On Quitting My Job
I’ve been out of a job since June.
Well, let me clarify: I no longer have a paying job.
My husband and I are both teachers by training, and for years this has worked out well. The transition into our teaching careers happened smoothly. He paid the bills as a U.S. Marine while I finished college; I set up my first classroom when he began working toward his own teaching degree. Before we had children, we both taught full time.
When our daughter, Aeddan, came along, some forgotten advice from one of our friends resurfaced in our minds and in our home discussions. “Once you have kids,” she had said, “only one of you should work full-time.”
We have since thought a lot about this model in our family. When I first went back to work after our daughter was born, my husband and I worked out a truly ideal solution. Since we were teachers at the same school, we both cut back to part-time. He went to school every morning and taught a few classes; I walked over with our baby in a backpack at lunch. Then, after eating together, he took her back home while I worked until the end of the day. Between the two of us, we had exactly one full-time teacher salary.
Friends were jealous. Other teachers envied our schedule. We felt content with our choices– we could raise our daughter without relying on daycare. We could go to a meaningful job where we put our brains to good use. Money was tight, but we had the best of both worlds, and we knew it.
Then, once our son Angus was born, we realized that one salary was no longer going to be enough, and Erik returned to a full-time schedule while I remained part-time. This too was a lovely solution for our family. My mom had a few hours with her grandkids every day – time that she did not get with me when she was a working mom herself. As a waitress, she was forced to drop my sister and me off at the sitter’s house every morning at 4:00 a.m. so that she could get to work. My mom was grateful to spend time with the new little ones in our growing family, and I was thankful not to have to make the kinds of sacrifices my mom did – and countless other families still do.
With Erik teaching full-time and me part-time, we still had energy left over for our kids. In large part, this was because (as anyone with small children knows) their demands were simple: sit on the floor and watch me play. That was it. If we played with them by sticking some Legos together, great. If we only had energy to stare blankly into space, drooling some, and grunting, “Mmm hmm” at appropriate intervals, they were happy. Many, many times, we just laid on the floor and took tiny, blissful naps while they vroomed cars around, or banged on wooden tool benches, or brought us plastic food to eat. I don’t believe they even noticed, no matter how comatose we were.
Now, our kids are older, and have entered what I have heard called “The Golden Years.” My daughter is twelve and my son, nine. These ages are very different from their younger years. They still love to be with us, but now they want us to interact mindfully. Now they notice if we’re not paying attention.
A few years ago, my husband and I began to wonder if we needed to change things up a bit on the work front. Teaching, which is honestly the most amazing job in the world, requires a constant output of energy, creativity, and control – actually, the same skills demanded of parents. We began to resent that we were using up the very best of ourselves on other people’s children – with little energy left over for our own.
It started small with changes that were hardly noticeable. Maybe we missed library story-time one week, possibly held a birthday party a month late, or perhaps bought Halloween costumes instead of making them ourselves. These are non-events, really, tradeoffs that occur in families all the time, but for us they marked the beginnings of a gradual descent, a season marked by things we didn’t do. First came the autumn when one of my kids said, “Mom, why didn’t we go to the pumpkin patch this year?” Then came the Christmas vacation we skipped going up to the mountains and enjoying the snow, followed by the spring we didn’t have a Passover Feast, didn’t dye eggs. These omissions seemed trivial, but we recognized them for what they were: signs of omissions to come.
Looking forward, I dread the realization that, when my kids hit high school, things will change yet again. Adolescents love to be with their friends. They want to interact on social media. They don’t want parents to pay attention. Friends of mine who have older kids say this is a certainty. Even moms who maintained close, communicative relationships with their teenagers agreed – a time is coming, soon, soon, when I will want more of my kids than I will get.
And so, after much prayer and watchful listening to the kinds of signs to which we pay attention, I told my principal that I would not be returning to teach. Was this scary? Yes. But the alternative—missing out on these two incredible young people that I get to be with for such a short time—seemed even worse. To others, those who were not part of my long process of listening and choosing, I might appear blindly optimistic at best, crazy and negligent at worst. Friends often ask me, once they hear my news, what my plans are. They are amazed – sometimes even politely stunned to hear that I don’t currently have a paying job. “You spend all day writing?” they ask. “For free?”
Hopefully, eventually, people will pay me to write things, and I can have the opportunity to fill my home time with my passion for writing and still have energy left over to give to my children. Or, maybe I will work at Trader Joe’s, or Starbucks, and earn very little but still have energy left over to play soccer, and to dance, and to go to parks and zoos and museums. Or maybe no one will hire me, and to save money I will take my kids out of private school and spend a wild and memorable year experiencing the world together – volunteering at immigrant centers, digging in community gardens, practicing Spanish with groups at the library.
What I realize at this moment is how blessed I am to even be offered this chance As I jump off this high cliff into a vague and unforeseeable future, I feel mostly joy and gratitude, knowing that I can spend the next few years doing my first job – being a mom – and doing it well, because I have built-in time to be creative, to think, and to write. Because we took the time to pray, my whole family feels secure in this decision. Without fear, we can choose happiness over financial stability – an option my mom, like most mothers, was never given.
This is the chance of a lifetime, and I am not going to waste it.
Dawn Claflin lives, parents, and writes in the Seattle area. Her work can be found in The Plum Tree Tavern, The Higgs Weldon, Primary Treasure, and more. You can find her online at http://dawnclaflin.wordpress.com.