Self Care Is Not Selfish

I am in a couple of mom groups on Facebook. A group for SAHM moms, a couple of groups for twin moms, a group for teacher moms, a group for lesbian moms, a group for parents/grandparents who do not want to raise their children in fundamentalist tradition, etc. For the most part, I have enjoyed these groups. I have learned a lot from of them and found support in so many areas. It’s truly beautiful when women come together to support and empower one another.

But there is always that one person…

Recently a person posted in the group for SAHMs looking for advice about having “Me Time”. She wants to hire a babysitter once a week to help with her babies so that she can have time to recharge and be alone and maybe for her and her husband to have dinner or see a movie together. However, her husband is very uncomfortable with the idea of someone other than one of the two of them keeping their babies. I understand. We’re picky about who can keep our boys. Several women offered ideas for how to help him become comfortable with the idea of a babysitter. They were positive, encouraging, understanding, and wonderful.

Except that one. The one who replied that “Me time ended when you became a mom” and it is “completely selfish to pawn your kid off on someone else to have me time”.

Y’all, I tried. I tried so hard to just keep scrolling.

But I know there are moms out there who really struggle to make time for themselves and now here they were being called selfish for trying and I just couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t keep going without defending all of us moms who are still people even though we have babies.

“Self care is not selfish,” I replied, “but mom-shaming is.”

I am not the kind of person who engages in Facebook arguments with strangers, so I moved on expecting that to just be the end of it. But it wasn’t. Of course Sanctimommy (a title she was given by another mom who replied to her mom-shaming comment) wasn’t “mom-shaming” she was “stating facts and truth and sometimes the truth hurts” and I “just need to face it.” She said that I was “disrespecting my SO by wasting their hard-earned money on babysitters” when that was my job.

So I politely offered some perspective.

When I became a SAHM, Steph made sure I was given time for self care and time to recharge. It wasn’t my idea. I didn’t ask for it. It was Steph’s priority. I am the most introverted introvert who ever introverted. She has seen what happens when I don’t have my alone time and she does whatever she can to prevent that from happening.

So Granny comes over a couple of days per week so I can work. I have those two days per week to teach online, do my transcription jobs, write my blog, do homework, clean the house, clean our church, or whatever else I need to do. I don’t make a ton of money, but as a recovering workaholic, I am still making some money that contributes to running our household. It helps me not feel like a bum and keeps me intellectually stimulated. It isn’t just good for me, our boys love Granny and she adores them. There is no separating them.  

Also, it is important to Stephanie that I don’t lose my identity just because I am a mom. Yes, being Mama is the most important title I have ever held and it is my first priority after Wife, but I’m still Sarah–Sarah the Writer, Sarah the Painter, Sarah the Crafter, Sarah the Dog Mom, Sarah the Friend, Sarah the Coffee Obsessed, Sarah the Super Nerd. Those aspects of me and my life didn’t vanish because I harvested human beings with my body. I am not only an incubator and caretaker. I’m a whole person. And Steph loves all of me–even the not so great parts, so she makes sure I have time to be a whole person.

I feel sad for Sanctimommy.

According to her, my need to be alone, to be intellectually stimulated, and to be a whole person means that I’m just not a good enough mom. I’m lacking and I need to step it up.

A few years ago a comment like that would have devastated me. Now I am able to say, “If that’s what keeps everyone in your house happy, then you do you. Don’t shame others for having different needs and choices.”

Friends, Self Care IS NOT SELFISH. It is necessary. It is essential.

Three Reasons Self Care is Not Selfish

1. Self care strengthens authenticity

We all wear many hats and have many roles. We are a lot of different things for a lot of different people. But if we don’t take the time to step back and care for ourselves, we lose sight of who we are.

When I was a kid I would go spend the weekend with my older sister or friends. When I came home, I would almost always get in trouble for having a bad attitude. “If you can’t have a better attitude when you come home you’re not going to be allowed to go anywhere anymore,” I was told. I was so confused because I never tried to have a bad attitude, I wasn’t trying to be nasty, I just couldn’t help it.

Now that I understand more about myself and more about child and adolescent brain development, I realize that when I came home I needed to be alone. I needed to go to my room and recharge. I had been around people for however long I had been gone and I was not only physically tired, but mentally and emotionally tired, too. What I didn’t need was to answer a thousand questions from my parents and brother or have the television blaring in my ears. I needed to recharge so that I could return to being a kind, contributing family member.

That didn’t mean that I should be punished. There should not be punitive repercussions for being an introvert or an extrovert. These traits are beyond our control.

Through the years I have tried more than once to change that I am an introvert. And every time was a disaster that left me drained. In order to be a functioning human I need to take care of myself.

Practicing authenticity through self care helps you find purpose.  

After moms, the one group (in my opinion) who receives the most criticism for practicing self-care is teachers. Teachers are treated terribly.

When I was pregnant, I almost died trying to carry my twins to term. I did not want to have them early. When I was admitted to the hospital, hooked up to monitors and IVs, I tried my best to convince anyone who would listen that I should go home and come back in a couple of weeks. Finally the doctor told me, “If we don’t get these babies out of you by Monday, all of you might not make it.” So I had an emergency c-section at 1:30 Sunday morning.

