Sarah Styf | Accepting the Unexpected Journey The space behind my classroom desk is mostly taken up with several framed pictures of my kids and the multiple fish drawings that my son drew for me in kindergarten. This is one of only a few pictures that capture both of my identities as mother and teacher.

When I was a little girl, my primary dream was to someday be a stay-at-home mom with a large family. Even as my career aspirations changed from teacher to nurse to youth worker and back to teacher, I always knew that I was going to meet my future husband in college, we would get married right after graduation, and within a couple years we would start a family and I would stay at home with our babies, possibly returning to teaching after our many kids were in school full time.

And it’s no wonder that I had these dreams. In my family, my grandmothers, my mom, and most of my aunts stayed home with their offspring. I learned that it wasn’t just expected; a mom staying home as a primary caregiver was the best and preferable arrangement for all families. I was unintentionally taught to pity my classmates who had moms who worked and had to provide for their families instead of being at home with their children, where they belonged. I considered the few times I had to stay after school with my latchkey peers an injustice because my mother was supposed to be able to take care of me during any time of the day, and that included picking me up from school immediately after we were dismissed.

The gradual change to those dreams started my freshman year of high school, when I turned from being a simple book lover to a literature lover. I no longer just loved reading, I loved reading things worth talking about. By the end of my freshman year I didn’t just want to be any teacher, I wanted to be a high school English teacher, a desire that grew every year as my English teachers challenged me and encouraged my intellectual growth. Regardless, the plan was still to get married right after graduation, work for a couple years, and then start having babies.

But God has a funny sense of humor. It’s one thing to have an idea of the life you are going to have, often based on the influences of upbringing, but then life happens. I met a guy who I wasn’t even going to officially date and after spending three and a half years talking and eventually dating long distance, we got engaged. Plan change one: I didn’t meet my future spouse at a college that we attended together. Then I fell in love with learning. I had always loved reading and appreciated new knowledge, but now I had an unquenchable thirst for learning. I took Russian History and was perfectly satisfied with a B- because I learned so much in the class that my perfectionist self was ok with a less than satisfactory grade because of the whole learning experience. Plan change two: I knew that once I graduated with a bachelor’s degree I wasn’t done going to school. Then I started teaching and discovered that I was decent at it. I had much to learn, but like most teachers I got a lot of on-the-job training. I started thinking that I might stay home with our kids but I would definitely start graduate school so that I could keep growing and learning while I was staying at home. Plan change three: I started doubting that I would be completely happy to stay at home with our babies and the number of desired babies started to slowly decrease.

Then I moved to a different school and didn’t just discover that I was good at my job, but I loved it as well. We couldn’t get pregnant right away, which meant I was almost 30 when our first baby was born. We moved again and I started grad school and then started thinking about all the possibilities once I graduated with my master’s degree in English. I got pregnant with our son, had a miserable pregnancy, and decided that for the sake of my body and our family’s sanity, we needed to be done having kids. To say that we were struggling financially at the same time as I was attending grad school and having a second baby would be an understatement, and to right the ship it was necessary for me to find a full-time job. I did and my love for our small children and for teaching grew alongside each other. I treasured every moment watching my babies grow up, but school was where I felt intellectually challenged and refreshed. I went into high school education because I enjoyed the conversation and interaction with emerging young adults. My instructional time during the day allowed me to appreciate the new milestones with my littles when I was home at night. Summer breaks allowed me to spend more valuable time with my family while also affirming what my husband and I both already knew: I am personally a better, more emotionally and mentally stable mother when I am also working.

But I know that this is not the case for everyone. Motherhood changes us. No one knows how her life is going to change after motherhood until she holds that baby in her arms and then brings that little one home. I know driven, career-focused women who have dropped everything to stay at home with their little ones because they can’t imagine doing anything else. I also know women who have struggled with the decision to go back to work and have eventually made complete peace with being working moms. And I know women who have found space in-between, successfully pursuing their professional passions at home while their little ones play around them.

The two most important vocations in my life, being a mother and being a teacher, have made me who I am, and I truly believe that I am the mother and the teacher that I am today because I am doing both at the same time. As a teacher mom, my kids have grown up going in and out of classrooms. I had my daughter near the end of a school year, which actually shortened my maternity leave. While I technically had the whole summer to recuperate and work on planning for the next school year with my infant daughter by my side, that also meant that a month after she was born I was carrying her into end-of-the-year meetings, letting her sleep in her carseat or passing her along to my many colleagues who were eager to hold a sleeping baby.

I believe that God has called me to a vocation of teaching and ministering to teenagers, preparing them for both earthly and heavenly citizenship, giving them the tools necessary to effectively minister to a broken world in whatever vocation He calls them to. But He has also called me to a more important vocation, that of mom to two amazing little humans who are growing and thriving in their love for Jesus and the world in which they reside.

Are there times that I struggle to maintain the balance? Absolutely, but at the end of last summer an episode of Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love podcast caused me to rethink how I look at my life as a working mother. Jessica Turner discussed her new book Stretched Too Thin and she argued that instead of working to maintain a balance (because a perfect balance is unachievable), moms of all kinds need to instead seek work/life satisfaction. This past school year I have made my goal satisfaction as opposed to balance and that has made a difference, at least in my personal outlook. I still struggle and I still screw up. There are weeks when I’m just happy that I have lesson plans done for the day, my family has food to eat because I’ve at least gone grocery shopping, and that I’m not stepping over clutter at home. I understand there are times I have to put more energy in one thing over another (I’m thinking about those yearbook spreads I’m still going to be working on in June), but in the end, I am satisfied in my vocations which keep me a spiritually and mentally healthy mom and teacher.

I am more to my Creator than a wife and a mother. That is not all He sees when He looks at me and, no matter how important and significant those roles are, I don’t believe that is all that He has made me to be. It’s probably guilt that stems from my childhood, but I often still feel the need to justify my decision to be a working mom, a decision that at different stages of motherhood was as much about survival as it was about personal fulfillment. I believe that women need to do what is best for their families and only they can know what that is. In the end, I know that I am being the woman and mother that my Creator made me to be, and that is what brings me peace.

3 Replies to “The Woman and Mother I Was Created to Be”

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