The Whole Work Thing…

Ever since I found out I was pregnant with Maggie, and probably even before, I went back and forth with one of the biggest questions women of my generation ask themselves: To work, or not to work?

Initially, what I told myself and others was this: I’m just not the stay at home type. To be honest, when I think about this statement now, I’m not entirely sure what that means. The more women I’ve come into contact with that have decided to stay at home, the more I realize that there’s not such thing as a stay at home “type”. We all have factors that pull us in one direction or another. Sometimes necessity is the deciding factor, other times it’s ideology. Personality plays a role too; I’ve spoken to plenty of people that tell me the quality of their family time is improved because working causes them to miss and appreciate their kids and spouses. Needing that time away to do their own thing doesn’t make them better or worse parents, it just makes them who they are.

I had Maggie in October of my second year of teaching public school. Those of you who are teachers, are in relationships with teachers, or have friends who are teachers know that teaching isn’t a job– it’s a lifestyle. Along with the papers we haul with us back and forth to school, we also carry the stresses, anxieties, and joys of our responsibility for the children we teach each day. I teach seventh grade, which averages to about 120 students each year. Having a child of my own didn’t really diminish what I felt for these other kids, it just added to my load one more person I needed to please and care for.

Adding to the load was a forty-minute commute to work each day. I remember one particular drive home from work very clearly. It was about a month after I returned to school from maternity leave, and I was on the phone with my older sister Beth, who was pregnant with her son Howie. Even though I risked freaking her out about her own upcoming challenges, she listened to me cry as I told her, “I feel like I’m split into these three roles, and I’m failing at all of them. Almost every day I feel like a terrible teacher, a terrible wife, and a terrible mother.” There simply wasn’t enough time in the day to give my job, my husband, and my baby the attention that they needed. And even if I could, what about me? Where did my own well-being fit into all of  this? She reassured me that this was just my perception, and that I was surely doing the best I could. Later, she told me how surprised she was that I felt this way; to her, I seemed like I was balancing the different parts of my life very admirably. I, as always, was my own worst critic.

More than two years have passed since then, and while being a working mom has become a normal part of my routine, I still feel lacking in all three departments. It doesn’t necessarily make sense, since I have a happy working environment (closer to home), a happy marriage, and a happy daughter. I’m making it work. I’m managing. But not a day goes by that I don’t want to do or be more, and I often wonder if letting go of one of those roles would give me the time and energy to step it up in the other departments and maybe, just maybe, feel like I’m actually succeeding at something.

Change is terrifying, and one of my greatest fears surrounding this issue is that I will leave the teaching profession, which I enjoy, only to find out that I should have stayed. I’m afraid that, only one year into the position, I will have wasted a fantastic opportunity to teach at a wonderful school only ten minutes from home. I’m afraid that by choosing my family over teaching I will become isolated and lonely, stuck in the house without the companionship of coworkers. I worry that others will judge me for my decision, thinking me selfish or stuck-up, and I know that I won’t be able to help judging myself for giving up on teaching. In that sense, I will certainly feel like a failure.

In short, I can think of a million reasons to keep doing what I’m doing now. Sometimes, though, I hear a voice, a whisper, some sort of calling, saying, “Do the thing that is hardest. Let go.”

I don’t know where that leaves me, especially with baby #2 coming this summer. What I ask of you, friends, family, and fellow moms, is input. I would love to hear your words of advice and the experiences that you have had, because you help me remember that as much as I agonize over every decision, I’m not alone.

4 thoughts on “The Whole Work Thing…

  1. Beth Dunn says:

    Only you can make this decision, and so the input that matters most is your own. I think sometimes you just need people to tell you that no matter what, things are going to be okay. And they are. If you do decide to keep working, you'll keep managing, even with two kids. You'll find a way to make it work. And if you decide to stay home, it doesn't mean you're giving up on teaching. You might not go back into the classroom, or you might. If you do, it might be at your current school or a different one. There are so many ways and forms in which to be a teacher, and I think often in the education field, we don't see all of them. But I also know that you'll never stop being a teacher. In fact, your most important teaching job is really close to home – it's with your kids. You teach Maggie new things every day, and it will be the same with a second child. I am always here if you want to chat and think things through, but I know that no matter what you decide, you're going to be okay.