I was still in recovery when texts and calls about work began. I spent the night in labor & delivery, and by the time I moved to a mom & baby room (without my babies) Steph had taken my phone.  I was trying to recover from a major surgery, my children were in intensive care, I still couldn’t regulate my blood pressure, I was a brand new mom to twins, I could barely walk, and people were bothering me about work.

And not because they needed to. Stephanie is a teacher, who teaches the same content I did in the same district. She contacted the administration in my building and taken care of my FMLA paperwork. She had taken care of sub plans. I had entered the data they needed into a Google Sheet before I left for fall break the week before.

Teachers, like moms, are often treated like they are not allowed to be people. For real, both teacher and mom shaming can be debilitating.  

I have three main purposes in my life: be a wife, be a mom, be a teacher. Thanks to contract teaching–and the ability to practice self-care by stepping away from a full-time career–I am able to do all three of them well and with joy. I feel like my true, authentic self for the first time in years. I am overwhelmingly happy.

2. Self care cultivates empowerment

The opposite of self-care is sabotage.  Putting myself on the back burner time and time again is detrimental to my mental, physical, and emotional self.  It makes my goals and aspirations seem like nothing more than silly daydreams.  

This doesn’t mean that you won’t continue to make willing sacrifices for others, but it does mean that you create healthy boundaries.  Learning to say “no” is freeing. Practice is the only way to cultivate this type of empowerment. A healthy dose of releasing guilt also helps.

Self-care has made it possible for me to not only be honest about my dreams, but take practical steps to seeing them come to fruition.

3. Self care enables us to care for others

Self care and selfishness are motivated by different intentions. Selfishness comes from a place of how can I make my situation better for me? How can I make this benefit me? Self care comes from a place of How can I improve myself so that I am able to care for others? What can I do to be better for my family/job/friends/etc?

There is nothing wrong with realizing you need a break from your children so that you can be a better mom. There is nothing wrong with using a sick day from work to take a “mental health day”. And there is nothing wrong with telling whoever you live with “I’m going to my room and I need to be left alone for a couple of hours to recharge,” or telling your significant other, “I need a break. You’re on baby duty.” Doing these things will refresh you and allow you to return with new energy and fresh perspective.

Taking these breaks increases our productivity as we care for others

Whether you are a mom, a wife, a friend, no matter your occupation, etc. becoming a stronger, more confident person will also make you better for the ones you love.

Our first week at home with the boys was amazing. It was so wonderful to have them at home. But it was also exhausting. I was still recovering from surgery and no longer had help from medically trained nurses and doctors. Steph and I were on our own. We had to figure out how to keep the two tiniest humans I had ever seen alive all by ourselves. Between diapers and feedings, especially considering Gryffin did not like to eat and Atticus had some severe reflux, there was barely enough time to eat and use the restroom. Any time I had I chose to sleep. When my mom visited the weekend after they came home, the first thing I said was “I’m so glad you’re here. I haven’t showered since Tuesday. I’m going to take a shower and a nap.”

“Why haven’t you showered?” My mom asked.

“Because every time Steph said ‘I got this. Go take a shower or something,’ I slept instead.”

After that shower, I was a completely different person. Instead of taking a nap, I made dinner.

It was a long shower. I used my favorite shampoo and soap and lotion and put on my favorite, most comfortable sweatpants, and felt like a brand new person. It felt as though I had been recreated. I was ready to be more than a “mombie”.

And after that I was a better mom. I was better at taking care of my kids and my wife. I was a better human. All because figured out how to care for my infants and be productive because I took an hour to step away and take care of me.

Regular breaks also “fill up your love cup”

I know that sounds ridiculously cheesy. I first learned the phrase when I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. And I thought it was cheesy then, too, but the phrase has become a regular part of my and Steph’s vocabulary.

Our sweet boys have especially taught us about filling our love cups.  They are rambunctious fifteen month olds. In those little bodies are some big emotions they aren’t always sure how to deal with.  When one of them has a melt down (starting before they could even crawl) we will pick them up and talk to them, often also saying “aw, sweet baby, your love cup was just empty.”

Now that this has become their norm we have noticed that the boys often come to us for quick snuggles whenever they are feeling overwhelmed. In those moments, they practice self care; they realize they are overwhelmed and in need of a safe space. They come to us and receive love, attention, and/or comfort, and then continue playing happily. This doesn’t keep all the melt-downs from happening, but they do happen less often and are a little less severe.

It also taught me that self-care doesn’t have to be a solitary activity. The boys come to us to “fill their love cup.” We receive as much in these moments as we give. And it strengthens our bond as a family.

Taking Care of Yourself Is Not Selfish

In a world of increasing online interaction, where tones are misconstrued, and people can hide from taking responsibility for the damage their words can cause, it is easier than ever to attack others, to shame others, or to hurt others.

No matter what you read, please remember that YOU matter. YOU are important. And you need to take care of yourself.

Self care is never selfish.

Mom shaming is.

What is your favorite way to practice self care? Share with me in the comments!

