Before I begin explaining this crazy experience, I need to preface with a few details of the area in which we live. My husband and I are both educators. We participated in an award winning program as undergraduates and were placed on the Navajo reservation to complete our student teaching. We fell in love with the area and our students and decided to stay. In doing so, we assimilated to life on the "rez". We have no family here and the majority of the friends we made in our first year here have moved on and out of the area. We drive 2 and a half hours to town (for all shopping, doctors' appointments, and general running of errands) and are incredibly isolated. I'm not complaining. These are merely the facts. As non-native district employees, we live in the teacher housing unit on campus. The middle school and district office building are on the other side of my backyard fence. School isn't just a job here; it consumes one's entire life.
The kids here make their ways into your hearts quickly and will pounce on every bit of attention, love, and effort you are willing to put forth. I truly care about all of my students as though they are my own children. I am a good teacher. I am effective in the classroom and out. In my time here, I've sponsored many clubs and activities. I have students who have graduated but still call me "Mom" when seeing me at the grocery store. I love teaching and love my kids. Having said this, when I do things, I want to do them perfectly. Obviously, I want to be an amazing teacher. When I started teaching again in January, things were different. My daughter had to come first.
People told me things would get easier as I continued working. I would adapt and get used to the little one being with a babysitter during the day. However, that did not happen. In the 7 weeks I was working, there was not a single day I didn't break down crying at school. I taught my lessons and worked with my students. I did everything I was supposed to do, but the second the bell would ring between classes or my prep period would come, I was broken. The distractions minimized, and my focus was on the little girl I had dropped off with the babysitter. I obsessed over it. Then, at the end of the day, I would pick up my daughter and refuse to touch any work related tasks until she was in bed for the night. This was done in an effort to make sure I always put her first, but instead of enjoying my limited time with her, I stressed about work. Each second I was at home, I was obsessing over all of the things I needed to finish for school. I am not one of those people who can stay up all night long trying to finish my work, but I couldn't sleep either. I would lie in bed mulling over the hundreds of things I needed to do. I managed to keep up on my lesson plans, and my instruction in the classroom was fine, but my grading piled up and I wasn't able to do all of the extra things I needed to do for my students. My house and relationship with my husband suffered as well. He was used to me being home and is an insanely busy man. I think he just expected me to continue doing all of the housework by myself. The laundry piled up, the dust accumulated, and the dishes could have created their own colony.
I was suffocating. Constant stress and anxiety took over. I know the babysitter is a wonderful mother to her own daughter, and I shouldn't have worried, but there were a few things that bothered me when I would pick up my baby. Those tiny things were exaggerated in my mind and grew into mountains. I just couldn't get over the fact that I wasn't doing either of my jobs well. I wasn't able to spend time with my daughter, teach her new skills, enjoy silly moments together. I was too freaked out about work. I also wasn't able to be the teacher I wanted to be because I was freaked out about my daughter. I fell behind in both areas and had to make a choice.
The best decision for our little family was for me to return to being a stay-at-home mom. I was honest with my principal throughout; I completed my duties and stayed long enough to get through the state standardized tests. I had accomplished most of the things I had set out to do. Ultimately, I got the students started on a huge project, left plans to last them a few weeks, and returned home.
The decision to leave my students was not an easy one. I stressed about it for weeks and didn't tell them until there were only 2 days left. I continued to teach as though nothing were changing (with exception of the last 5 minutes of my last class period). I think I had an impact on the kids while I was there, and I don't regret going back. It was nice to teach again, nice to challenge myself and feel needed, nice to develop relationships with students. Yes, it was terrible leaving them, and I cried during each class period as I repeated the same news.
I just couldn't do it. Not here. Not with the only babysitters being people I do not know well enough to trust caring for my child. In a few months, we will be leaving the reservation and moving closer to our family. I will, undoubtedly, have to find a new job. I will also have family members available for babysitting. Once my daughter is in the care of someone I whole heartedly trust, I'll be OK. It will still be difficult, but at least I know my mom or mother-in-law will be the ones changing diapers, feeding the baby, and actively interacting with her. They have vested interests in her well-being. It will be better. I will be happier knowing that I don't have to worry or stress. I will be calm. :-)
After this insanely difficult experience, my advice for new moms who are going back to work is this:
- Be patient.
- Find a babysitter or childcare facility with which you are entirely comfortable.
- When you have difficult days, talk it out with your partner or someone who will listen.
- Don't let anyone make you feel guilty for wanting to be with your child.
- Give it time.
- Ultimately, go with your gut. :-) You have to be comfortable with your situation, and you are the only person who can decide what is best for you.