Identity Crisis: Balancing Work and Family
As we journey through this life, we take on different identities based on our age, our careers, what phase of life we are in, our passions, etc. When you become a mother, mother becomes your most important identity.
I was asked not that long ago to post a word that helps define me. Without hesitation, I chose “mother” and wrote: “I am a mother. I love my children fiercely. They are my flesh and my blood. I would do anything to protect them. For them I am strong, even when I am at my weakest. My children are my light, my joy and my purpose for being on this Earth.”
Before I had children, my identity for many years was teacher. I loved my job. I loved my students. I loved my co-workers. I loved the feeling of making a difference in the lives of children. And then, nine years ago, my husband and I were beyond blessed to bring twin boys into the world. And then, 18 months later, we were blessed to bring twin girls into the world! Yes, you read that correctly. We had four babies in under 2 years.
Having four babies and a husband who works as a Chief Engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marines—shipping out for months at a time, made a return to teaching impossible for several years. My teaching identity faded away and I took on my new identity as stay-at-home twin mom. I’ll be honest—letting go of my career was not easy. Transitions have never been my jam, but I do believe that a higher power led me to a life of constant transitions in order to show me just what I am capable of and just how strong I am.
As my children grew and became school-aged, the urge to get back to teaching became stronger and stronger. I decided to start small and investigate becoming a substitute teacher. I began subbing here and there where I could while my husband was home from sea. Subbing wasn’t the same as having my own classroom, but it showed me that returning to the classroom was like riding a bicycle. Once a teacher, always a teacher. The skill and passion never truly leave you.
In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to accept a long-term sub position in a 4th grade classroom. Although it was rewarding and although I formed a bond with the students, it made me question if I was really ready for a full-time teaching job again. I would come home from work and feel like I had little left in the tank for my own four children—not to mention the planning and correcting that came home with me. I doubted myself. Am I really ready to embark on a full-time teaching job? Will it affect my own children negatively if I do? Can I handle it? Would I be able to find a healthy work/life balance?
As fate would have it, I soon put these questions to the back of my mind when I became my own children’s teacher during Covid. Who would have thought that a global pandemic would be the thing to put my going back to work dilemma on hold?? In any case, going back to work was null and void until the kids went back to school full-time.
When fall of 2020 came and the kiddos followed a hybrid model of being back in school two days per week, I returned to subbing—mostly in the public preschool all of my kids had attended. It was so much fun! Not only did I fit in with all of the teachers and paraprofessionals because I had known them for years, I realized that there is just something so priceless, so innocent and so special about preschoolers. They are just being introduced to a school setting and are so full of wonder and enthusiasm.
One day, one of the preschool teachers said to me, “Would you be interested in covering my medical leave when I have to have knee surgery this spring?” My initial reaction was, “I’d love to!” But then the old questions came flooding back again. I weighed my decision based on logistics with my own kids’ school schedule, the amount of prep work and learning a grade level I had never taught before. With my husband’s support and the offer of support from family until my husband returned from sea, I decided to go for it.
I won’t lie—the first day jitters were off the charts and for the first week or two, there was a huge learning curve! But once I became acquainted with the classroom routines and received an amazing vote of confidence from the classroom teacher, the passion for teaching was re-awakened in a very big way. I found that looking up projects and activities and planning for the classroom was not a chore, but a creative outlet—one that I had not tapped into in that capacity for a long time. Seeing the students engage in activities I had worked hard to produce for them was so gratifying. And because the preschool provides an integrated model for children with special needs, building relationships was also an aspect of the job that filled my soul.
Did I ever in a million years see myself teaching this age group? The answer is “no.” In fact, when my own children were in preschool, I used to say to the teachers, “I give you all so much credit! I don’t think I would ever be able to teach the littles!” But here I am, years later, re-inventing myself and discovering a new career path in my early 40’s.
I am learning that when you find a job that you love, that makes you a happier person and that feeds your soul, you can find a way to balance work and being a mom—you can have more than one identity. It may not always be easy. It will be an adjustment. Some days you will have to dig deep to get through. Stay strong, mamas—especially those mamas out there that may be having an identity crisis. You’ve got this and when the time comes, you will know what the best thing is for you and your family.