30 Things I Believe

One of my favorite writing assignments when I was a traditional classroom teacher was “This I Believe” Essays. No matter the writing ability of my students, if they tried they would write a poignant and beautiful piece. It was a great way to empower them and help them love writing. It was also low pressure because it didn’t require a ton of research, it was acceptable to use lists or bullet points rather than the usual 5 paragraph structure, and it was something they wanted to write about. 

So, as part of my countdown to my thirtieth birthday, here is my This I Believe Essay: 30 Things I believe.

As a wife, I believe

1) Miscommunication is the true root of all evil.

2) Insufficient sleep leads to many misunderstandings

3) Being loving is more important than being right. (This was hard for me to learn.

4) Making time to spend together is important.

5) If your spouse isn’t your best friend, you need to reevaluate your priorities.

As a mom, I believe

6) Every child is a blessing, no matter the circumstances.


7) Coffee should be its own food group.


8) There should be special parking for toddler moms. Especially twin toddler moms.


9)There are no better sounds in the world than: hearing little feet patter across the floor while I’m working my office, my babies giggling while playing together, my babies snoring in the back seat on road trips, the sweet way my boys say “hi” when they see me in the morning.


10) Being a mom is the most wonderful, most difficult, and most important job I’ve ever had. I have never felt the weight of responsibility more than I do now. And I love it.

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As a humanitarian I believe

11) Human suffering should be addressed wherever it is found. It is unacceptable to put children in cages.

12) Building a wall is the stupidest thing ever.

13) Black lives matter

14) I am in charge of my body. No one else. I am responsible for the consequences–both good and bad–of my choices. No one else.

15) Education is important. We should fund it and pay teachers what they deserve.

As a person managing an anxiety disorder, I believe

16) Hope is stronger than fear.

17) Chocolate can make you feel better, even if only temporarily.

18) Choosing to be positive, to practice gratitude, or to work out CAN fix a bad attitude but it CANNOT cure depression or anxiety or any other mental illness. Telling someone who has a mental illness they need to choose not to be sick is just as effective and stupid as telling someone with cancer they need to choose not to be sick.

19) Disconnecting for some peace and quiet is good for the soul.

20) Self care is not selfish.

As a recovering workaholic, I believe

21) Indifference is just as important as passion.

22) You should never stress yourself out for a job that, should you die, would replace you within a week.

23) Every employee is replaceable–and so is every job.

24) It is fun to be the leader, but sometimes the best way to be a good leader is to be a good follower.

25) Having a job is fun. Working is fun. But it’s not the only fun you can–or should–have. Let everything go sometimes and do something that makes you happy. It is okay to take a mental health day sometimes.

As a dog mom, I believe

26) Dogs are the best example of love I have ever seen. No matter what, they love unconditionally.

27) Dogs are the best judge of character. If your dog tells you someone is bad, don’t question it. If dogs seem to think you are bad, evaluate yourself. You probably need to make a change.

28) If you’re having a bad day or are stressed out, hug a dog. You’ll feel better.

29) If you need to cry, hug a dog. He will let you cry into his fur and then he will lick away your tears and he will not stop until you smile again.

30) Humans really aren’t good enough for dogs. We don’t deserve them. If you need proof that there is a loving creator out there, adopt a dog. Someone had to love us an awful lot to bless us with them despite our faults.

What do you believe? Tell me in the comments!

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Television Shows for People Who Don’t Like to Watch TV.

Confession: I don’t like to watch Television. I know that makes me kind of weird, but that’s me. When I started my first teaching job, my coworkers thought it was crazy that I didn’t have cable. They enjoyed slipping movie and TV references into our conversations to confuse me. 

Steph loves watching TV. It helps her unwind. It bores me to no end. When we bought our house, she wanted to put a television in our bedroom. I did not. If I am going to watch TV, I want to be in the living room on the couch or curled up with a blanket in my chair. Often, I need something to do with my hands in order to focus on the television–like knitting, playing cards, coloring, etc. Maybe I have ADD. I don’t know, but if I want to sleep, I want to go to my bedroom and sleep. Not watch TV. Besides, I cannot figure out how to comfortably watch television from the bed. Also, it’s not like Steph watches television all that often, so I didn’t see the need to have a second TV in the house.

So we compromised. And put a television in our bedroom. 

When Steph and I met, if I watched television at all, I watched Friends or How I Met Your Mother. That’s it. I watched those two shows on repeat. 

Over the years Steph has encouraged me to forced me to branch out and try different shows.

Truthfully, I have enjoyed several of them. The other day I said, “You are so good at finding shows I actually like to watch.”

“You have no idea how hard I have to work to find something you will watch!” She was slightly exasperated.

In an effort to save some other poor soul who has a hard time getting his or her significant other or friend to watch television with them, I’m sharing a list of shows to binge watch approved by someone (me)  who doesn’t like to watch television.

Steph knows when she has found a show I enjoy because I make a rule that she is not allowed to watch it without me.

    

7 Television Shows for People who Don’t Like to Watch Television

1. Friends

Where to watch: Netflix
Average length of an episode: 22-23 minutes
Number of episodes: 236

Friends is a classic. I never watched it while it was on the air. I discovered it because of my first roommate in college. She had the seasons on DVD and enjoyed watching them on repeat, so we watched it all the time. 

