I became a mum at 26. We didn’t own our own home and we weren’t married. But that was all OK, because that was part of The Plan. We moved from our town centre flat to a little cottage in a village, with the intention of saving and enjoying life as new parents. We had always discussed having two or three children, about four years apart.
The Plan involved buying a house before another child came along, getting married at some point and continuing with my career as a journalist. That evolved along the way, as we realised that childcare is blooming expensive and my meagre salary would barely cover the cost of a morning at nursery. So we made some adjustments and Ta Da! The Refined Plan was born.
Except that didn’t really work out either, because my work situation changed. And then we decided that we might not want to live in this area until we bought a house. And, actually, we weren’t quite ready for another baby yet. It dawned on us that perhaps The Refined Plan was not so much a helpful guide as a heavy weight hanging around our shoulders, taunting us with what we were yet to achieve.
And so, here we are.
We have made the bold decision to ditch the plan (see? I’ve even removed the capital letters). Instead we are running with a new way of doing things. It’s called the See What Will Happen And Enjoy Life In The Now route. Not so catchy, but far more fun.
The thing is, this lack of clarity over a big life plan seems to irk some people. Apparently, if you are a good, responsible parent, you need to map out each five years of your life and get from A to B seamlessly.
As my two year old hurtles toward her third birthday, I’m constantly reminded – often by complete strangers – that she doesn’t have a little brother or sister. Sometimes they look at my belly, as if searching for a bump, before seeking my empty arms for any sign of a newborn. They always appear disappointed when nothing is there.
I didn’t know this would be the case.
As if being a parent isn’t hard enough, with the minefield of decisions and constant “Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right?” questions, there is yet more thrown at us. Not only do we have to put up with divisions and judgments about whether we leave the house to go to work or stay home to look after the children, breast or bottlefeed, puree or baby-led wean, use a buggy or a sling – but now, it seems, our very choices about HAVING children are thrown into the spotlight.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told to, “Hurry up and have another” before my child gets too old to “get along” with any potential sibling. When I joke that we’re not quite “ready yet” for another baby, I’m met with a raised eyebrow and a shrug, as if I’m irrationally peculiar for not immediately planning our second baby once we became pregnant with the first.
Life doesn’t work like that though. Life has a habit of throwing curve-balls and putting new opportunities and hurdles in our way. Life doesn’t always allow us to plan each year perfectly, map out each century, define each day.
Our new Not Plan doesn’t mean we aren’t motivated. It doesn’t mean we are existing from day to day without making provisions for the future. We still have wishes and wants and things to achieve together. We still have a journey to make as a family and an adventure to carve out.
But it won’t fit into some tidy, neat little grid. It won’t, because life isn’t a spreadsheet. Sometimes you’ve just got to ride the wave and accept you don’t know what’s on the other side.