“I hope to be married and stay at home with a few kids when I’m 25. That’s what I want after I graduate and work for a few years,” I told my roommate in college one morning many years ago. She was drying her hair and we were watching a talk show on television about working moms, versus stay-at-home- moms.

“Me too!” she said as she scrunched her hair with more hair gel. It was our Sophomore year in college and I was filled with so much hope and happiness. I knew I had a good life, and I also had a plan which brought me great comfort. 

I felt so much excitement about what was ahead in my life. I was looking forward to my next years of college; to working; to meeting someone, falling in love and getting married; to buying a home; to having kids. To hit all the milestones you are brought up to believe you are supposed to hit.

I felt the same way when I found the man I married. It had been four years since I’d graduated college. I had my dream job and we’d taken our first camping trip together. As we were canoeing back to our car after a perfect week on a crystal clear day, I started to get anxious about having to leave our vacation in the rear view and return to work.

But, I knew there was so much ahead of me that I wanted to and I couldn’t wait. We weren’t engaged but we talked about it all the time so I knew it was coming. We both had the same goals in life: buying a home and having kids. He supported my desire to stay home with our kids (we both wanted two or three). Again, I felt like I knew what I wanted in life and the next steps to take in order to get there.

 Going through with the plans

We bought an old home and fixed it up with the plan to sell it after a few years and invest in something bigger and newer. We did that.

My husband wanted to start his own business before we had kids. We did that.

I got pregnant and quit my job. I love staying home with our son. One night while I was making dinner as our eleven-month-old played on the floor and I decided it was time to try for another one.

Before we had our daughter, we moved into that bigger house. Then, we had our third baby. I continued to stay home while my husband worked hard at his business.

The kids grew up. I started volunteering at school and had more time to invest in my own hobbies like reading, running, and writing. They got busier with their social lives and I could see them slipping away from me a bit–something that is normal and natural I know, but still hard for lots of moms.

I wanted more out of my life and felt like it had come to a sudden halt. They no longer needed me as much and it made sense for me to start working again.

 Plans done, changed, now what?

That was about four years ago. And now, I sit here and I wonder what is next for me. I have three teenagers who are all going to be gone in a few short years. My oldest graduated high school last year and my daughter has less than two years of high school left. My work is going well. I have time for friends and hobbies and myself, which is great.

And yet, I find myself missing those milestones I once had. Midlife is a time when there seems to be a blank slate in front of you. Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with it. I have my home. I have my kids. I have a career. I have my relationships. But, there doesn’t seem to be a next step.

Retirement is still twenty years away. And yes, I’ll have grandkids one day which will be amazing but let’s face it, it’s more about my kids starting their own families than it will be about me.

My 20-year-old self was wrapped up in her career. Then, I got wrapped up in my marriage and family. Now that I am divorced, and my three kids will all be on their own in a few years, I don’t really have a plan. I knew who I was when I was a full time mom. Most days were scheduled and planned. Now that my kids don’t need that, I feel a bit lost.

The fear of undiscovered opportunities (or lack thereof)

Midlife has brought contentment and a kind of peace I’ve never known. It feels nice to see that things are settled for a bit and there’s no huge plans for me like starting a family, a bigger business, or moving into another house. However, I can if I want to and maybe that’s what scares me. This is a time in my life when I’ve checked off a lot of my goals and I feel like my life is my own and there doesn’t seem to be a Next Thing that I want to do.

There is a stigma when you are younger to reach certain milestones in life like getting a place of your own, marriage, kids, and so on.

These days though, midlife expectations are changing and women are doing huge, wonderful things in their 50s and beyond. I’m just not sure what’s next for me and the glorious (and the scary) thing is, it can be anything I want it to be and I need to let go of the idea that it has to be some grand plan.

Because just living happily and peacefully can be my next chapter and I am allowed to figure it out as I go. 

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