It’s a funny show and the characters are lovable (my favorite character is Janice Litman). Thanks to the witty humor, you will have a collection of great catchphrases you can use in real life. A favorite of mine:

“I’m not that great at the advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?”

–Chandler Bing

My students really loved it when I used that one. 

The many, many love triangles are fun, but not overly dramatic or emotional (I am not a fan of that kind of thing). Phoebe and Monica compete for a guy in coma, Rachel and Monica literally fight over 
Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the bigget one: should Rachel have ended up with Ross or Joey? You really do have to watch from the beginning to the end to be able to create an informed opinion. (I’m Team Joey, by the way. Ross is SOOOOOOO annoying.)

2. How I Met Your Mother

Where to watch: Hulu
Average length of an episode: 22-23 minutes
Number of episodes: 208

I don’t even remember how I came to know and love HIMYM, but I do know that it is probably my all time favorite television show. It seems like the show just kind of captures the stage of life I am in really well and  puts a humorous light on it. It’s real and relatable.

I genuinely love all of the main characters, even if Ted Mosby does occasionally really get on my nerves. I have experienced a full range of emotions while watching.

The Thanksgiving episodes are probably my favorites. We will watch all of them during the week of Thanksgiving. 

A lot of famous guests make appearances on the show including Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Carrie Underwood, Mandy Moore, Lucy Hale, Ashley Benson, Mike Tyson, Enrique Iglesias, and many others. My favorite special guest is Britney Spears who plays Abby, a ditzy receptionist. The character is hilarious and Britney plays it well. 

Finally Marshall and Lily–Marshmallow and Lilly Pad–are the very definition of relationship goals. I love them and their dynamic. 

The downside:

I LOVE the mother. I loved the anticipation of discovering who the mother is and all the twists and turns Ted and his friends encounter on their journey to meeting her. She is PERFECT for Ted.

BUT, the series finale was really irritating. If the final episode had ended at 18:14, it would have been perfect. However, it continued for another 3 minutes and 22 seconds and, in that short amount of time, it almost ruins the whole show.

The final season is truly beautiful and poetic. I am not even ashamed to admit I cried. More than once. I recommend watching until Ted says, “And that, kids, is how I met your mother” and then turning off the television. Pretend nothing comes after that moment. You’ll thank me.

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3. Criminal Minds

Where to watch: Netflix 
Average length of an episode: about an hour
Number of episodes: 299 currently; it’s still in production.

I used to complain about how every movie or show I watched ended happily and how that’s not real life and sometimes it would be nice if that was reflected in media. 

Enter Criminal Minds. 

Sometimes the show is so intense that it keeps me awake at night. The whole plot with The Reaper is terrifying, but gave me exactly what I was looking for. They didn’t catch him right away. It took several episodes. 

The whole show is fascinating. You can learn so much about psychology and human behavior. (Yes, learning from a TV show is a plus for me. Learning makes me happy). I have researched a lot of the things I originally heard about while watching this show and learned a lot of very cool things. Because of this show, I’ve learned how to tell when people are lying to me–which is a super useful life skill. 

Sometimes I do have trouble binge watching Criminal Minds. It’s a show about how serial killers think–getting in the heads of some pretty sick people–there’s only so much of that I can handle before I’m sad and need a happy break.

4. New Girl

Where to watch: Netflix and Hulu 
Average length of an episode: about 25 minutes
Number of episodes: 146

I discovered this show while I was on maternity leave. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do besides watch TV. I was recovering from an emergency c-section and had twin infants. I didn’t get the hang of tandem feedings until they were big enough to hold their own bottles, so feeding took forever–especially since Gryffin didn’t even like to eat. It felt like when I wasn’t feeding or changing babies, I was pumping, so I couldn’t do much of anything except watch television.

Steph told me I was not allowed to watch Friends and How I Met Your Mother on repeat for 8 weeks. In my Mom-Brain-sleep-deprived state I forgot she couldn’t stop me while she was at work, so I randomly clicked on New Girl for absolutely no reason. I was immediately hooked and when I finished all of the seasons the first time (well, all available on Netflix or Hulu–series finale aired May 2018) I immediately went back to the first episode and started over.

New Girl is hilarious. I laughed until I cried more than once watching this show about a group of 30-somethings trying to figure out life, but Season 4, Episode 6 “Background Check” is by far my favorite. The first time I watched it, I started it over before moving on to Episode 7. Twice. And made Steph watch it when she got home from work. 

The characters play a game called “True American.” The actual rules are never explained, but I really want to play.

When I watched the series finale of this show I was very impressed. I have never seen a show ending done as tastefully and perfectly as New Girl. It was a fantastic way to end the show. (The writers of HIMYM could take some notes).

5. Quantico

Where to watch: Netflix
Average length of an episode: about 43 minutes
Number of episodes: 53

Quantico is my most recent favorite show. Not only are most of the main characters women, many of them are women of color, and all of them are bad ass. 

The twists and turns in the plot of this show are phenomenal. Every time I thought I had it figured out, the carpet was pulled out from under me again and I was back at square one. It is rare to find a show that does this to both Steph and me, but Quantico is it.

Unfortunately, the show has been cancelled, so the final episode of season three is now the series finale. I am heartbroken about this. I love the way this show challenges my thinking and requires that I pay attention to every single detail. 

