There’s a moment in our lives as moms when dreams—especially the wildest and most audacious dreams blooming in our heads—become meant for our children, not for us.
Google “follow your dreams,” and you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results—all suitable for framing or available as a stencil for your baby’s nursery wall.
“Follow your dreams, believe in yourself, and don’t give up.” -Rachel Corrie
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you have imagined.” -Henry David Thoreau
“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney
“Don’t dream it, be it.” -The Rocky Horror Picture Show
I’m not sure when I forgot I was also supposed to have dreams. Maybe it was when I had my first child. Maybe it was when most of my daily focus was spent doing laundry and washing dishes. Maybe it was when my husband began getting bigger and juicier assignments and I needed to take over more of the management of the household. It’s a mystery, but it did happen.
And I know I’m not alone.
A 2019 survey by the Global Dreams Index Survey found that fifty percent of the world’s population of women have given up on achieving their dreams. When leadership strategist Soulaima Gourani wrote about this incredible phenomenon for Forbes, she found:
“Many women are being told to stay realistic, stop dreaming and get ‘their heads out of clouds,’ play safe and don’t take chances. As a result, the challenges of achieving their dreams can appear so difficult and unrealistic that they start to become less ambitious.”
This attitude starts when we are girls and we’re given a disproportionate number of chores and responsibilities as compared to our boys. Society has grounded girls into the day-to-day realities of the household while boys are typically allowed more time for play and creative thinking. As women, we’re conditioned to let go of dreams for more practical, safer adult lives.
When my kids were little, I was fine with putting my dreams in a box to focus on them. There was a certain amount of fulfillment in being the one that could magically lay hands on a missing piece of homework or whip up last minute soccer game treats out of thin air. But as my mom, who was the director of a public library, so eloquently put it, “Folding underwear wasn’t the be-all-end-all of my life.”
It was inspiring to see my mom go from being a housewife, to being a teacher, to being the director of our public library. As the director, she fundraised two additions for the library building: a meeting room for the community and a gallery to display museum-worthy art donated back in the 1930s that had been stored away and forgotten about. Much like my dreams.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
As moms, we are the number one inspirational influence on our child’s lives. We show them how high they can go simply by trying to see how high we can go.
In her essay with The Washington Post, Gemma Hartley writes about how watching her mother graduate college inspired her to begin working on her novel again. She realized other women didn’t let motherhood stop them from writing books and accomplishing their goals. “They made their passion a priority. They refused to let their dreams wither away, because they knew their dreams mattered — not only to them but also to their children.”
Life coach Kate Owen also talks about how important it is for moms to follow their dreams, “Because ultimately, if you give up on your dreams you teach your children to give up on theirs.” And that is the last thing I want for my children.
The phenomenon of our children learning by our example is the Social Learning Theory. This monkey-see-monkey-do theory was first proposed after researchers observed children imitate adults’ treatment of a Bobo doll. When adults were kind to the doll, children treated the doll kindly. When adults were rough and mean to the doll, children were likewise mean and rough.
How I go through the world treating myself and others is generally how my children are going to treat themselves and others. So, if I show them dreams can’t be followed or achieved, what does that say about their future?
We all have a dream inside us that nudges, whispers, or even burns. I woke up one morning with an entire story in my head. It had played like a movie in my mind as I slept, and when my eyes opened, I had a need burning inside me so strongly I was alarmed by the intensity. I had to write this story down.
I began in fits and starts before I had to take what felt like the totally audacious step of going to a writing retreat. It meant leaving my family for four days, shutting off my cell phone during my writing hours, and focusing only on my story. That time was one of the greatest gifts I ever gave myself. I learned so much about the craft of writing. I made life-long friends who know what it means to be a mom and a writer, and my book finally took shape.
And you know what? My kids were so proud of me. They started to tell teachers at school that their mom is a writer. It was a shock they gave me the identity I didn’t yet have the confidence to give myself. It also made me feel like my dream was legitimate. It mattered to them if I achieved it or not. Their pride gave me the confidence and drive I needed to really try.
My oldest son then started writing stories of his own. He’s pretty serious about it, too; often announcing, “I’m writing,” before disappearing into his room. This has helped his mental health during the pandemic–giving him a place to express his emotions and permission to take time for something that means a lot to him while he is cut off from sports.
Filling Your Cup
Following my dream has made me more than a model or inspiration for my kids. I was a better parent. I was less grouchy; I yelled less and laughed more. I was a better spouse: more generous with my time and less resentful that I was vacuuming the floors again.
The old saying that “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” means, you can’t give others energy and love if you don’t have it inside you first. And by constantly doing for others, I was running on fumes. Following my dreams allowed me a different kind of self-care that was just as important as yoga or a spa day. It allowed me to nurture the inner child who had always wanted to be Agatha Christie at Halloween.
How do you fill your cup? Especially when you have eight-billion things to do and your youngest has to be an eggplant for tomorrow’s school musical that you just found out they were cast in? Read on for the simple steps you can take to follow your dreams.
1. What is your dream?
What is the one thing that you keep coming back to? Painting? Teaching? Writing? Or maybe you have a lot of things you’ve always wanted to do.
