Who do you identify yourself as? This is a question most of us have grappled with at one time or another through the scope of our life thus far and it often is a changing perspective we see through the viewfinder as the years pass.
In this moment in time what is the first response you have when people as you “What do you do?” as in, “What career defines you and how you spend your M-F?” If you’re a stay-at-home-momma like me – I’ve felt like the answer becomes challenging. Sometimes it feels loaded or there’s judgement behind it. Sometimes I’ve asked myself – if I’m a stay-at-home mom, is that enough? Maybe you can relate.
I know I’m not necessarily the norm in this but I’m also not an exception. I dreamed of becoming a teacher from a very young age. I followed the path to succeed in that goal straight out of high school when I attended the University of Northern Colorado’s IDLA (Interdisciplinary Language Arts Program – which is a super fancy and confusing way of saying Elementary Ed) program and went on to find a teaching job directly out of college. A year or so after completing my Bachelor’s, I was drawn to getting a Master’s in Education and studied even further into my craft and strived to be that teacher that my students would remember for a lifetime – the one who made a lasting impact for not only helping them become more educated and ready for success in the world, but one that deeply cared for their hearts, the things they struggled with, and provided a space of safety and security in the classroom that served as their second home.
When people used to ask me “What do you do?” I remember feeling pride in stating “I teach!” and embellishing a bit that I worked with students who had ESL needs, or struggling home lives, that I was making a difference with my career. This was my identity and I almost wrapped up my entire self into it.
And then, I had my daughter.
Although my pregnancy was relatively uneventful and I worked until the day my water broke, what unfolded that weekend of giving birth to our little girl changed my perception of who I was – almost overnight.
Amity (my sweet girl) had a rough entrance into the world (a story for another day that I’m happy to share) but because of this I struggled to bond with my baby who I had longed for for 10 months in utero and was now only able to be home with for 5 weeks before returning to work. When I went back to my classroom to finish out the school year it felt like such a relief to be in an element that I knew how to control, how to be good at, how to make things right. But something had shifted and I felt guilty for being at work or I felt guilty not doing enough at home to prep for school. At home I struggled to get any sleep, make my baby feel safe and stop crying, pump enough milk for her or breastfeed her to the point that she was gaining an adequate amount of weight. This was survival mode – as new parents had told me was coming but nothing could have prepared me for.
I was living in two very contrasting places in my head. At school I was a success. At home I was a failure – or at least that’s how I felt at the time. Now I know now that I was pretty tough on myself back then and that I was very likely suffering from some serious postpartum depression but when life seemed chaotic it felt natural to me to just keep pushing on and not take the extra time that I felt like I couldn’t spare to make sure I was ok.
School finished out and I was able to be home with our daughter for the full summer. In that summer I learned patience, love like I’d never known, sacrifice, all about dry shampoo, and the truth to the words every mom tells you “Sleep when the baby is sleeping!” My outlook started to shift and I started to feel confident in my role as a mom and as a caregiver to the person I brought into this world. And once that happened, I realized I couldn’t go back to work.
As you can imagine – this caused an identity crisis for me. My students were like my own kids. Ultimately that’s why I had to make the decision to stay home for my family – I didn’t know how I could be the kind of teacher I had previously been to them and be the kind of mother I was now longing and called to be to my daughter.
Over the years this shift in “identities” has taken many forms and I think I’m still developing and growing – almost like a muscle that is used to doing heavy lifting and switches to train for a marathon. For those of you who find yourself in a season of change, just know this – You will make it. You will come out the other end and look back and somehow there’s always something to look at from the darkness that helped bring you to the light. It’s great to continually reevaluate who you are as an individual and who you want to become. Don’t be ashamed to not have it all figured out right out of the gate.
“Your best stories will come from your struggles. The seeds of your successes are in your failures. Your praises will be birthed from your pains. Keep standing. I have never seen a storm last forever. Seasons change.” — Ryan Cowen