Which Way Do I Go?

So here I am, just turned 35 and wondering what I want to do when I grow up.  Ha!  For most of my life, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  As a child, I begged to stay up late so I could watch the weather broadcast on the nightly local news station. I would stand on our back porch, looking into the clouds, and make my own weather forecasts.  I was so nerdy, I even hand plotted hurricane latitude/longitude from the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane forecasts.  I once got in trouble because I’d used several rolls of film, unknowingly to my parents.  No doubt, they were expecting to find pictures of my sister and I, family events, maybe a lost roll from a family vacation.  Ha!  Were they surprised when every last picture was of clouds in the sky!

Naturally, I had decided I was going to college to study meteorology.  I didn’t want to be a television meteorologist though.  I wanted to be like Jo Harding in Twister and do research.  Live in the excitement of the field and make new discoveries, advancing weather science.  Ultimately I ended up somewhere in the middle.  I am a severe storms forecaster, examining tornado, hail and high wind potential on a daily basis across the entire nation.  I love my job.  It is meaningful and fulfilling work.  And, I get to enjoy a bit of both the research and operational worlds, doing research and outreach during spare work time.  I am grateful for my career and I worked very hard to get here.

But in the last four or five years the flame seems to have dimmed a bit.  I have many theories as to why this has occurred.  In that time, I’ve had two children.  I am tired.  I don’t have the energy I once had because I average about 5 hours of sleep a day.  That’s usually broken up by things like nighttime feedings or tending to hungry, scared, wide awake, energetic children who seem bent on making sure I never have another restful night of sleep again. I live on caffeine and shear willpower.  Besides being utterly exhausting, my kids have also changed my perspective on life.  My family is my top priority.  Working rotating shift work is not always conducive to a happy family life.  I work weekends, holidays, night shifts.  I miss events, we don’t see our extend family as often as I’d like, and fun times with friends are few and far between. I question quite often if this is the life I want for my family.  We live about 500 and 1500 miles away from our families.  It is HARD raising a family so far away from those closest to you.  Am I doing my kids a disservice by not being closer to their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins? Am I being selfish?  My husband and I are stressed to the max quite often because of issues like these.  This lifestyle we’re living undoubtedly contributes to my anxiety.

So why not just quit my job and stay at home with my kids and be a homemaker?  Lots of reasons.  Many of which I’m not sure are really “good” reasons.  Let’s tick them off (in no particular order):

  1. I worked hard in college to earn my degree.  I’m still paying off student loans for that degree.
  2. This is what I always wanted.  I DO love what I do, the people I work with and the mission of our organization.
  3. My kids will not always need me to the degree they do now.  But right now is some of the most important times in their lives.  I’m helping to shape them into the people they will become.  But, once they start school and become more independent, I’d want to do meaningful and fulfilling work outside the home again. But if I quit my job now, there is no way I’d be invited back into my organization.  It would basically be career suicide. I’m very conflicted over this because I want to be there for my kids during the most formative years of their lives.
  4. I am not a risk taker.  I make a very good salary and it would be a huge hit to our lifestyle and quality of life.  I like getting that pay check and shopping, putting money in savings, going on vacations, being able to get my kids things they want, not just things they need. Am I a terrible person for that? If I quit, would I really be helping my kids or jeopardizing their futures?
  5. I provide our health insurance, which is very good and affordable through my employer. I have other benefits as well, like life insurance, retirement, etc.
  6. What if I make a terrible stay-at-home mom?  What if I make a terrible stay-at-home wife?  Some days, when the kids are pushing all the right buttons, it’s nice to be able to come to work for a little break.

I’ve been asking myself a lot, “what would I do if I weren’t doing this?” I don’t have a very good answer because I feel like I’ve lost myself in some ways since having kids.  I don’t really know what I’m passionate about anymore other than them.  I am sure this can’t be a good thing for them or for me.  I don’t really have any answers to any of these questions.  So here I sit, feeling stagnant in my professional career and depressed over not being the kind of mom and wife I’d like to be for my family.   I feel not wholly present in either part of my life. When I’m at work, I’m wishing I were at home with my family and when I’m home with my family I’m usually exhausted from a combination of shift work and the demands of small children. I’m stressing about how I’m not a top-notch employee and I’m late to work nearly every day because I usually have a kid asking me not to leave while I’m furiously throwing frozen meals and breast pump supplies into my work bag. I’m seeing the look of longing and sadness in my husbands face as I close the door behind me.  It sucks.

All I know is I’m struggling to find happiness, or at least contentment, with where I am in life. I can’t shake the feeling that this is not how it should be.  That this is not how it could be.  But I have no idea what the answer is to get to where I want to be…