With only a semester left in college, I left home to spend a summer in the Middle East.
Returning home, sun kissed and henna-haired, I longed to reunite with my boyfriend, to rest and prepare for my final semester.
My mother greeted me with warm hugs and a thousand questions.
She wanted to talk about dreams and plans, and I wanted to slide back into life as it was.
I had sailed for distant shores — experienced new foods and cultures and met friends who welcomed me with unparalleled hospitality. I had learned a few words of a foreign tongue and traveled to ancient ruins and pristine shores.
Now home, I felt grateful for the experience, but ready to settle back into life as I had been imagining it.
At the center of my thoughts, moving toward what I had always wanted: first marriage, and then, later, family life.
My mother envisioned something different, and she told me, frequently, in almost frantic terms. She wanted me to experience life on my own as an adult, to live and work on my own, with freedom to travel and achieve. Grad school, she offered? Or, perhaps: an apartment, job, and flexibility to try new things.
And then, my boyfriend arrived on a plane with a dozen red roses and a proposal.
This — I declared — is my dream. Yes, I said, to getting married young.
I felt the struggle but didn’t have words to discuss the battle I waged with my mother in those months leading up to the wedding.
Ship and harbor are powerful words to describe that struggle between wanting home and family life and wanting a career. It’s a useful paradigm because it describes a series of choices women must make throughout their lives in balancing the desire for work with the desire for family, the yearn to explore and achieve with the instinct to nurture and support others.
My mother had married young (and later divorced.) She longed for an experience for me that was altogether different from her own. She wrote letters to me, pages of regret and heartbreak, and projected her hurt and remorse onto me, viewing her words as a gift, offering me a view of another life. Not sure now if those pages crinkled with her own tears, dried onto the pages, or if only my tears curled those pages.
I wanted her to understand and support my dream of marriage while she wanted me to pursue an important career.
So many years have passed since then, with no words to describe this struggle, until now, and Whitney’s concept of the ship and the harbor.
My mother wanted me to be the ship and I wanted to create a harbor.
My mother’s words proved a gift, as her own urgings to me to be a ship modeled how to be a harbor. And I never forgot her belief that I could be a ship when the time arrived.
At the time, I couldn’t see beyond the safety of the shore. To me, marriage meant arriving, safely, at a place I had longed for, because it seemed to me more important to discover my traveling partner before deciding where I wanted to go.
And if we didn’t quite know where we wanted to go, if we didn’t quite have the resources to get there yet, we would discover that together.
Twenty years later, I understand myself and my gifts more clearly, and I am now able to be a ship while maintaining a harbor for my husband and children.
I am, finally, at age 41, discovering a dream career and pursuing it. I am setting sail in a new way, on a new course that I might not have found without first creating a safe harbor. And now I can teach my daughters to describe their dreams in those terms and to pursue whatever dreams capture their hearts.
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How do you balance being a ship (pursuing a career) with being a harbor (nurturing home and family)?
Have you had to choose between being a ship and being a harbor?
How have you learned to be the hero of your own story, to be your own Batman?
This guest post is from Becky Robinson of Weaving Influence.