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Teaching and motherhood, a discussion on identity

Every August for the last 16 years I have started a new school year. I have spent the last few days, hours, minutes, and even seconds savoring the end of summer and anticipating the start of a new school year. For 16 years, I have felt the excitement of meeting new students, deepening my relationships with students from the year before, reflecting on and making changes to my practice, and creating new and exciting ways to help students learn. Each August for almost two decades I have had the famed “teacher dreams”! You know, the recurring dream where there are 60 students in one classroom, there aren't enough desks, and you can’t remember anyone’s name. Or the dream that you get all the way to school only to realize you’re still wearing your pjs. This year, August 2019 was very different for me. This August I didn’t savor the end of summer or have any “teacher dreams”. Instead, I had a beautiful baby.

This August instead of reflecting on my identity as a teacher, I reflected on my identity as a new mom. I have to admit, I was ill-prepared for the wave of emotions I felt the first day of school. For the first time in 16 years, I wasn’t a teacher going back to school. My cell phone didn’t light up every hour with text from friends wishing me luck on the first day of school, my door didn’t open with a push, giggles, smiles, and excited chatter from last year’s students, there were no lunch-time chats with 16-year-olds telling me all about how excited they are to be seniors and how they can’t believe they passed the AP tests, there were no lost students to help, no colleagues to hug, and certainly no copies to be made. This year, I spent the first day of school gawking at my two and a half month old, trying to get him to giggle, trying to teach him to grab his rattle for the first time, singing songs to him, reading “If you give a dog a doughnut”, listening to podcasts about “Motherhood and FOMO” while nursing, changing diapers, and of course attempting to fold laundry in between naps. This August, the first day of school was incredibly fulfilling, joyful, as well as emotional. This August my identity shifted and became even more intersected in ways I had not fully anticipated.

Being a teacher defined me. When people would ask me about myself, I would instinctively and proudly say, “I am a teacher”. I was a teacher both in and outside of the classroom. Every experience was and still is a “teachable moment”. No matter where I was in my personal life, I was always a teacher. Now, I can proudly say, “I am a mom, a teacher, and a wife”.

Often times, we don’t talk about the shifts in identity that women experience when they become mothers for the first time. We become different versions of ourselves. For me, I hadn’t thought about my identity as a mom prior to the first day of school. I hadn’t thought about the ways in which I had shifted and become a better version of myself.

It’s been almost a month since the first day of school and somehow I can’t even imagine leaving my little man with someone else for an entire day. The love that is cultivated between a mother and her child is something I had never previously experienced. My heart has been torn open and is filled with even more love and light than before. I am nervous about returning to work, but I am also excited about sharing this newly cultivated love and light with others.

What I have learned as a new mom and a teacher is that it is imperative to take things one step at a time. To fully let go of that which I cannot control and embrace the present. I am also re-reading Miguel de Ruiz’s book, The four agreements (1997) and paying close attention to the fourth agreement- Always do your best. Ruiz reminds us to always give our best effort in everything we do, but to remember that our best may look different each minute, day, week, or year. Our 100% on a day when we got enough sleep, ate healthy meals, feel emotionally grounded, etc.will look and feel different than our 100% on days when the baby was up all night, we did not have time to eat, pump, go to the restroom, etc.

If you are a new mother, please be gentle with yourself. The new additions and changes can cause our need for perfection to go into overdrive. It is important to remember to live each moment and embrace the present. As Neale Donald Walsche said, enjoy and cherish every moment and live in the present because that is exactly what the present is, it is a gift (2014).

Please comment below or share your experiences transitioning to motherhood. What surprised you most about your shift in identity? How has your teaching practice shifted? How have you adapted? What changed? What was your biggest challenge? What was your greatest success?

Ruiz, M., & Mills, J. (1997). The four agreements: A practical guide to personal freedom (A Toltec wisdom book). San Rafael, California: Amber-Allen Publishing.

Walsch, N. (2014). Conversations with god: An uncommon dialogue (Vol. Books 2 & 3). Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Pub.

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