We all have dreams we gave up somewhere along the way to adulthood. My earliest aspirations were to grow up to be a taste-tester at a candy factory, a zookeeper and a drummer for “Josie and the Pussycats.”
My eighth grade teacher planted the idea of being a writer into my soul. I still remember Miss Coyne handing back a story I wrote with a huge smile on her face and an A+ circled at the top of the first of three pages written on lined paper. There were other teachers in high school and college who encouraged my creativity but, c’mon, who makes a living writing stories?
I did become a professional writer, first as a publicist and ad copywriter, and then as a freelance reporter while raising two sons. These were jobs that allowed me the luxury of working part time, sometimes from home, and earning a decent wage. It wasn’t until my kids Justin and Drew were in high school that I finally had the time and energy to pursue my dream of writing a novel.
“It’s common for women to put their goals on hold when they become moms,” says Robin Arzón, Peloton’s vice president of fitness programming and bestselling author of “Shut Up and Run” and “Strong Mama.” “You are taking care of this tiny human. It’s a 24/7, all-encompassing job. But our moments for self-care, dream-building and creativity are still incredibly important, and society does not hold men to the same standard.”
Pursuing what’s important sometimes requires having tough conversations. When Arzón became a mom to daughter Athena Amelia Arzón-Butler in March 2021, she made it clear to those closest to her that there were going to be moments when she needed them to step in so she could pursue personal goals including business opportunities and writing a children’s book.
“It requires an element of bravery and courage for a woman to say, ‘This is what I need, and this is how you can support me,’” she says.
Here are five tips for creating more space for yourself to pursue your dreams:
1. Do a reality check
“There’s so much conditioning of women to take care of everything and be the supportive parent and partner,” says Katherine Goldstein, a journalist who writes a newsletter called “The Double Shift” about the forces that shape family life in America.
“Often the things that hold us back from pursuing dreams have more to do with our perceived expectations of us rather than actual constraints,” Goldstein says.
During the pandemic, child care has become harder than ever to find, family and other informal networks of support have been disrupted, and the pressure on moms to take care of everything has intensified.
“When you do get a babysitter, it can feel more important to catch up on housecleaning and paying work than pursuing a personal passion,” says Goldstein, a mom of three kids including twin toddlers.
To further aggravate the problem, women will talk themselves out of having time to themselves. “Moms worry their partner will forget to pick a child up from school or they won’t remember where soccer practice is, when that person is perfectly capable,” Goldstein says. “Or single moms will think they are imposing by asking a relative to babysit when, really, oftentimes that person would be happy to be supportive.”
2. Get creative
If you can’t get the support you need from your current family and friends, maybe it’s time to expand your network. Be the spark of change to create a moms’ babysitting co-op at your church or your child’s preschool.
“Many women live far from family and haven’t had time to invest in friendships they can rely on,” Goldstein says. “If it feels like there’s no one to support you, that’s the issue you need to address first. Your dreams, especially as a mom, aren’t going to happen in isolation through your sheer grit. We have to do this together.”
3. Own your power in the workplace
Now more than ever, if there’s something that’s not working for you at your job, you’re in a great position to negotiate in terms of getting the time and space needed to pursue your passion. We’re in an unusual time when people have been leaving their jobs in droves.
“Women in particular are often reticent to ask for what they need and find it easier to just quit and find a different job,” Goldstein says. “But a lot of employers would rather have you ask for what you need than quit.”
4. Honor all of your dreams
No matter how much we love being mothers, Arzón says we can also still honor the people we were before we were mothers. “We’re not only one thing in this world, and there is never going to be a good time to continue to build those dreams and visualize our successes,” she says. “We have to spend those little quiet moments that we have to carve out and schedule some times to continue to remember ‘her.’”
Journaling has been a huge help for Arzón in keeping her dreams on track. “Sometimes it helps to get things out on paper and it’s kind of a safe space to do so,” says Arzón, who says she pays special attention to the little dreams and whispers that want to become roars.
5. Go beyond the three P’s
According to Eve Rodsky, author of “Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World,” women are conditioned to think their value is confined to the 3 P’s of being a parent, partner and professional.
Rodsky suggests doing away with defining your personal goal as a “hobby” or “passion project,” something associated with infrequency. “It’s about really understanding that your creative life contributes to your daily flourishing,” she says.
She also suggests replacing toxic messages with positive ones.
“If your self-talk is that you don’t deserve permission to pursue something creative because you make less money than your partner, or you can’t give up a household responsibility because it takes less time for you to do it yourself, these are toxic messages keep you from asking for what you need,” Rodsky says.
Instead, replace those messages with telling yourself that you deserve the same choices around how you use the time in your day as your partner.
“We all only have 24 hours in a day, and those hours are like diamonds,” Rodsky says. “You deserve them as much as your partner.”
TODAY contributor Jennifer Haupt’s most recent novel, “Come As You Are,” is a family drama set in Seattle in the early ‘90s that addresses the question: Can we alter our dreams and stories from the past to create a better future for our children? It was published on March 1, 2022.