Teacher: a person who educates, protects, and cares for children.
Mother: a person who educates, protects, and cares for children.
My mother is a special education teacher. My aunt was an administrator. Several of my cousins are teachers. A ton of my friends are teachers. I am a teacher. We are also all parents. All of us love our kids, both the ones at work and the ones at home, and we’ve all had to make the heartbreaking decision whether to go back to our “kids” or stay home with the one(s) we brought into this world.
When I was pregnant, I felt a strong responsibility to my students, my administrators, my school, and as a first time mom, I had no idea what staying home would actually entail. I grew up going to daycare, not having any scarring experiences from that, and having two parents who always worked. Besides, I don’t remember anything from before like age 5, so why should it matter if I stay home or not with my kid? What difference would it make? Turns out, a lot…for me.
I am the kind of teacher who can’t half-ass things. I can’t just show up and make stuff up and pretend like I know what I’m doing. I’m the kind of teacher who stays well past contract time and spends most of her weekends and evenings (and breaks and summers) grading and planning and preparing to be the best teacher I can be. Most of the teachers I know are the same way. Why? Because we love our kids. We love our job (most of the time). Trust me, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t do it (the pay isn’t worth it otherwise). But it’s exhausting. It wears us out and tears us down and breaks us in ways any other job we’ve had hasn’t because it’s so emotionally draining. I’m not just at home caring for my small family when I’m at work; I’m caring for 168 teenagers, every day. And you’d think that teaching high schoolers makes it less exhausting than say teaching kindergartners or sixth graders, but I’m telling you it’s just the same. Whether or not they realize it, they’re still kids; they still act like kids; they still require the attention and care of kids, and the baggage they bring in the door with them is heavy.
So when I had to decide to stay home or not, I jumped at the chance. No more grading? No more parent meetings? No more evaluation paperwork? No more days where if one more kid lies to my face about why he doesn’t have his homework I just might run from the building screaming?
Sign. Me. Up.
Did things have to change for us to go down to one income? Absolutely. Did I know how much? Not a chance. What I didn’t realize until a few weeks later was how lonely staying home would be if I let it and how alienated I would feel from my former profession. I didn’t realize how much I would miss “my kids” even though I was over the moon about being able to spend so much time with my own kid, and I certainly didn’t anticipate the guilt I would feel.
Being a stay at home mom is a lot harder than I thought it would be. It’s kind of like treading water in a lake; some days you feel powerful and strong and your entire shoulders and head are above water, and you think I’ve got this! I’m doing this! Look at me! I’m a rock star! Other days, you have to force yourself to relax and float lest you drown, and sometimes you have to call on others to save you before you go under for good.
Aside from feeling guilty about not contributing financially, the endless drudgery of chores and errands and trying to also make myself make time to play with my kid and provide engaging or entertaining activities just feels so fruitless most days. And I know it’s this huge joke to chastise people who ask what I did all day, but I often feel guilty for accomplishing little other than keeping my kid alive and cared for because in our society, that’s not seen as enough. I can’t help but think, am I making as much of a difference here at home as I was there at school?
But the thing is, I know secondhand what it would be like if I had made a different choice. My friends ache with longing for their children during the day sometimes and feel guilty when they find themselves absent for monumental moments in their child’s growth or changes in their personalities or conversely when they are glad to be at school and not at home. They struggle with having to turn their eyes from their children in the evenings and on weekends to focus on grading and prep for the following week. They still love their kids at school but feel guilty some days for feeling so burnt out by the time they get home to care for their own. And on top of work and parenting, they still have to come home and accomplish all of the chores and errands and everything else that has to get done, feeling the same pressure stay at home moms feel to be supermom in the process.
It’s a struggle to have your main focus be the home and your kid(s) because there’s no break from it at the end of the day (or at the end of time…) and all I can seem to think about is how I am probably doing this all wrong, how I could be doing this better, why this should feel easier than it actually is. I find myself constantly wondering How does everybody do this? How can those Pinterest perfect moms do crafts every day and cook healthy, clean-eating approved meals every night and somehow still have the drive and energy to do something other than pass out or binge on Netflix at the end of the day while in bed with their husbands while I’m barely getting dishes done and call it a victory if I remember to throw in a frozen skillet meal before my husband walks through the door at 6:15?
And I’ve found the answer: they don’t exist. Those lives? Those perfect, “God, I wish my life was like that” lives don’t exist. They exist in pieces, in moments, in seconds long enough to capture on film and then fade to the background. And it doesn’t matter if I stay at home or teach at school, that reality is the same. Pastor Steven Furtick said it best when he said, “…we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” And we have to try to stop doing that because it’s the source of our guilt that we somehow aren’t enough, that we aren’t doing our best, that we aren’t being the moms we should be, when we are doing our best, we are the best moms we can be, and we are enough.
We have to remember that whether we stay at home or work outside of it that we are enough; we are the exact parent that God wished our children to have. And as along as our kids are fed, clothed, cleaned, sheltered, and loved, we have done our job and done it well.
When someone asks me (and I get this question a lot) when I’m going to go back to teaching, I just shrug my shoulders and say, “I don’t know if I will.” Even though I miss teaching a lot, it seems that both options are plagued with different difficulties and guilt. It wasn’t until I broke down one night to my husband that I felt validated, that I gave myself permission to be confident in my choice. That night, he said to me, “You’re doing the most important job of all.” I try to hold on to that when I feel like I’m not enough and just get through the day with as much patience, grace, and whatever dignity I have left (because let’s face it, you pee with the bathroom door open now too, don’t you).
I know that not every mom who wants to stay home has that option. I know that my husband would love to stay at home with our son instead of working 10-12 hours a day. Most of all, I know that if I had chosen to go back to work instead of staying home with Lucas, I would be missing him more than I am missing my job right now. So I let go of “my kids” to embrace the one before me, and that has made all the difference in discovering who I am and being able to let go of the guilt that used to suffocate me.
Say it with me, mommas: