I was sitting in my 4th grade classroom, in the last row, watching kid after kid answer the same question — "What do you want to be when you grow up?" — as it snaked its way down one row and up the other, eventually making its way to my desk.
But I wasn't nervous — not beyond the basic anxiety of knowing you have to speak in 10, 9, 8 more turns. I wasn't nervous because I knew exactly what I was going to be. I'd known for years, at that point.
"A writer," I announced quickly, after the future dancer and the future marine biologist. (What was with every elementary school kid wanting to be a marine biologist? Probably because they were too young to take a real biology class.)
So there's me, 9 years old, having just finished a game of M*A*S*H where I married JTT and live in a shack, and I publicly revealed my biggest life goal.
And my teacher — my gem of a teacher — scoffed. Scoffed!
"You better have a backup plan," he chuckled, shaking his head.
(To paint a picture, this was a man who insisted on teaching from a wooden podium at the front of the class, center stage.)
I don't remember what happened next — I probably just sat there stunned, confused, crushed — but I can still hear his voice so casually saying those six words. Six words that he only said to me.
It wasn't the last time someone would shoot down my goals. In college, I was warned that magazine jobs were extremely unlikely and a major long shot ("so prepare yourself with a backup plan") two months before I landed a job with Condé Nast in the epicenter of the magazine industry.
I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back — look at me proving "them" wrong! — but to explain that I get why you're resistant to the moms and friends and Internet writers who urge you to have a backup plan in life. To finish college because you need to have a backup. To get your foot in the job market because you need to have a backup. To be more logical and sensible with your life goals and wishes.
And so I understand why stay-at-home moms might be resistant to an article titled Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Housewives. Except I wholeheartedly agree with the article, and I urge you to read it.
Because having a backup plan for your life is very different from having a backup plan for your family's life.
I knew I could work as hard as I possibly could to get where I wanted to go — through literature and writing and journalism classes. Through all-nighters and endless research. I knew I could spend my afternoons emailing New York editors and even calling one of their cell phones (not once! but twice!) to express my sincere dedication and motivation. (I got the job.) I believed in myself to the point of delusion. I gave myself no other options, and I think it made me work that much harder.
But we can't have as much delusion when it comes to someone else's life. As wonderful and supportive and loving as our partners might be, we can't change their hearts or their minds. We can't change an unexpected job loss, or a sudden and tragic death, leaving us as sole caregivers and providers.
It can happen to anyone.
Listen. I think there's something beautifully harmonious about dividing the responsibilities — one spouse providing the money and security, the other providing the care-giving and domestic to-dos — because it's not about contributing to a bank account, but contributing to a life. And I'm not saying that all women should leave their children in daycares while they head off to a job.
But I am saying that we need to think about a Plan B. I'm saying that we need to listen to each other's stories — whether from 5, 15, or 50 years ago — because the same sentiment echoes through each decade: Don't fully rely on someone else for your livelihood and happiness. (That goes for women and men.) Don't leave your entire life — your identity, your security — at the mercy of someone else.
Maybe that means taking some online courses to finish up your degree. Maybe that means exploring volunteer work to find a future career possibility. Maybe that means going back to work part-time when your kids start school.
At the very least, it should mean being aware of the realities and coming up with some kind of mental action plan. How much would you have to earn each month to support your family? What kind of work would you do? What can you do now, at home, to invest in your future (whether it's to start a food blog or an Etsy shop or become a beauty rep)? What do you want for yourself, beyond motherhood?
Think about a Plan B, even if it's just thinking for now. And know that no matter what happens, you can handle it.
Your turn: Do you have a Plan B?
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