6. The Ranch

Where to watch: Netflix
Average length of an episode: about 30ish minutes
Number of episodes: 50 so far; it’s still in production

I never imagined Ashton Kutcher and Sam Elliot could star in the same show and it turn out so good. I mean, they’re both great actors, but they are so different, and that’s what makes this show great. It captures the relationship between a parent and child who do not understand one another very well.

I didn’t expect to like the show because it’s so “redneck,” but it’s well balanced. Also, if you ever wanted to know exactly what my dad is like, look no further than Sam Elliot’s character, Beau Roosevelt Bennett. Whoever created Beau had to know Dad. There’s no other way they could have possibly gotten it so spot-on.

Several of Ashton Kutcher’s costars from That 70s Show make appearances throughout the show, which is a lot of fun. 

Don’t watch this show if you aren’t a fan of strong language. Personally, I love expletives and don’t understand how to show a truly strong, emphatic emotion without them. Curse words are to sentences what lights are to a Christmas Trees. It’s how you give it that little bit of extra.

In all seriousness, though, they drop the f-bomb a lot, so if you are truly bothered by that or don’t want your kids to hear it, don’t watch. 

7. Leverage

Where to watch: I don’t know anymore. 
Average length of an episode: 43 minutes
Number of episodes: 77

Leverage is a modern-day-Robin-Hood meets Batman story. A group of “bad guys” come together and fly under the radar to provide vigilante justice.

The characters are quirky and make the show a lot of fun. Each of them is a specialist in their “field”: a thief, a grifter, a hacker, and a hit man led by a former insurance investigator who does not have a criminal past; white knight turned dark knight. 

While watching I am often convinced there is no way they are going to pull of the hoax, but they always come through. It is a very creative and fun show. 

I almost didn’t include it in my list because you can no longer stream it on Netflix, so if you want to watch it, you have to pay for it on Prime Video or buy DVDs/BluRays. It’s worth the money, though, so I included it. I wouldn’t say that about just any show. 

Honorable Mentions

There are a few more shows that I like to watch occasionally, but don’t necessarily like to binge watch. You may like them:

  • Will and Grace–I want to be Karen when I grow up, but I can’t call this show binge-worthy. Occasionally the plot is terribly boring and Grace gets on my nerves so bad. I can’t watch more than an episode, maybe two, at a time. 
  • The Good Place–I love what I have seen of this show, but I need to see where it is headed before I can say it’s binge-worthy. It’s hilarious, though. 
  • The Golden Girls–What television list is complete without The Golden Girls? And who doesn’t love Sophia Patrillo? 
  • Grey’s Anatomy–I have a love-hate relationship with Grey’s. Sometimes I just love it and could watch it all day. Other times I find it terribly annoying and can’t stand it. Also SPOILER ALERT!!! how is there even a plot now that there is no Dr. Derek Shepherd?
What about you? What is your favorite show to binge watch? Tell me in the comments!

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Why I Quit Teaching

I’m not a teacher anymore.

I can’t believe those words are my reality, but here we are. I guess I should say I am not a teacher in the traditional sense. My classroom is now my basement office, all school-related decorations confined to a few tri-fold boards I trade in and out as needed based on the online class I’m teaching.

I have left the brick and mortar school and taken on the life of stay at home mom, contract teacher, blogger, and student. Student because I am returning to school to be an accountant. I’m six months from turning 30 and I’m completely starting over career-wise.

I have given a lot of feeble excuses for leaving teaching.
I’ve said I quit teaching to spend more time with my babies.

This is true, but still only part of the larger story.  I am so blessed to have this time with them. They are the absolute best and fill my heart with indescribable joy. I love being at home with them. But honestly, being a SAHM is just icing on the cake at this point. I would probably have left teaching anyway after last year. Having the boys at home only made it easier.

I’ve said “it turns out, teaching isn’t for me.”

If you know me at all, you know I am lying when I say this. I am passionate about teaching and public education. I’ve worked with some remarkable educators and I have the utmost respect for them. Teaching is and always has been so much more than a job to me. It has been my investment in the future of society, my way of making the world a better place. It has been my calling. I have loved it from day one. All of it: planning, teaching, grading, coaching, laughing with kids, exploring emotions, learning life lessons, celebrating successes–both in the classroom and later in the students’ lives. There is nothing like receiving Facebook messages and emails from former students updating me on their successes and thanking me for helping them achieve their goals.

I’ve said that I’m just burnt out.

But this is another lie. I’ve said, along these same lines, that after I returned from maternity leave I didn’t love teaching anymore. Again, a lie. The truth is I wasn’t happy teaching for the school I was in anymore, but I still love teaching. I still have the same passion and excitement for my students and my content as I did my very first year. I say I’m not sure what changed. Another lie. I know exactly what changed.

I can pinpoint the exact moment that changed me–that changed my heart.

First, a little background.

I know I’m going to sound like I have no humility at all, but I’m being honest: I am a damn good teacher. So I made the choice to commit to teaching in Title I schools, which are low-income and usually high minority. There is probably low parent involvement. Many of the kids feel trapped in a cycle of generational poverty and wholeheartedly believe they are not capable of or worth any better.