  2. Jennifer Nagle says:

    Jenny- I was JUST talking about this today and how I'm all of a sudden a stay-at-home mom. Never in my life did I think I would end up here, and even more so, ENJOYING it. Maybe that will change in a few months or a few years, but for right now, I'm loving it. You will find support on either side. But when you're a stay-at-home mom, you're still working, just not for a paycheck! It's not for everyone, but I bet you'd be amazing at it, especially if you want to try it. Nothing is permanent, although it may feel that way at the time. Take advantage of the situation that you CAN stay home if you wanted to, because I bet there are many moms who would love to but can't. I don't think there's a right or wrong answer and like what Beth said, only you can make the choice of what's right for you and your family, and your fulfillment! I will say, I never thought I'd fill the gap that is teaching, and it's so different– I feel more fulfilled now than I ever had teaching. Also, there's so many online opportunities for teachers. If you ever want further input, just reach out to me! But my gut is saying… follow your gut.


  3. Lindsey says:

    I totally relate to what you are saying, Jenny. We decided that I woudl stay home once Beckett was born. There were many factors that led to the decision, but most importantly, I felt like I would miss too much if I went back to work. Anyone with kids knows how fast time goes by, how much there is to do in a normal day (shower, dishes, laundry, etc), and I wasn't sure how I would manage all of that if I worked. Not to mention that decent childcare in Springfield, IL was outrageous…and if he was going to be taken care of, they would have to be the BEST. I tried to do everything with “ideal” outcomes. I thought if I stayed home, he would be doing baby sign language at age 9 months, speaking in sentences (in multiple languages??!) by age 18 months, would never be sick from other kids at daycare, etc….but once he was born, all sense of that “ideal” went out the window. He never picked up on the sign language, not that I worked hard on it. I rarely bust out the flash cards I had to have. He and I hang out in PJs if we have nowhere to go that day, and I terribly miss having the coworkers I once had. He doesn't speak as much as he should for his age, and the laundry pile is always growing. I, too, feel like I am failing at most of my roles: mom, wife, and most importantly, myself. It happnens no matter the choice made about rejoining the work-force or being a SAHM. I agree that once our son was placed in my arms that I ended my previous life, and I started a whole new one. It's so true! I have said that before to pregnant friends that have laughed as if “yeah…ok linz…” but they soon realized how right I was. It's normal. But as for working or staying home, as with every single decsion in life, there are ALWAYS pros and cons. And the hard part is balancing them for yourself. I wish you luck as you decide what comes next. It will be interesting to see what new trials baby #2 brings. I would be lying if I said I don't wish for an “ideal” part time job to pop up this summer, though. 😉


  4. Berni says:

    my first reply to this never posted, Beth was right , I should've copied it…I'll try again. Beth was also right in saying in the end it has to be up to you and that you can vent to us anytime. A couple of things I want to add…one, try to separate out everything else and isolate only the teaching part. (I know just about impossible, but try anyway.) Thinking of that alone….do you feel accomplishment, have you made a difference? You had taught a couple of years before pursuing your master's so there must have been some attraction. What else might you want to do? The reason I ask is like Dad says, “the nice thing about teaching is you'll always be on the same schedule as your kids.” That won't be true in other professions or jobs, if you will, and that too will always be a challenge. You are your harshest critic and if you decide to work, you have too be kinder to yourself. you may yet decide to stay home, and that's okay, but if you go back you will manage, and as time goes by you'll grow. Jenny, you're pregnant, you're tired, but you're doing a great job. You have a loving and supportive husband. You have an incredible little girl who loves her mommy and hasn't suffered because you work. Continue to take that occasional time for you and for you and Matt. I will help whenever I can and listen anytime. Whatever you decide it'll be okay. (PS. It is easy for me to say “Work can work.” when I could work part-time all these years. I was always glad, even when work was at it's craziest, to have my work family to bond with and it did make my time home even better.) I love you. Mom


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