I had a revelation the other day about myself and my own insecurities as a woman, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a mother.
I realized that my feelings of inadequacy and personal failure are an insult to the blessings and gifts of this moment in my life. My comparisons to other (and in my mind, more successful) women belittle the joy and peace that I experience daily. My dissatisfaction and need to justify my life choices to an unnamed, unidentified outside audience are an insult to the principles that guided my decisions in the first place.
It was quite the thought process for a Friday morning.
See, I was a teacher and I loved my job. Through a series of furloughs, changes to family childcare leave policy, and frozen salaries my school district made it difficult for me to retain my job and have another baby (which was unfortunate because 4 years ago I was pregnant with two preschoolers and had to make some tough decisions.)
It is hard to explain to people who have never felt as I did, but I really wanted another child-I didn’t feel like our family was complete and I love the chaos of children. I don’t actually like babies, which tends to surprise people, but I do love kids. I felt like there was a hole in our family and so Jay and I decided to have our third child.
But then I had to decide what to do with my career. As I said, I loved my job. I was good at it. It gave me great stories at parties. It was fulfilling and entertaining. I felt useful and productive and of value. It certainly wasn’t all fun, but it was interesting. But that year the kids and I got the swine flu and it was scary and stressful getting coverage for my classes and making lesson plans for substitutes while taking a toddler to get chest x-rays and standing outside the room while he screamed because I was pregnant and couldn’t be near the radiation. I worried about those kinds of moments if I added yet another kid.
For months I struggled with what I should do about my career. Our district had eliminated part time positions so my choices were pretty straightforward-full time work or no work. They both scared me. I was worried about parenting three kids effectively. I was worried about my students suffering if I returned to work after the summer with 3 kids, one of whom was 6 weeks old. I was worried about being a good wife and friend and daughter and sister if I had all of these other responsibilities pulling at me.
So I prayed. To those of you who don’t share my faith, that may sound silly or even pointless. For those of you who do, you probably wonder why I didn’t start praying months earlier. I don’t know why it took me a while to remember to ask God for direction, but it probably had to do with all the conflicting thoughts swirling around in my head as I tried to keep my plates spinning in my daily life. What I began to hear, after many nights asking for direction, was God calling me to stay home with my children for a while.
I hesitate to share that last sentiment because it is such a loaded topic. In no way do I think that God wants all moms of small children to quit their jobs. Nor do I think every family needs a person in the home at all times. What I do think is that God had things to teach me that I was unable to hear when my head was full of Comparative Essays, valuable multiple choice responses, and AP Exam dates.
I had put too much of my worth into what I did for a living. I valued too much the praise and encouragement I received as a teacher. I, for the first time in my life, was left alone with my thoughts with no way to escape hard questions about my purpose, my impact on the world around me, and my meaning in this life.
Over the last three and a half years I have learned to be far more patient with my children than I ever thought I could be. I have had to constantly reevaluate my priorities and, honestly, I have spent a lot of time failing at being a stay-at-home mom. That failure has taught me a lot about myself.
I have struggled with a sense of inadequacy. What are my college degrees for if all I do is change diapers?
I have struggled with how I am viewed by the world. Just because I have 4 kids and stay home does not mean I am uncertain about how birth control works, but thank you for asking.
I have struggled with my sense of self and appearance. It is hard to feel beautiful when you wear primarily work out clothes day in and day out. Unless you’re a really hot fitness instructor, I guess, but I’m not so that doesn’t really apply.
I have struggled with a sense of insignificance. Where is my big mark on the world if I only see 5 other people a day?
And now on to the revelation part.
If God Almighty called me to this moment in my life, it is disobedient and disrespectful to believe it is “less than” simply because my culture tells me I should be great at all things to all people at all times.
I will not be winning any awards any time soon, but I have grown as a person and shepherded 4 little lives into being with more peace than I could have used while I taught. And I have spent hours on the phone with my sister-in-law while her husband was deployed overseas talking about kids and parents and clothing-options-after-babies that I would never have experienced if I had been in the classroom all day. I have had conversations with my mom that I would not have had without the time to wander toward meaningful discussion during a phone call. I have distracted my friend Cheryl from working in the middle of the day and kept up with the details of a friend I might not have if we were both working and raising babies at the same time. OK, I spend a lot of time on the phone, apparently, probably because I am starved for adult conversation.
The point is, I am at peace with my choices. I don’t know what happens next. Do I return to the classroom as my children are getting a little older? Do I return to school and create a different career path for myself? Do I stay in this pattern for a few more years? I truly don’t know the answer right now. But I pray that I will remember that if I follow what God would have me do, I need not worry about my purpose.
I will be living it.