All the odds are stacked against teachers in Title I schools. Sometimes I say teachers in non-Title-I schools get twice the results for half the effort, and I’m only sort of kidding. I decided if I was going to teach, I was going to give the best I could to kids who usually got the scraps. If you are interested in reading a little more about what it’s like to teach in a Title I school, you should check out this post on the Love, Teach Blog.

My first school

My first school was unique, even for a Title I school. 96% of students received free or reduced lunch (the 4% who didn’t were administrators’ kids) and roughly 80% of the population was homeless. The whole community had been affected by rampant drug use, transience, and dwindling economic opportunity. I loved the kids so much, but the community was difficult to adjust to. The little town the school served was in the middle of nowhere–a small rural community–but many of the kids (and their parents) seemed to think we were all in inner-city Chicago.

There were days at this school that it was difficult to feel safe. Once when the principal was out of the building we had to go on lock down because a student’s father, who was not to have contact with the student, informed her mother he was coming to school to take her. The door to my classroom hadn’t locked in months and no matter how many times I brought it up, no one had fixed it. The student in question was sitting in my room. Luckily, the police apprehended the father before he made it on campus, but that’s when I knew I needed to move on to a new school.

My second school

I moved to a new county, a new district, a new school. The first couple of years were so wonderful that I described it as teaching at Disney Land. As time passed my perception changed. I don’t know if the school itself changed or if I was just finally seeing problems I had been blind to before.  Regardless, I wasn’t happy there anymore. I was seriously considering moving to a different school but I guess I was letting a few things hold me back. My coworkers were amazing. I had made some of the most wonderful friends of my life and I didn’t want to have to move to a new school and figure out new people. I’m not really a social butterfly.

This school was a typical Title I school. It had its problems, but a lot of talented and dedicated teachers work really hard to make it a great place for students to learn. There was no real reason for me to leave.

When I returned to work in January after maternity leave, emotions were running high.

I have no idea what happened in the building the 12 weeks I was out but many people  said “You should be so glad you weren’t here last semester.” Some of these were people who never complained about anything ever. No one ever explained what happened, but there was no denying a very clear shift in the climate and culture of the building.

In addition to a less than happy work environment, there were external factors weighing on the building. Our governor was doing everything in his power to take away teacher’s pensions and school funding in the name of balancing the state budget, all while vilifying teachers. Some of his remarks were just outright disgusting. In addition to that, there were two school shootings. One in Western Kentucky at Marshall County High School in January and another in Parkland, Florida in February. Whenever this happens, it leaves every teacher in the nation on edge, wondering if next time it will be his/her building.

Real talk: all teachers know that it could be our school next.

The reality of this set in with me when, in the aftermath of the recent shootings, someone made a threat against my building. It was days after the Parkland incident and a person stated he was going to shoot up the school. Emotions were running high, but the superintendent and principal took the threat very seriously and dealt with it swiftly. Authorities alerted the administration the night before, who communicated the news with the staff as soon as possible.

I was walking into a building that was already on lock down, the police were already there and prepared.

I hugged my babies and kissed my wife and promised that if anything happened I wouldn’t play the hero–I’d come home to them. And I did. I came home safely that day, and the following work day I got up and went back. Despite knowing it could be our building next, teachers operate like we feel safe and secure, like it’s not going to happen to us.

All of these things–the school culture, the nastiness of our elected officials, and the school shootings–were weighing on everyone in the building. We were all on edge, we were all dealing with unhappiness to a certain degree, but I still didn’t want to stop teaching. I still believed I needed to teach.

The day I was done being a teacher was March 28.

I remember because it was my birthday.

My 6/7 block class threw a surprise birthday party for me. My plan was 5th period. While I was out of my room, they decorated with balloons and streamers. They brought in cupcakes and sodas and cups and napkins and gifts.

I don’t know how they knew pink carnations are my favorite flower, but there was a bouquet sitting on my desk in a pretty little glass vase. I don’t know how they knew M&Ms are my favorite candy, but there was a cute little apple jar full of them next to the flowers.

They wrote me some of the sweetest letters I have ever read in my life. Tears of gratitude stung my eyes as I turned on music and started organizing a party game. After going through all that work I wasn’t going to make them do classwork the entire period. We’d celebrate my birthday for a little while and then begin class.

Lock down

Just as celebrations were beginning there was an announcement for a medical lock down. That’s no big deal. It just means students are not allowed to leave the room because, most likely, someone had thrown up or something in the hall.

Within seconds there was an announcement for a full lock down, meaning there was a threat. We had to turn off all sounds, turn off all lights, lock all doors, cover all windows, and sit silently on the floor as hidden as possible.

It wasn’t a drill. It wasn’t planned. There was no warning. We were just on lock down.

My students assumed it was a drill at first. But minutes passed and no one released us from lock down and the kids started growing suspicious.

“What’s going on? Are we safe? Is this a real lock down?”

“I don’t know,” I replied, “but I am sure we are safe. We have followed all the procedures exactly. This is why we practice.” I kept my voice steady and calm and reassuring. They settled back into silence.

Time continued to pass and I could see the strain on the students’ faces.

Text messages from friends and siblings at the high school started rolling in and the strain gave way to all out panic.