Write them down. Be free and open. Dig down deep. Maybe there’s something that has been whispering to you for years that you’ve never had the courage to admit to wanting. Get them all out.
Sometimes you know instantly and sometimes it takes a while. Post the list up on your wall or bathroom mirror. Which one do you keep coming back to? Once you know, circle it or write it down on a new slip of paper in your fanciest handwriting.
Maybe you don’t feel the pull of one special dream. Fine! There’s nothing wrong with having many dreams. The important thing is that you’re picking something just for you.
2. What do you need?
So, you figured out your dream. Now what?
Now you figure out how to get there. Start by writing down two things you can do within the next week to help you get going. About ten years ago I wanted to run a 5K. I wasn’t a runner in any way, shape, or form. The first thing I did was to buy new running shoes and find a Couch to 5K program to follow.
When I decided to be a writer I Googled “how to write a novel” and then found an unused notebook in my kids’ art supplies to start filling with ideas. I didn’t churn out a novel that day, but I got my first foot onto the path.
3. Carve out “Dream Time”
Schedule yourself into your own life by carving out some Dream Time. Now, this is the hardest step to take. We’re already up to our elbows in paper mache trying to make this darn eggplant, not to mention make dinner, give baths, help with math problems, and, oh yeah, breathe. But it is absolutely necessary.
I had a meeting with my spouse. I shared my dream of becoming a writer with him, which was about the scariest thing I’ve ever done; but he was more supportive than I could’ve hoped. We negotiated and figured out several places where I could have time for me.
First, I went to a coffee shop or restaurant one night a week to write. He got home and I immediately left. I had over three hours of just me time to write or read or do whatever I needed to do, while my spouse was in charge of the kids. It helped me a ton and gave them special time together. Win-Win situation.
Second, I used podcasts to help me multitask. I would listen to a podcast about writing while I gardened, or did the laundry, or washed dishes. I was increasing my knowledge base about my craft, learning the names in the industry, and hearing about other people’s experiences while still getting chores done.
Third, I found wasted time during my day. It was hard, but I put down Candy Crush and Facebook and dedicated that time to my dream. I found an astonishing two hours a day where I’d been mindlessly doom scrolling under the misconception that I was connecting with my friends who I never had time or energy to call. Once I began giving this time over to my dream, I found I had the energy to make that voice-to-voice contact and have a real connection with my best friends.
4. Make the audacious leap
Is there something absolutely crazy that you want to do in pursuit of this dream? Start a website? Hire a trainer? Carve out office space? Do it.
For me it was to go to a writer’s retreat eight states away. It meant flying, leaving my kids and spouse for a whole four days, and spending money on something that was not yet bringing cash in. Very scary.
But sometimes you get to a spot where you feel like you can’t go further. For me it was trying to get my book started. I couldn’t seem to get my outline to work through my entire book. I’d get part way through an idea and lose my way. I was stuck.
I was more than stuck. I was close to giving up.
So, when this writer’s retreat came up on one of the podcasts I listened to, I decided to make that audacious leap. I brought a new idea with me and started working on it with the guidance and moral support of other authors in my exact same situation.
And now I get to be Agatha Christie for real! That book I started when I went to the writing retreat? It’s being published! As of June 7, 2022 my family and I are going to be able to hold Her Dying Day in our hot little hands. It’s going to sit on my mom’s bookshelf alongside Janet Evanovich and Lucy Foley.
It’s still incredible to me how fulfilling it feels to follow my dream of being a mystery writer. And as good as it feels to hold Her Dying Day in my hands, it feels even better to see how I’m inspiring my boys to follow their own dreams.
The 2-Minute Action Plan for Fine Parents
Take a few minutes to journal, ponder, or talk to a trusted friend by using the following prompts:
- What is one thing you’ve always wanted to do? It doesn’t have to be writing a book. It could be something simple like going to an escape room or running a 5k race. Share it with yourself first by writing it down in your journal.
- Think of two things you can do to get you on the path to reaching that dream. Is it finding that special notebook? Downloading some writing software? Taking a twenty-minute walk?
- Get out your calendar and make a date with yourself to take those first two steps. You’ll be surprised at how much joy comes simply from trying.
The Ongoing Action Plan for Fine Parents
As you move along your journey to following your dreams, it may be helpful to focus on the following steps:
- Once you’ve completed your first two dates with yourself, get out your calendar and make a Dream Time schedule for yourself.
- Share your Dream Time plans with your parenting partner or other members of your support network. Discuss how you’re going to reach that dream and what kind of support you need to reach it. This can feel daunting but be brave. Your loved ones want you to succeed just as much as you want it.
- Find other supports along the way. Podcasts are a wonderful way to connect to a community. Because, as alone as you might feel, there are others trying to reach the same goal. And some of them podcast about it and have Facebook support groups.
- When you come to a swamp in the road and you can’t see how you’re going to make it beyond, make an audacious leap. Mine was going on that writing retreat. Yours could be hiring a writing or running coach (yes, they exist for adults). Or signing up for a semester of classes at a local community college or studio.