What comes to your mind when you hear that phrase, “stay-at-home mom”? Joan Cleaver? I used to cringe when I heard it. You see, I fancied myself a feminist. “Women have come so far to be degraded back to spending their days vacuuming, feeding their offspring, and fetching men their slippers,” I thought. Yet here I am, years later and I am going to be taking on that title. Is this a permanent change? Something for a just a year? A few years? I honestly can’t tell you. What I can tell you is that I believe that there is no one right path—working-mom or stay-at-home-mom—and that I believe this decision is what is best for my family.
There have been times when I believed that working was the only way, and times in my life when I thought staying home was the only way. At various seasons of my life I would’ve passionately defended either of those opposing points-of-view. Now, I see the validity of both options. There are many paths. Neither is right for every person at every time. I view staying home as a personal choice to do without some of your income in order to invest extra time and energy in your family. I also see that you can raise your kids well even if they are in daycare for a good chunk of their lives. Some women become better versions of themselves for their families by having a career. Some women find other ways besides working to change the world, utilize their talents, and express their passions. I know good, healthy, joyful women who work and parent, and who stay home and parent. When I realized that, the choice of what was right for me only became more difficult.
For the past three years I have been called “teacher.” I love/hate my job. Teaching is one of the most gut-wrenching, draining, fulfilling, enjoyable things that I’ve ever done. There is nothing like that moment when you realize that you have built a connection with a student--you can see in their eyes that they feel cared for and believed in by you. When something you planned just works and you see students engaged, thinking critically, and growing it is magical. I know that I’m good at teaching. I feel like it is important work. Yet it sucks my energy like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Kids are so needy. Try being in a room full of twenty five of them all day long. Then getting a new set every fifty minutes. Each with their own unique mix of burdens, needs, challenges. Not to mention the pressure of knowing that what I do every day could have a profound impact on their futures—for better or for worse. As a teacher, I often felt like I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off all day long.
Let me paint a picture of the typical day for you. I would start with my prep period: an hour during which I often had to finalize lesson plans, make copies, print visuals, cut strips of paper, create posters, set up manipulatives, enter grades, check emails, meet with colleagues, the list goes on and on. Then, once class started, so began the dance of greeting and chatting cordially with students as I passed out/set up materials, explained activities, monitored activities, answered questions, cleared up confusion, watched timers, supervised closely, reinforced positive behaviors, redirected negative behaviors, gave consequences, assessed for understanding, adjusted plans, listened to their stories, picked up materials, all without stopping even to pee (teachers are trained in the art of bladder origami). I would come home at the end of the day exhausted. It was a good exhausted—like wearing yourself out on a battlefield. But still, trying to listen to my husband talk about his day on our commute home felt like trying to diffuse a bomb in the middle of a rock and roll concert. I needed an hour plus of zone-out time on the couch just to feel up to doing menial tasks like walking my dog or helping out with the dishes.
I’ve tried countless times to imagine the life I’ve lead for the past three years plus a crying, pooping baby who won’t let me sleep. I can’t fathom it. As it is, refreshing myself enough to take on the next day of teaching while maintaining my sanity takes a lot. It is the reason I go to bed earlier than my grandmother. I can’t seem to wrap my head around being a run-down, sleep-deprived mommy in the evenings and then trying to do school the next day. I know there are people who do both of these jobs and do them well. To them I say, “Kudos!” I know it is possible. But I really don’t even want to try to do it at this point. I already feel like often all I have to offer my husband are my leftovers. I don’t want to do the same to our baby. I think it’s also just my disposition. I give my whole self to everything that I do. I don’t know how to jump into something without throwing my whole heart into the mix. I feel things deeply. I only have so much energy for the outside world. I need time inside my head. My stamina wears thin easily. For these reasons, I think that a being new-mommy-Chelsea, and teacher-Chelsea at the same time would translate to more of a zombie-Chelsea than a thriving human being.
So, I am making a choice—the choice to focus just on loving and caring for my husband, infant, and our dog for a while. I’ll admit I don’t really know what it’s going to be like having a child. Perhaps I am capable of much more than I can imagine currently. Maybe after a bit, my mama instincts will kick in and I’ll be rocking this thing and ready to take on a job. I’m leaving myself that option. Maybe I will love what I’m doing and decide to have another baby and keep at this SAHM gig. Maybe I’ll decide that the right balance is working part-time or finding ways to earn income from home. At this point I can’t say. All I can say is that, at least for now, I am hanging up my dry-erase markers and taking on child-rearing full-time. You don’t have to agree with my choice, you don’t have to fully understand my choice, but I’d ask that you respect my choice. Just call me Joan. Or don't. Because I am hormonal, sleep-deprived, and a former wrestler and I just might punch you.