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Leaning In: There Is No Other Way

Photograph by Getty Images/Ikon Images

Before I became a mother, I began feeling confident enough in my new profession as teacher to start stepping up and taking on leadership roles. Once I became pregnant, though, I knew that my days of volunteering to do all the things were numbered. Life was about to get pretty hectic.

Once I returned to work, I was just trying to keep my head above water as I figured out routines and balance between career and family. I said no a lot. I had officially leaned out as a working mom. And comments from female coworkers, albeit older colleagues, about how they were so mystified that I'm able to work full time AND have a baby did not help any as I grappled with the fact that I was losing ground in my profession.

Three and a half years later, I found myself in a new role as a Reading Intervention teacher with a lot more responsibility on my shoulders. And I found myself pregnant once again.

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I began questioning if leaning in was something I could continue to do. I loved challenging myself and leading my colleagues; however, I knew that the crazy parenting was about to get even crazier with two. I kept trudging along, though.

At the start of the next school year, as I was approaching 30 weeks pregnant, my principal approached and asked if I'd be interested in stepping up to be an Instructional Specialist. I was honored that he thought I was a skilled teacher and could help lead my staff in a new capacity. Before I even had a chance to answer, he said to me that being pregnant and going on maternity leave would have no effect in his mind about my abilities to do this job.

Yes I'll do the extra work needed to fulfill my role as a leader in my school district. But no, I won't have it done tomorrow, or maybe not even by Friday, because I know my limits and my sanity is more important to me. Give me time.

Well, if he thought I could do it, I knew that leaning in even closer was something I could try. He has always said to our staff that family comes first; he was valuing my role as a mother, yet still knew that would not keep me from doing an excellent job in a more intensive leadership role.

Once I returned from maternity leave, though, I began to think that I was nuts for taking on the role of Instructional Specialist. Even though my class load was lessened, there was more work and extra meetings to tend to. Couple that with a baby who reverted back to newborn sleep, and you'll understand that I was drowning in a sea of chaos. What kept me going through all of this, though, was my passion for my profession. You see, I'm one of those moms who chooses to work; one who would feel lost without a fulfilling career.

Ten months later, as I'm currently in the midst of a new school year, I'm finally seeing the rocky waters calm. What's helping is my new mantra: I come first. No matter what, I have to put myself above everyone else's needs. That means that I'm learning the balance of knowing when to lean in and when to lean out.

I'm rewarded in my profession as I help my struggling readers become more confident in their abilities, as well as finding joy in helping my colleagues grapple with a difficult shift in education. And yet, I'm also very much rewarded when I see what amazing girls I have.

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I'll go to monthly meetings after a full day's work. But I'll also say no if that meeting falls on a day that is mine to pick up my oldest from school. Yes I'll come in to school at 6:30am for a meeting with team leaders. But I'll also say no if I know I need a little extra sleep to keep me going. Yes I'll take some of my precious teacher planning time to meet with colleagues. But I'll also say no if you want to meet with me for 10 minutes after school when I'm looking forward to post-school snuggles with my girls. Yes I'll do the extra work needed to fulfill my role as a leader in my school district. But no, I won't have it done tomorrow, or maybe not even by Friday, because I know my limits and my sanity is more important to me. Give me time.

I feel like I've grown tremendously into my role as a working mom who is furthering her career, yet who still puts herself and family first. As I'm in the midst of my 8th year as a teacher and in the throes of being a mom to two small girls, I've never felt happier or more fulfilled in my entire life. As I lean in to my career, I'm also leaning in to my family. And that's the balance that is achievable. It's never an equal balance, but I'm finally able to stay afloat.

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