This story is part of our End of the Childbearing Years series, exploring the experiences, decisions, and feelings of Mormon women around this pivotal transition. Each story is a generous and vulnerable offering. We ask that comments be sensitive and nonjudgmental toward any woman’s choices or beliefs.

By Marilyn Bushman-Carlton

I was satisfied after having the last of my five children in fewer than seven and half years that our family was complete. Like his siblings before him, the youngest was adorable, and I loved having a new baby to cuddle. My love for them was fierce and total, and my life was given to caring for and teaching them and to managing our domestic lives like the captain of a tight ship sailing calmly through any weather.

But that was how it looked from the outside. Inside I was a mess. After child number three was born in 1974, I felt deeply hopeless. I had no idea who I was. I had not been given opportunities to learn an instrument or to take lessons of any kind where I might have discovered my talents, and I had not gone to college. By then, I was a passionate feminist trying to find myself, but with little time to do it as my husband earned advanced degrees and landed a prestigious job. With his encouragement and a truckload of trepidation, I began my studies at the University of Utah the same year our youngest child entered Kindergarten.

Because I had the children so closely together, there was no time between them to lament not having a baby to hold, nor time to cry when each began school. As a student, my mom role changed little—I kept my self-life separate, attending classes, studying and writing papers while the children were in school. At home I was all theirs. But finally I was beginning to fill the empty vessel my feminist sisters talked about.

In choosing to go to school when I did, I showed my daughters, especially, that education is important. My oldest daughter and I overlapped at the University her freshman year. And because it took everyone’s help to get mom through college, all shared the household chores. My sons had the example of their father who had his weekly and daily assignments, as well. Now, I watch our boys pitch in in their own marriages and see how natural they are at being dads, and how our daughters deftly balance families and careers. As a bonus, the self-reliance each of them learned early, knowing they could take care of themselves and their jobs and schoolwork, instilled in them a sustaining self-confidence.

Taking care of myself then and now has allowed me to live in the present and to enjoy each stage of both my children’s lives and my own. I enjoy my children as adult friends and confidants, not to mention their valuable opinions as editors. I published my first book in 1995, and praise and assistance is a two-way street in our family cooperative. In addition, I have sixteen grandchildren whom I love and enjoy just as I have always enjoyed my children. Both my personal vessel and my family nest are full.

Marilyn and her granddaughter