I was driving in silence the other morning. My thoughts were racing, my chest was heavy, and my heart was aching. I had to fight to breathe past the lump in my throat. This was not a new experience. In fact, the same thing happened every morning, from August through May. My thoughts were screaming inside my head. Familiarly, I cried out to God. I prayed for calming. I prayed for peace, or at least, peace of mind. In an effort to quiet the noise, I turned on the radio. These words began floating from my car speakers, through the muffled sounds of passing traffic and turn signals, and straight into my breaking heart.
My anxiety settled as I pulled into the parking lot in front of my school building. I am a working mother. I worked long and hard before my boys came along to get to this place in my career, and now, I wake up every day and have to fight myself to leave them behind. The guilt is excruciating. The anxiety is overwhelming, exhausting even. Some days, it feels paralyzing.
The social stigma of being a working mother is a very real thing for me. Everywhere I go I am certain that I feel the stares of other women, even if my boys are with me. I can hear them whispering, shaming me for being a working mother. Even when I am at work, in a field where majority of my colleagues are women, and most of them are mothers themselves, I can’t escape the guilt, the criticism, or the anxiety. Maybe, I am my own worst enemy. Maybe it’s the guilt, eating away at me, from the inside out.
I choose to work, because I have to. There is no other option for my family. I do not work for myself, I work for my boys, and I work to provide for them. I work to give them a beautiful home, with a big green yard, lined with trees. I work to make sure they have everything they need, and everything they could ever want. I work to give them a better chance at a future in this ever changing, unsettling, unpredictable, and alarmingly terrifying world. I have a dream job by many standards, but it can’t quiet the constant guilt.
That morning, as I sat in my car, piecing myself back together before I entered my classroom, I prayed. I prayed for my children. I prayed for their caretakers, and I prayed for a job that I loved. Despite my own personal struggle each day, I was grateful to hold the position I have been given. Most days, from August through May, I have two (of my own), plus twenty children to care for. I know God hears me, but on that day, I heard him, loud and clear.
I am a mother, and a teacher. I am a working mother, and that is okay.
That morning, I realized this was all a part of His plan. I wipe butts and noses. I kiss boo boos and I hold hands. I sing songs and tell stories. I guide, I lead, I teach, and I love. I am the mother that survives on the very breath my babies exhale. I also know, that even in my absence, my boys know that I live for them. As a mother, I know that my own children need me, but there will be other children that need me too.
I may cry on my way to work every day. I may still fight to overcome the weighted guilt of motherhood, or battle with myself to get into the car and drive to work, and every day, August through May, I will long for the leisurely days of summer.
It has been said, "what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." Even if we are better for it in the long run, it will never make the struggle any less difficult while it lasts. Before I became a mother my biggest problem was trying to decide on what outfit I wanted to wear, what shoes matched best, which side to take in an argument, Chinese or Italian, or whether to love him or leave him. I laugh about it now, but the fact of the matter is that even our tiniest of struggles mold us, shape us, and form us into who we are as human beings. Our struggles are part of our individuality, they are part of our identity, and motherhood forever changes us.
JOURNALIST: Kayleigh Elliott