Life after little ones

As you embark on your parenting journey, take a lesson from Tessa Apa, a career mother nearing the end of her tenure.

After 23 years climbing the career ladder of motherhood, I have reached the top rung. My children are now independent, making their own decisions, paying their own insurance, and making their own beds. I have been made redundant from at least 85% of my role. It happened gradually, of course, but I wasn’t paying attention.

My youngest is about to turn eighteen, and while I still offer plenty of support, mothering is no longer my career. Having three adult children means I am no longer defined by their existence. I need to find a new job.

I loved being pregnant. I loved that every decision was now simple in a way it never had been. If it didn't work for me as a pregnant woman, the answer was simple. Would you like to go out clubbing? No. Can you help me move flats? No. Would you be able to work a double shift? No. If it was in any way harmful to my babe’s health, the answer was easy. I had an immovable benchmark by which all decisions could be made, and no one argued. There was also no question about what I was going to do with my life. It was obvious. Even as a working mum, my children were the priority, and all decisions revolved around their well-being. It's so simple, so clear and defined. My children come first. No argument. And no one ever did.

When number two came along, she doubled my purpose in life. Who can say that about a promotion at work? Having a third child only cemented my role, and my mission. "What do you do?" I have three children. "How old?" Five, two, and three months. No one argues with that. Now when I'm asked "What do you do?" – and reply "I have three children aged 22, 20 and 18" – the very next question is the same as the first.

After 23 years in the same rewarding career, one I have never felt ashamed to claim as my job, I find myself looking for another one. The truth is, I'm scared. I'm scared it won't be as fulfilling, and I'm scared I won't be as proud to own it. But first of all, I have to figure out what I want to do. And that is where I find myself.

I would like the next 23 years of my new career to be as meaningful and rewarding as my first. Something that will haul me out of bed nice and early –nothing quite like a screaming baby to do that! Something I'm proud of, something I'm good at, and something that makes me choose to be selfless.

I should have been working on a plan a lot earlier. Working on how to redefine myself. Asking myself questions like "What else am I good at? What motivates me? How would I like to be described to others in five years time?" I should have done some further study, picked up a skill to make me more valuable in the workforce. But I didn't.

I've never cared much for the five year plan. As a mother of three young children, I knew exactly where I'd be and what I'd be doing in five years time. As a mother of three teenagers, I also knew exactly where I'd be.

But now, as a mother of three adults, I have no idea.

I have to re-imagine myself apart from being a mother. Apart from my children. I can no longer be defined by them, and I don't want to. My goal was always to raise independent, confident and kind humans, and now that I've achieved it, I need to step back.

I can't hitch my ride to their train. I have to stand on the platform and wave them off. Or, perhaps, wait on the platform to welcome them home. But I'm not on the train with them anymore, not sharing the same cabin anyway. Sure, I get invited along every now and then, but I'm a guest, not the driver.

That is how it should be.
But, what about me?

What is my purpose now? How am I defined? How do others see me? Now that I can choose a different path, what will it be? What does a future without a clear path look like? Who the heck am I? These uncomfortable questions make my chest clench and tears threaten. But I am committed to asking, until I can answer.

And, if I was to share one thing with other career mothers, no matter where on the ladder your feet are placed, I'd say, make sure when you reach the top rung, it's the landscape that's unrecognisable, not you.

I'd say relish each moment, each step, each victory. Enjoy the perks. Take pride in every promotion. Take pride in having a driving purpose and an all-consuming passion. Because it's a privilege, and it doesn't last forever. It changes into something quite different, and you will need to be ready when it does.


Tessa is the head breakfast chef to a family of five. When not preoccupied with the kitchen, she can be found working in early childhood education. Tessa has written and published two novella, and is currently working on a young adult novel.



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