids. How can I, as a single successful 33-year-old woman living my dreams, help reveal an alternative path to the children I care about before their brains are fully formed? How can I show children, especially young girls, that they can grow up to be moms or humanitarians or wives or writers or cat-owners or homeowners or business executives or whatever they want to be?! Their default setting is likely to look up to their own parents and friends’ parents for guidance. Single female role-models must make a conscious decision to be available for children to be exposed to. If they aren’t exposed to someone like me, they may struggle (like I still do) to believe that a life beyond a homogenous family-oriented lifestyle could also be fulfilling.
I love the children in my life: my nieces, my friends’ kids, the children I babysit for. I could consciously open up my heart to these kids and let them know that their adulthood may look like their parents’ life or it may look like my life… Or, it may be something unlike anything they’ve seen modeled for them thus far. That’s okay. Their journey is theirs.
Recently, my five-year-old niece has become obsessed with asking me “why aren’t you a mommy?” The question was painful, because I want to be a mom, so initially, I would brush off her question. However, she kept asking, and I realized that this was my chance to instill a boldness to dream beyond just the suburbs in her that I lacked as a child. I pulled her aside and told her, “honey, I hope to be a mommy one day… But God hasn’t opened that door yet. However, I have many things in my life that are amazing, and I hope you can have them as well if you desire these things when you grow up. I love you, and other kids very much, but I also love my job and my apartment and my friends and my adventures. As you grow up, know that you can feel free to pursue any dream you have on your heart.”
And with that…. Maybe I made a difference. Perhaps, she’ll remember this conversation as an example that not every woman needs to grow up to be a mom. Regardless, I will keep showing up for her, showing love to her and showing her through my life that there’s more than one way to fulfill your dreams.