For six years, every June, I pulled all the books off my classroom shelves, piled them in lockers and bins, secured all the drawers, took down author portraits, and prepared to spend a summer at home. But this time was different, because it was the last time.
This year, I piled everything into my car and turned in my fob and waved goodbye to teenagers, grades, endless lesson prep, and teacher observations.
A couple months before, I sat in my principal’s office and broke the news to him.
“My husband got a promotion, and I think we can swing me staying at home. I want to work on my writing; I’m really excited.”
His eyes widened as I felt the relief of my decision washing over me.
While I don’t remember doing it, soon after that, I must have stepped through a portal into an alternate dimension.
Other teachers and parents began stopping me in the halls.
“You’re leaving!” they said.
“I’m so glad you get to spend more time with those beautiful little girls of yours!”
“They don’t stay that little for long.”
“Going to do the stay-at-home mom thing, huh?”
“Those younger years are so important, and so temporary…”
I tried to steer them gently in the right direction. “Well,” I said. “I honestly don’t think I’ll be spending more time with them than I am now. I have projects I’m working on.”
While some quickly understood what I was saying and offered encouragement, others greeted my attempts with blank looks and awkward, quiet nodding.
Eventually, I gave up. Sure, whatever, I’m staying home for the kids; they can think whatever they want. At the end of the day, I’m still leaving.
But, no, it’s not okay. Why do so many people still assume that when a mother decides to work from home, she’s doing it for the kids? No, I’m doing it for myself.
I’m doing it because it’s what I want.
I’m doing it because I aspire to do something meaningful to me.
Sure, I am a mother of young children; that is an essential part of who I am, and it’s a reality that has changed me, unequivocally. But, on a day to day basis, I possess a limited amount of energy to pursue impactful things — things besides the laundry, errands, or meal prepping, and while I spend much — if not most — of that energy on my kids, I refuse to give them all of it.
I didn’t always think this way. In high school, on “dress as your desired career” day, I once came to school dressed as a mom with a baby doll wrapped in a blanket that I crocheted myself.
I’m not even kidding.
Back then, I was under the impression that motherhood was the end goal, even when I knew I wanted to write.
Whether a SAHM, a full-time working mother, a mother trying to do both either full or part-time, moms are still feeling the pressure of the expectation that they value motherhood more than their personal goals. The consequence? When we’re not feeling indignation, we’re feeling guilty, and guilt is counterproductive both to raising children and pursuing our own goals. It’s a lose-lose situation.
And, for those of us who grew up believing that motherhood was the ultimate goal, guilt is often a reflex, and just as hard to break. When someone puts us in the situation of explaining why we make “selfish” choices, we feel defensive, and we wonder — even temporarily — if we’ve done something wrong.
It’s not our fault we feel this way. We’re slowly moving past it.
If I could jump into a DeLorean and do my last weeks of teaching over, I would be more confident in stating my goals. I would remind them that I was going to keep the babysitter.
Because if we don’t begin to call attention to the expectations people place on us as mothers, we will continue to live under the burden of those expectations.