My mother was a psychologist and my father was a psychoanalyst. They both practiced as therapists. It seemed like the greatest profession and I grew up wanting to be a therapist too. You get to help people but you can be your own boss and set your own schedule. I always thought I would go to medical school, like my Dad, and become a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst.
Unfortunately, it turned out that I sucked at science. After my first year in college, I realized that I would never get good enough grades in the sciences to get into medical school. So I followed my interests and became an American Studies major, with a minor in history. Toward the end of my college career, I announced that I would become a therapist by going to social work or psychology grad school.
My father went ballistic. He was actually famous in his profession. He was devastated at the thought that his daughter would not go to medical school. ‘Just’ being a therapist, without a medical degree, was unthinkable for any daughter of his. I would have been an embarrassment.
Like a young, insecure idiot, I bowed to his wishes and gave up my dream. I realized I could go to law school if I just took the LSAT exam. So that’s what I did. I basically chose a career based on where I could go to grad school — with the least amount of hassle. I was interested in the law, but not excited. I had no idea what it meant to be a practicing lawyer, day-to-day.
I made it through law school, still not really motivated to practice law. It turned out that the only kind of law I was really interested in, found intellectually challenging, was litigation, or trial practice. But litigators had to put in crazy, unpredictable hours and my husband was already doing that. I wanted children and didn’t think I could handle a demanding career, a demanding husband, running our lives and bringing up kids. I don’t thrive on stress and hyperactivity – they sap me and overwhelm me. I ended up being overwhelmed anyway, at home, with a bi-polar husband and one child with psychological and learning issues.
So I opted for a small, general practice law firm in New York City. I did contracts, trusts and estates, some leases, etc. I was bored out of my mind. Lots of paperwork and endless bureaucracy to negotiate. Not stimulating or gratifying in any way. I couldn’t wait to get pregnant so I could quit and become a stay at home Mom. Being a Mother was the one thing I was really excited about.
It turns out that the day my son was born, two months prematurely, I found my ideal career. I loved being a Mom and managing a home for my family. I worked hard, with no weekends off and few vacations. I was never bored. I always felt challenged by whatever phase my kids were going through. I was happy and satisfied with my life style.
I never looked back or regretted my decision to leave the law for motherhood. The decision I regret was appeasing my father and not pursuing the career I really wanted, in whatever way I wanted. Had I found a career I loved, my life would have played out differently. I could have worked part-time as a psychologist while my kids grew up, like my Mom did. (At that time, part-time work or job sharing was almost non-existent in law firms). I would also have had a career to go back to when my kids left home. It would have been nice to have a job I loved to fill the empty nest years, in my 50’s and 60’s.
What is depressing to me now is that I gave up the chance to fulfill my dreams of being a therapist. And I gave it all up to assuage my father’s ego. I wish I could go back now and tell my 21-year-old self to stand up to my Dad. To just go for the life I wanted. What makes it worse is that my Dad and I had a very limited and strained relationship. He was not really involved in my life. Except to step in and put the kibosh on my career choice.
I loved my job as a home maker and Mom. But I could also have loved my job as a therapist. And, I would have never felt I missed out on a big part of life.