I have been a teacher for the past nine years, and I recently made the decision to stay home with my new daughter instead of returning to school in the fall.
In the weeks that led up to contract renewal signing day, I wavered back and forth a good bit about my decision to stay home versus returning to work. The main reason for my uncertainty? Guilt.
I felt guilty for leaving a profession into which I had invested so much time and energy.
Most days, I really enjoyed being a teacher. I loved when students would come in early or stay late after class to tell me about their college decisions, prom dresses, and how their basketball game went the night before.
I enjoyed knowing that, hopefully, I was helping my students become better readers and writers, thus helping to prepare them for the real world after high school. I enjoyed knowing that the hard work I put into earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees was going to good use as I exposed students to the likes of Hamlet, Elizabeth Bennet, and John the Savage.
By becoming a stay-at-home mom, I feared feeling guilt for not being there for my future students and wasting my education and years spent developing my skills as an educator to “just stay home and change diapers.”
I felt guilty for having the opportunity to stay home.
Certainly our purse strings would be tighter without my second income, but we could make it work. I knew that there were so many mothers out there who wanted nothing more than to stay home with their little ones but could not.
I felt guilty that some days I wished I was the one getting dressed and leaving to spend a day in the “adult world” of work.
However, other days I felt guilty that I stayed in my pajamas until 1 p.m., and when I did get “dressed,” I just put on clean yoga pants and a t-shirt.
I felt guilty when I didn’t think I was up to the task of doing all a SAHM does, or my preconceived notion of what a SAHM should be doing.
There were days while on my maternity leave that the laundry didn’t quite make it from the washer to the dryer to folded in the dresser, and The Kickin’ Chicken delivered our supper once again instead of me cooking a well-balanced meal. I felt guilty that I would not be able to maintain a spotless house, create culinary masterpieces three times a day, and, of course, raise the perfect child in all of the time I would be spending at home.
Despite these feelings of guilt, something in my gut told me not to sign my teacher contract to return the following school year.
So I didn’t.
My maternity leave ran out just before Memorial Day, so I had to return to school to finish out the last two weeks of the school year before I could officially call myself a SAHM.
During the two weeks I returned to work, my daughter spent time with my in-laws and with a friend of mine who stayed home with her son. It was during this time that my guilt over my decision to stay home was alleviated.
I realized that my career would wait for me.
Veteran teacher after teacher approached me and applauded my decision to stay home. Several teachers I admired reminisced with me about their days staying home and how they returned to teaching years later. Most spoke of how they were better teachers for having stayed home with their own children.
I realized that I was still going to be a teacher, but instead of being a small part of 90 students’ lives each semester, I was going to be the main part of one special little girl’s life.
She needed me to draw on my education and my years in the workforce to show her how to do so much more than just read and write.
I realized that while there were mothers who wanted to stay home but could not.
I could not feel guilty because I was blessed with such a special opportunity. I realized that instead of guilt, I felt immense gratitude.
I also realized that many mothers work because they want to work.
Some teachers I spoke to were happy to get a break from their children and enjoyed the ability to carry on normal adult tasks and conversations everyday. These teachers found that it made their time spent with their children that much more meaningful and valuable, and they didn’t regret working a bit.
I realized that there will always be days that SAHM’s yearn for the working mom experience, and vice versa. And that’s okay.
Lastly, I remembered that during summers before I had a child, I still couldn’t keep a perfect house and I wasn’t a great cook.
My husband wasn’t expecting that to miraculously change now that I was staying home full-time, and I didn’t need to place unrealistic expectations on myself.
Now that I am a few weeks into my new SAHM gig, I know that guilt will still creep in on me from time to time. However, the satisfaction and joy I have gotten from the time I’ve spent raising my daughter so far trumps the guilt every time.