Losing My “Identity”

This is really hard to write for some reason. But in an effort to be real and honest, here goes. When my husband and I discussed the actual possibility of my staying at home, I was 100% for it. I was, at the time, about 8 months pregnant, exhausted, had a particularly tough group of 4th graders, and was ready for my 12 week maternity “vacation” (insert the biggest eye roll in the history of ever). Still, even though I was ready then, it took me a long while to get there. You all know how I feel about change (my first blog post), so this was not a decision made lightly, and I struggled a lot with it.

You see, I always felt teaching was my “calling”. I started out at TCU as a business major, which now makes me laugh, and switched to education upon the realization that business was just not for me. And I LOVED EVERY MINUTE of my education program. My professors were passionate and inspiring, and I felt like I was getting into a profession that mattered on such a deep level. I was in my element.

In my first few years as a teacher, I learned more than I ever thought possible and I settled into a nice rhythm: excited for the beginning of the year, the dreaded October “slump”, the now I’m in the zone, and finally the exhausted just keep going ’til May while dreaming of the next year and changes I’d make. I knew I was doing important work and making a difference.

So as you can imagine, choosing to leave teaching behind (for now) was a scary thought for me. In eight years, teaching had basically become my identity. Who are you? They’d ask. A teacher, I’d answer. I was really proud to respond in that way. Now people are asking me, “How’s the stay-at-home mom thing going?” And to be honest, it hasn’t really hit me yet. Summertime as a teacher is a glorious thing. Pre-kids, I was doing two-a-days at Crossfit, shopping, and watching endless episodes of Criminal Minds. After I had my daughter, I loved spending the summers with her at the pool and splash pads, playing at home, reading great books through her long naps. And (because I could totally be a professional student), I loved going to trainings where I would be inspired to try new things in my classroom the next year. This summer, though, there are no trainings for me, no professional books I have set out for myself to read, no TED talks to listen to or teacher blogs to check out. No classroom to decorate and organize. And it’s WEIRD.

I drove past the high school last week where I knew all the teachers were inside learning something new, and for the first time, I started to doubt my decision. It hit me in that WHAT HAVE I DONE kind of way and I couldn’t immediately shake the feeling. When I really sat down to examine why I felt that way, I realized that what I was feeling was left out. My team had changed and moved on without me, and everyone was working on their classrooms, and I was not there. Even though I relish in my alone time, I am also a person who thrives in community with others (hell, I won’t even go to a PiYo class without a buddy), and the camaraderie of teaching is something I will surely miss being a part of.

Also, and I HATE to admit this for some reason, words of affirmation is one of my most dominant love languages. At first, I wanted to run and hide from this, thinking that I didn’t need anyone’s approval but my own, so much so that when I took the quiz in the book, I’m quite sure I lied and chose answers that steered away from that particular love language #whoops. It felt good to have people tell me I was a good teacher, for parents to want their next oldest kid to be in my class, to be invited to work with others in the district on big projects. And over time, my identity and sense of self-worth became tied to these things. I became almost addicted to the feeling of “accomplishing” something and doing a good job. And I was scared that in leaving behind teaching as a profession, I would lose all sense of myself.IMG_3549

I recently started reading Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist, and I am taking my time with this book, trying to soak it all in little by little, because her story is my story in a way. She had burned herself out with focusing so much on her work and her “mission” that she felt she had to make a change for the benefit of her own sanity and her family. Like me, she was addicted to praise and accomplishments and crossing things off of to-do lists and she just had to let some things go and be still. This quote really resonated with me:

“As I look back, in many instances, I simply followed the natural course of things. And great things happened, mostly. But over time I realized they weren’t necessarily great things for me. They were maybe somebody else’s great things, and I was both taking up the space that was meant for them and not standing in my own space, like wearing someone else’s shoes, leaving them barefoot” (pg 102).

Toward the end of my last pregnancy, I had absolutely nothing left to give my family at the end of the day. I came home exhausted, cranky, leaving the house a mess and eating lots of take-out which is both expensive and unhealthy (the hubby pitched in A LOT here as he always has, but he was just starting a new job and getting home later). I was unhappy, and I feared my attitude was making my husband and daughter unhappy as well. I am in no way saying that people cannot be a good teacher and good wife and mom at the same time; there are lots of those and they are completely inspirational to me. I’m just saying I couldn’t do it anymore. I was notoriously bad at leaving work at work, but then I felt guilty about neglecting my family, but then I felt guilty about neglecting the work. You get the picture; it was a vicious cycle.

Now that I’ve settled into my own “space”, as Shauna writes, I get to cook real meals, spend some time every day for myself, usually reading or writing. I get to actually talk to my husband about our days instead of silently eating dinner in a zombie-like state before rushing to bed. I’m finding I enjoy the sense of accomplishment of a washed and folded load of laundry, a sparkling clean kitchen, or a fun day of playing with and teaching my sweet babies. Being myself, rediscovering good books, and finding out who I truly am and want to be as a mommy and wife has become my new “identity” and as the days pass, I feel more and more sure of our decision. I will always be a teacher; that part of me is deeply ingrained. I will just be a different kind of teacher for now. And, it turns out, an “I love you SOOOO much, Mommy” and a “thanks for a delicious meal, babe” are all the words of affirmation this mama needs.

IMG_3750Currently Reading: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls. Again, I am slightly obsessed with memoirs, and this one (so far) is really incredible. She’s piecing back together the life of her maternal grandmother based on her mother’s stories. I’m a sucker for oral tradition and beautiful family gems passed down through the generations. She writes the story in first person, and had I not read her other book, The Glass Castle, I could have absolutely believed this was about her. I can’t wait to hit “publish” on this post so I can get back to reading!

Currently Baking: Chocolate Chip Raspberry Shortcake Cookie Bars from PaleOMG. Again, she is a baking genius and these are amazing. Word of warning: you should probably make these for some kind of event to share with people, because if not, you’ll want to eat every single one and they are really rich and delicious. It might be bad for your hips.

Thank you for reading and until next time, peace and love from my household to yours.

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