We shared a campus with the high school. A small parking lot separated our buildings. A man had shot and killed his wife and then come to the high school to pick up their son. The man had a gun and was on school property. (He never made it into the building, but we didn’t know that yet.)

“What if he comes over here?” asked a sweet girl. I turned to where she was sitting with her besties–the little group of birthday party planners. There was fear and panic on their faces. It was obvious it was taking serious restraint for them to not cry or scream or run.

I smiled at her and said, “I’ve been in almost this exact situation at my old school-and my classroom door didn’t even lock then. Every single one of my students made it out just fine. I assure you we are safe. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”

The kid and all her friends relaxed. I watched as relief and comfort replaced the worry and fear on their faces. All because of my words–because of a promise I made that I would die trying to keep–but there was no guarantee I could actually keep it.

And that was it.

That was the moment I knew I could not continue to be a teacher. I can’t explain why, I don’t even know why, but that moment affected me more than any other. There was something about giving those kids a false sense of security that has messed with me to my core.

It’s been six months, and I still see their scared faces in my dreams. I don’t exactly know what to call the emotion I felt when I realized I was being dishonest, but I still feel it every time I remember the fear in that girl’s eyes when she asked me “What if?” and how it shifted to comfort and relaxation when I promised safety.

I stood in my classroom and heard gunshots.

My small-town-America classroom. Not my middle-of-a-war-torn-country classroom.

The man forced the police to shoot and kill him.

My classroom was on the opposite side of the building of the altercation, so the gunshots were not loud. You had to know what you were listening for, and you had to be actively listening. I don’t think any of the students noticed it at all.

I had taught the man’s son when he was in middle school. I’d met the man a few times, too. He had come in for a meeting once. I saw the son and his father at the animal shelter a few months after he started high school. He was so excited and proud to tell me he had joined ROTC and was doing really well in school. His dad stood behind him and beamed with pride.

Steph asked me once what my take was on the father when I met him. He seemed to me like a good dad. He was rough around the edges and uneducated, but he wanted what was best for his son.

My heart aches for the kid. He woke up one morning for a typical day of school and by the end of the school day he was an orphan.

These things aren’t supposed to happen.

Teachers aren’t supposed to tell their babies goodbye in the morning and wonder if they are going to come home to them in the afternoon.

Students aren’t supposed to start a normal school day and wind up an orphan before the final bell.

Children are not supposed to feel unsafe at school.

I can’t fix these problems. There’s nothing I can do about it. That’s not me admitting defeat, that is just me being matter of fact. It’s me facing reality.

But I also cannot continue operating in a system like this. I cannot continue willingly placing myself in a situation where I might have to choose between staying alive for my own babies, or risking my life for someone else’s children.

And I can’t continue lying to children about their safety. Not when they trust me so much.

I can’t.

I am not a teacher anymore.

 

 

 

Coming to a place where I am comfortable with changing careers and leaving a career I truly loved required a lot of reflection and introspection. Click below to receive a copy of my 28-day reflective journal so you can practice self-care through reflection.

Inspirational Dream Journal

6 Ways to Overcome Self Doubt and Follow Your Dreams

I once heard someone say something like “If you ever notice your preacher discussing the same topic often, it’s most likely because he/she struggles with that topic.” I’m certainly not a preacher, but the concept applies to me today.

Self doubt is definitely my greatest hurdle. As I mentioned in my “About Me”, I have always wanted to start a blog. I even made a feeble attempt once before. I had no idea what I was doing (still don’t) and was way too intimidated to actually share the URL with anyone (that still scares me). BUT ten years after that disastrous attempt…I am trying again. Self doubt is coursing hard through my veins. I don’t know if it ever really goes away altogether, but I have learned how to push it aside, set goals, and make an effort to overcome it! These are the six things I recommend doing when self-doubt tries to take over.

1) Forget about what everyone else thinks of you.

I started with the hardest one first. I say all the time that I don’t care what people think about me–and I mean it. There is no way I would have survived 8 years as a teacher if I worried about popularity.

But what I mean when I say that I don’t care what people think about me is that I don’t care if people like me or not, but I do care about how people perceive  me. It’s okay for people to disagree with me, but for someone to judge me or weigh my worth makes me a big ball of nerves.

The intersection at the end of our street is busy, and I often have to make a left turn. I stress out when someone pulls into the turn lane behind me. I squirm in my seat, my palms sweat, my heart races. What if I could have gone then? My brain says. What if they are getting frustrated because I am taking too long? Being perceived as a competent driver by these strangers suddenly becomes more important to me than driving safely.

I had to delete TimeHop from my phone because I was so embarrassed by the stupid things I posted on Facebook ten years ago. I was an embarrassingly pretentious teenager. And when I think about that, my mind starts racing. What if I am still obnoxiously pretentious and I just don’t realize it? What if no one tells me? Worse, what if someone DOES tell me? What if I accidentally embarrass someone else with something I write? What if I misrepresent myself to the entire world?  I just shouldn’t do it.

See how easily it gets out if hand? I allow my concern for how others think of me cripple my ambition. And here’s a truth: others are a lot less concerned with you than you think. When I let the opinions of others go, I am able to work toward my goals. It’s easier said than done, I know, but it is possible. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this now.

