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7 things I learned from 'settling down'

Having a family in my 20's didn't ruin my life, it clarified it

When I was in my rebellious teen years, I had very strong opinions on getting married and having kids at a young age. I didn't understand why anyone would "waste their 20s" and "settle so early" when clearly that's what our 30s were for. Climbing the career ladder, working to build a well-rounded résumé with volunteer and activist work, casual dating, and nights out with friends seemed like a good recipe for my 20s.

As I went down my path and met the guy who'd become my husband and we had our daughter and are now gearing up for the arrival of our son, I've learned so many things that have proven my past opinions to be a little naive, and frankly, wrong.

Just two years into marriage, here's what I've learned:

1. It's about the guy, not a relationship.

There seems to be this I-don't-want-to-be-bogged-down-by-a-guy mindset floating around our society. Too much responsibility, too much work, too much of "I'm way too big a feminist," -- whatever it is, we think we're better off on our own (or without a marriage license).

We think we can accomplish more on our own when we're not "tied down." If I've learned one thing it's this: if we feel "tied down," then we're with the wrong guy.

Tim and I went into marriage on the same page. We're a team and we operate as one. We both get up in the middle of the night, we both do dishes, we both clean. I'm supportive of his career, and Tim's been the first to encourage me to do what I love and reminds me that if I want to go back to work, we can make it happen.

When we're with the right teammate, we can grow and flourish and see potential in ourselves that we may have never seen, because we have our biggest fan next to us challenging us and cheering us on. And that's pretty damn cool.

More: Why I'm teaching myself to be less available to everyone

2. Life doesn't end when you have kids

When I was younger, I thought life ended with children, that the mom more often than not had to hang up her hat and stay home with the kids, mom jeans and all. Sure, for those who purposely waited until their 30s or 40s to have kids, careers or passions or high heels might be traded in for baby music classes, sweats, and all things baby all the time. Why? Because they had "their time."

Since Tim and I started our family at a younger age, we have a very different mindset about having kids. We didn't find it necessary to wait until we had the money to afford a playroom dedicated to all the latest kiddie gadgets and toys (because kids ultimately don't need a million and three toys). We're comfortable with Ella being babysat and going out. We're open to the idea of daycare or a regular babysitter.

We both have dreams and passions and ambitions individually and as a couple that we'd like to pursue and achieve. There are places around the world we'd like to visit and things we'd like to experience. Kids aren't holding us back, if anything, they're moving us forward.We're more grounded, we have our priorities in order, our time is spent wisely, and we're always working towards the next goal we want to accomplish.

More: Loved ones, please stop asking when we're going to have kids

3. Our 20s are for figuring it out

During our 20s is precisely the time when we should have our future at the forefront of our minds. Our twenty-something years aren't as disposable as we think they are. These years should be used to figure out what direction we want to take in life and then to start walking in that direction.

This doesn't mean marry the first guy you see so you can start popping out kids or to settle for a sub par job simply because it pays well. It means setting goals, working towards the goals, and consistently reevaluating progress. So maybe this means not wasting time on a relationship we know isn't going anywhere or actively looking for (and working toward) the job that will suit our passion, has a future, and will help fill that savings account (and pay off student loans).

4. Identity isn't lost when you become a parent

I'm pretty passionate about this topic. I believe every mom should have an identity separate from her kids. It's healthy for the mom, it's healthy for her husband, and it's healthy for her children. (A dad should as well; I happen to be writing from the at-home parent's perspective.)

Whether it's fitness or teaching a class or writing or photography or interior design or simple girl time with old friends, we moms need time for ourselves. Just us. We need to be able to walk away, reset, and come back to our responsibilities with a clearer head and refreshed mindset.

More: Why I love to travel without my husband

5. It's on us to keep growing as individuals

I really have my husband to thank for this lesson. When we were in college, I'd often complain to him about the fact that the journalism program I was there for wasn't as established as promised. He, being in a similar situation himself, would often ask what I could do about it. (We weren't exactly in the position to simply drop out, mind you.)

By his example of forming independent studies and going to conferences and meetups for people in his industry, I took my education into my own hands and ultimately landed an internship at an ABC affiliate. I say this because as parents (just as students) we can get lost in the grind, what's in front of us, and lose sight of our big picture goals.

But it is on us to keep growing as individuals. For example, a mom or dad taking time off from his/her career because it's the best decision financially for the family could be a great sacrifice. The now-parent could have really loved the work, the routine, the intellectual stimulation. Instead of totally losing themselves in diapers and toy maracas, they can take some time to write, read articles, stay up to date on the industry, meet up with friends in the industry, etc. The possibilities are endless.

We may say we don't have enough time. And sure, we may not have as much time as often as we'd like. But if it's really that important to us, we'll make some time. And if that means getting up extra early before our kids to get a blog post in, then so be it.

6. Time moves faster than we think.

Time is no joke. It's limited. It's fast moving. And it often escapes us. If we don't take control of the years we have, they could slip by us without us noticing. We should value our time, respect it, and make the most out of what we've been given.

7. A little sacrifice ain't ever killed nobody

When I was younger, the hardest thing to accept about the notion of getting married and having kids young was it wasn't just about me. Without strings, I could do what I wanted, whenever I wanted, wherever I wanted. The reality? That mindset doesn't yield good, kind, successful people, because it's never about "just us."

Any good commitment and relationship takes sacrifice. It's a simple fact. Is it always convenient or the most fun? No. But that's a good thing.

I think back to when I was younger and have no choice but to laugh a little. Is having a family a huge responsibility? Yes. Is parenting challenging? To say the least.

All I know is what I used to think would slow me down and take life away is the very thing that has grounded me, made me a stronger and better person, and put me on a path that I love. I've learned it's about balance, mindset, and choosing your partner wisely.

Yes, everyone has a different path, moving at different paces, for different reasons. But we need to take the negative air out of thinking about marriage and family, because marriage and family sure isn't the end. It's only the beginning.

Originally posted on BlogHer.

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