I began teaching at the age of 22. Education is what I know. It’s what I love. It’s a career in which I have invested a significant amount of personal and professional time. Choosing to take a career “time-out” is difficult mentally, financially, and emotionally.
Many parents claim their kids are difficult or challenging. They lament their loss of freedom and complain about tantrums and bad grades and messy rooms.
I get it. We all have different parenting limits, some lower than others. Maybe my parenting limits are impossibly low, or maybe my parenting expectations of myself are impossibly high. All I know is that I do the best I can with what I have.
I have made the difficult decision, again, to take a break from education to better support my kids and their social emotional needs. This isn’t the first time, it might not be the last time, but it definitely hasn’t gotten any easier.
Parenting a daughter with learning needs and social skill deficits is challenging. Parenting a second daughter with a high degree of empathy and sensitivity is challenging.
Parenting two daughters that are the exact opposites, one that doesn’t understand social behavior and one that understands it intuitively, is even more challenging. They simply don’t “get” each other. Sibling bullying is real, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they are both supported in their learning and growth.
So for the third time, I have left my educational position to provide both girls with the support they need to thrive. This means explicit social coaching, immense patience with homework, and the ability to quickly hide in the bathroom for mental health breaks.
You get what you get when it comes to your kids. We love them, but without a doubt, they can push us to and beyond our limits.
It’s okay to acknowledge those feelings of overwhelm and exasperation. It’s okay to acknowledge that kids are challenging, and that they take so much out of us — our money, our time, our patience, our bodies.
I give myself permission to feel those feelings. To feel angry or sad or annoyed that I have to pause my career yet again, a career in which I excel and love because I have to choose my kids. Because I want to choose my kids, even as I scream inwardly at the absurdity of another argument about butter or Barbie or best friends.
It’s not just the emotions that makes this choice difficult. It’s the loss of pay. It’s knowing that I will need to work even longer to save for retirement. It’s knowing that we have to pass on more expensive vacations and nicer furniture. It’s knowing that we have to make a choice between the wellbeing of our kids and the financial security we so desperately crave as we enter our 40s.
Then there is the ego hit of having to start at the bottom every time I leave a job. To go back and prove myself again and again and again is exhausting. To show my leadership chops, and then get another call that my kids are falling apart at school or with the babysitter. To know that I have to be home to help them.
I give myself permission to feel that. To know that the loss of finances and the blow to the ego are part of the sacrifices I make as a mother. I don’t have to like it, but I do have to accept it.
I am not the only mother making this choice. I am not the only person who struggles, and in so many respects, our family is lucky.
I have the option to stay home with my kids. I have the option to support their needs, full-time availability. My husband is our financial support, and he shares the parenting load equally after he finishes a busy day at work. We work together to support our girls.
We are lucky. I know.
Despite the challenges and the permission to feel all the feelings about our decision, there are positives to my new life that can’t be left unsaid. Although I am pausing my career, I am not forgetting it nor am I losing any of the valued skill sets I have built up over the years.
As an experienced educator and now a writer, I can continue to focus on my passion of advocating for educational reform and change through my words. I still wield the excitement and knowledge that I have for the educational field, and I am motivated to share my experiences to help better education for students and teachers.
I can read educational articles, stay abreast of the learning landscape through professional learning networks, write across the educational landscape with my ideas, and chat with former colleagues and friends about teaching.
Pausing my career doesn’t mean I quit. It means I have an opportunity to focus on another way to engage my love for education.
I will start a PhD in Educational Policy and Leadership soon, and I will be able to use the next four years to solidify my desire to cultivate change in the way we educate teachers.
I will use the hours during the day when my kids are in school to focus on research and writing and to continue to grow a professional network of educators.
Taking a break from a career does not mean the learning has to stop. Our brain is a muscle that is in constant need of working, and now I have the time and space to increase my intellectual capacities.
As any full-time working parents know, it is difficult to find time to sift through school announcements, keep up with after school activities, and remember which day is Crazy Hair Day or Teacher Appreciation Day. Now I have the opportunity to participate in the school activities that I would not have had time for in the past.
In the mornings, I can help my girls get dressed for school, alleviate any nervousness about an upcoming quiz, and be a listening ear for the inevitable friendship disputes.
Instead of rushing to get dressed and out the door to teach children that are not my own, I can linger in the morning and teach the children that are mine.
It is never an easy decision to pause or leave a career. It is emotional and draining and ego-busting.
For my family, it is the right choice. It is the step we have chosen in order to fulfill both sides of our life’s work — to contribute to society while also raising our children.
Ultimately, we have to come realize that it isn’t about me or my husband or even our kids, it is about us — our family. We will do what we need to do to support each other, every time.