I Wanted To Be 'Successful' — I Became A Mom

by Kimberly Zapata
Originally Published: 

Success. It’s a big, significant word, full of weight and meaning. Success seems to determine the aim and purpose of our life and is the motivator behind everything we do. And yet, it’s also variable. What defines success for one person may not define success for another. But we all strive for it. We all work toward it, and growing up, the path to success is quite clear.

Go to school.

Get good grades.

Apply to college.

Get a job.

But success is more than a diploma or a degree or a salary, and there are numerous ways to be successful. Job descriptions do not define our worth.

How do I know? Because I wanted to be successful. I yearned to be the next Elizabeth Wurzel, Hunter Thompson, or Sylvia Plath, penning novels quickly and pensively. I imagined spending my days in coffee shops, swiping unruly strands of blonde hair from my line of sight. But instead, I became a mom: A cooking, cleaning, snot-wiping woman. And while I didn’t imagine taking on this role, there is something to be said about her — and me. About “we,” the domestic warriors of the world.

When I was 16, I knew everything. Eve-rything. I knew spaghetti strap tank tops were cool, despite what school administrators (or the weather conditions) had to say. I knew music was at its peak; Eminem, Nickelback, and N’Sync topped the charts, and it couldn’t possibly get better than Christina Aguilera and Korn. And I knew food could (and would) never taste better than the Rodeo burger. Trust me. If you know, you know.

I also knew I had to make something of myself, unlike my mother, who was a stay-at-home parent. But I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. And while I won’t disparage JC Chavez, Justin Timberlake, or the rest of that dynamic pop group, I will call out my teenage self for her crappy attitude, her thoughtlessness, and her ignorance. Because becoming a mother didn’t make me unsuccessful. It didn’t make me useless, ineffective, or a failure. Instead, it is my greatest joy and accomplishment.

My children are my legacy.

When I hug my children, I teach them about love and safety. About vulnerability, compassion, and what it means to feel secure. When I discipline my children, I teach them about boundaries. I let them know there are right ways and wrong ways to exist in this world. I help them become better, stronger (little) people. When I read to and with my children, I help their brains develop — and their imaginations grow. They learn life is limitless, that possibility knows no bounds. And when I yell at my children or, more importantly, make a mistake, I apologize, and through my words they learn grace and humility. They learn it’s okay to falter as long as you are human and humane first.

But that’s not all. Because while I teach my children many lessons, helping them grow and learn and navigate this world, my children also teach me. They push me to be a better person. I laugh louder in their presence and feel a joy I’ve never known. I work harder because they motivate me to do so, because they inspire me to be my best self. My focus has increased. I only do things that bring me joy and passion and that fill my cup. And I take chances. I jump and leap as they do, knowing my feet may not land squarely on the floor and that’s okay. The only missed opportunities are the ones you fail to take.

Make no mistake: Change didn’t occur overnight. My definition of success didn’t shift the second I gave birth. I haven’t always embraced the title “mom” and I (still) reluctantly use the words “stay-at-home” but — and this is a big but — I am successful in other ways. I write for parenting outlets because of my children. Because I am “mom.” I see value in my role. I have both purpose and passion. Parenthood brings meaning and color to my life, something I’m not sure a 9 to 5 would. And I (now) have a ton of material for the book I will one day write — be it a memoir or children’s tale.

So while I am not the writer my younger self once imagined me to be — while I am not penning novels, attending readings, or hosting meet-and-greets — I am playing with my children, telling them stories at dinner time and bedtime. Taking them to faraway lands, with tiny plastic dinosaurs and dolls. I am caring for my children, physically and emotionally. I don’t just feed them, I nourish them: their stomachs, brains, hearts, and souls. And I am more than “just a parent.” I am a Mama Z: a cook, cleaner, caregiver, caterer, financial analyst, nurse, and dance mom. I am the mender of boo-boos and defender of night terrors and bad dreams. And I take these roles very seriously.

They make me a “success.” Because of my children, I am successful — even if I didn’t quite get there the way I’d planned.

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