From early adolescence into my pre-teen years, I was asked, "Erin, what do you dream of becoming?" -- and I was asked more times than I hit repeat on my NSYNC CD. The future was built up to be this limitless adventure that was solely in my hands. I became a young girl who spent her time envisioning what my life could be like if I chased my purpose and passion with reckless abandonment. I could barely peek over the dashboard of a car, but I could see my future, and it was filled with days of working and reaching for a life that I would be proud to call my own. I could not wait for this existence that was focused around achieving all possibilities. I was led to believe that my life's path would exclusively be built by me, following the timeline that I set up based on what I felt was best.
Alas, for the past five years, the only question I have been answering is, "Erin, when are you going to settle down and get married?" I am 28, single and in no hurry to find Mr. Right; my goals are the only thing I spend my time chasing. I am finally old enough to see over the dashboard and have the steering wheel in my hands, but my dreams are no longer what people care about. My empty ring finger now defines me more than my irrepressible desire to become something great. Gone are the days when people wanted to know what I yearn to achieve.
It seems being a single woman focused on my career causes society to either pity me or question my priorities. A scarlet "S" has been printed on my chest for all to point at and use as a conversation starter. "I know of a guy," or, "Is there anyone special in your life?" play like broken records daily, never ceasing to strike a nerve. I am not floundering, nor am I broken. Being single is not a death sentence; it's a choice.
I realize the majority of women follow the preset path of getting married and starting a family in their 20s and 30s. I think that it's perfect if that is what makes those women happy. Being a mother and wife have always and will always receive the utmost respect from my end. I just wish others would try and understand that's not the desired path for every woman. Some will take a longer trek to marriage and motherhood, and some will not travel that course at all. Too many deem a woman incomplete without a ring on her finger or a family to feed.
It's as if there is an age limit for girls on chasing dreams. If we don't reach them by our mid-20s, it becomes time to redirect our focus to find the men who will take the place of what we hoped life would be. Every path traveled is different. What works for some inevitably will falter for others, and that's OK, but no one should be judged for the course she chooses. All girls undoubtedly deserve more.
Ask a woman about her hopes and dreams from the time she is 5 until she no longer takes a breath on this earth. What women yearn to do never dies. It becomes suppressed or buried over the years, but the fire still remains burning inside. Don't place the "mother" and "wife" labels on a woman without allowing room for her to add anything else she wants, because what girls are capable of contributing to the world doesn't have to end with a kid and a roast -- and if it does, it still should be her choice.
My name is Erin Parker. I work tirelessly every day to be a better teacher than I was yesterday, but I also dream of creating teen programming for Oprah Winfrey and writing for The Huffington Post and O Magazine. I am doing everything I can to be great now and am working as hard as I can to get where I want to go. Thank you for asking.
Oh, and one day I want to have a family: A wonderful husband and three incredible children. Right now though, that can wait, and that is OK.