I never set out to be a teacher. I earned a biology degree for the sole purpose of looking good on a medical school application. But as graduation loomed, I decided that I was no longer interested in medical school. I had no interest in a career in biology and started searching for other ways to use my degree.
At the time, I was volunteering with at-risk teens and loved working with youth. So though I wasn’t really sure I really wanted to teach, I decided to enter graduate school for education.
It turned out, teaching was a perfect fit for me. I relished the light bulb moments in a student’s eye when they caught on to a difficult concept. I thrived on creating creative activities. And I cherished building wisdom into the next generation. So even after a career change took me back to my original plan of medicine, I always kept a part time teaching gig on the side.
But this winter, after 17 years, I stepped away from the classroom. I was sad to leave my students and felt more than a little guilty leaving my class mid-year. I’m hoping this break is just for a season. But you never can be sure if a life choice is temporary or permanent until … well … until you get on with life.
The reality is, I have a tendency to add and add and add to my plate until I am stumbling under the weight of all of my commitments. And this fall, I finally realized that my spirit was drenched in weariness and my kids were paying the price. Their mama was often brittle and barking directives rather than enjoying parenthood. So I knew it was time to re-evaluate my responsibilities and let some things go.
It’s hard for any mom to set aside something she loves for the sake of her family. But a wise mentor once told me that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. So making difficult choices and pruning our activities is a critical process for any mom.
We have to be able to realize when our hobbies, interests and even income goals are impinging on our sanity. Because when that happens, even our favorite things are no longer doing us any favors. I am notoriously bad at doing this and I suspect I am not alone.
When I became a mom, I made a decision that anything I do has to be viewed through the lens of how it affects my children. That doesn’t mean I have to give up everything I love. But it does mean I have to prioritize and give up some things I love. And that is ok. Because I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather sacrifice for than my children.
During this season, it meant giving up an extra source of income as well as a job I found incredibly rewarding. It also meant saying no to other wonderful opportunities and scaling back on my kids’ activities. Because right now, the best way for me to love my kids is to give myself margin.
I want my kids to have the best of me, not the rest of me.
Are you able to breathe and enjoy your life or do you feel like you are drowning? If you are finding yourself in a sea of busy, maybe it is time to step back and make some hard decisions. Is the extra income worth that job? Is there a hobby or club that needs to take a hiatus for a season? Are there commitments that you need to bow out from? Do your kids need to be in all of those activities?
A helpful exercise is to list everything you do. Parenting responsibilities, volunteer commitments, work, clubs, hobbies, church, community activities and kids sports. It is an objective way to take stock of everything on your plate and it can be eye-opening to see it all on paper. From there, decisions as to what can stay and what should go become easier.
Remember, giving yourself more margin in your life might be the best gift you give yourself and your kids. It is an ongoing battle in a world determined to saturate our lives and families with activity. But it is a battle worth fighting.