2) Give others the benefit of the doubt.

This goes hand-in-hand with number 1, but when someone does give you positive feedback, believe it. When someone offers constructive criticism, accept it graciously and use it for growth, but don’t stew on it.

When I first met my wife, I assumed she had ulterior motives in everything she did. After all, that’s what many of my previous friendships and relationships had been like. I had built this huge wall around me and I was trying to keep everyone else out. Otherwise I was nothing more than someone who could be used.

One day she finally said to me, “Unless I give you evidence otherwise, assume I want what is best for you.” I remember the moment clearly. We were in her car and were on the brink of an argument because I had to do something for work, and I was stressed out and refusing help because why would she help me? How was helping me going to benefit her? It seemed completely counter-intuitive to just believe that she wanted what was best for me, but in rearranging my mindset to believe it, I have learned that she truly does want what is best for me. All the time.

And in learning to trust that my wife has good intentions, I have learned to give the benefit of doubt to others.

When strangers or acquaintances try to talk to me now, I don’t get shy am still super shy, but I make more of an effort to hold conversations. I assume they are genuinely being friendly and not targeting me. I’ve made more friends as a result. I’ve made quality friends as a result. In a few weeks, I am officially leaving the “real” work force to be a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom. I am over-the-moon excited, but I am also very sad that I will not be seeing my friends every day. I have grown close to some incredible people.

Sometimes I am still not so great at this.

We only have our yard mowed every other week because 1) I’m not going to mow it and 2) we can only afford every other week. A man stopped outside our house the other day and rang our doorbell (he better be glad the babies weren’t sleeping!) to give us his business card for his lawn mowing service. My replies were something like, “So my yard looks bad? Your yard looks bad. Your MOM’s yard looks bad!” (Don’t worry. I was talking to the babysitter. The wifey answered the door).

There’s no way I would have ever found a way to actually attempt this blog thing if I still allowed myself to be paranoid about other people. To me, this is a lot of vulnerability and opening myself to a lot of judgement. Rearranging my mind to believe the best in others–and myself–made it possible.

3) Surround yourself with positive people.

Repeat after me, it is okay to be choosy about who you let in your inner circle.

My friend Kelly explained life to me like this: Imagine your life is a production, but YOU get to decide who attends the show. When someone buys a ticket to a show, the people in the front usually have more interaction and are more involved–they’re closer so they can see better and hear more. So, your life is a production. Not everyone gets a ticket. You’re in charge of who does and who doesn’t, and you decide where those guests sit. YOU decide who is in your front row and involved in your life, and you decide who observes from the back, and you decide who isn’t invited at all

It is okay to cut toxic people from your life. It is okay to cut people who are not necessarily toxic, but expect more from you than they are willing to give back to you, or who expect you to give more of yourself than is healthy for you. Your mental, emotional, and physical health are important and it is okay to value your health. And allowing self-doubt is not good for your emotional health or mental health. Anyone who is holding you back from believing in yourself needs to be moved to the nosebleed section or escorted out. (And did you notice I did not specify that you could/should only cut friends? Sometimes family can be the most toxic people. You are not a bad person if you limit them, too.)

Most productions are not a one show deal.

They sell tickets multiple times. You might have to show someone out for a while, but that doesn’t mean they can never get a seat again.

Surround yourself with positive people and a quality cheering section. When you’re feeling down, when self-doubt is sneaking in, call them and let them become your inner voice. My front row makes me feel like I can take on the world.

4) Don’t be afraid to be yourself.

You might not know this yet, but I am funny. Like, super funny. But I am also socially awkward and often lost in my own head and a little uncouth so sometimes people don’t understand that I am funny. Give it time. You’ll warm up to my humor.

I read others’ blogs and think Man, I wish I was funny like her/him! But if I was, I wouldn’t be me. I need to find and use my voice, and it’s okay if others don’t like who I am. (See number 1 above) 

5) Find some inspiration.

Find a quote, Bible verse, or mantra that you can repeat to yourself to motivate you to keep going. My personal favorite quote is one my middle school choir teacher made us all memorize:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

I’m not going to be an awesome mom or kick-ass wife or successful blogger if I allow myself to drown in self-doubt. Excellence is a habit. If I am going to succeed I have to strive for excellence until it comes naturally.

You can get ideas for a personal mantra in many places. Google inspirational quotes, do a Pinterest search, or, if you’re religious, look for Bible verses that encourage you.

Don’t overthink this and don’t overlook it.

Words are powerful. Albus Dumbledore says that words are “our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” Find words that remedy your self-doubt and cling to them.

6) To quote Nike, “Just Do It.”

Whatever it is you want to accomplish–just go for it. If you never try, you’ll never know. 

I have no idea right now if I will be a successful blogger, but it’s worth a shot, so I’m going to do it.

What are YOUR tried and true methods for battling self-doubt? Share them in the comments!

Knowing and following your dreams is not for the faint of heart. It is hard to honestly evaluate yourself and assess your possibilities Click below receive a download for this FREE 28 Day Inspirational Journal. Use it to take a few minutes each day to focus on YOU. Read the inspirational quote and the daily prompt to reflect on who you are and where you are headed.

Inspirational Dream Journal
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