I’m employed by a secular company (I still struggle a bit with complementarian stereotypes, and I am nervous about admitting that to the larger conservative evangelical culture, though I think Christian culture is settling down a bit on that topic). I taught middle and high school math back in the day. But since we moved to Seattle in 2002, I have taught math at the local community college. Since we had kids, I’ve only taught one or two online classes (which isn’t really teaching at all with the computer program we use) because it allowed me to keep my foot in the door at the community college but stay at home with the boys with maximum flexibility.
During any given week during the last 6 years since I’ve had kids, if you asked me that familiar question–“What do you do?”–the true answer would be I change poopy diapers and clean macaroni off the walls. But the answer I always gave was, “I teach math at the community college,” despite the fact that it was about the smallest number of hours of anything I did in a given week.
Well, all that’s coming to an end. I am “retiring” from the community college. And I’m nostalgic. Teaching math defined my life for a long time. I used to be really good at it. Now, I’m marginally effective, though I won’t go into a discourse on the value of traditional verses online classes. My husband says I have the gift of teaching, and I have tried to steward that. I enjoyed teaching, and I enjoyed math. Watching the light come on in a student’s eyes after they had struggled with a math concept has always been an amazing, rewarding moment for me. Someday, I’ll write a post on the value of mathematics to theology, but for now, I’ll just say that those moments when a student finally understands that math has value to their daily lives make teaching it totally worthwhile.
Teaching online classes at the community college was helpful to our family for a while. However, I’m relieved to move on in one sense. It’s been a distraction from things that now are much more important to me. In another sense though, I’m sad, fighting the concern I think most moms have that their lives will get swallowed up in the meaningless practical daily tasks of raising kids, being a wife, and keeping a home. Yes, I said meaningless. Because sometimes no matter how many times someone tries to paint it as beautiful and valuable, cleaning up ravioli off the floor just seems meaningless.
I struggle like everyone else. WHAT WILL DEFINE MY LIFE?! And answering “I teach college math” when someone asks “What do you do?” has at times been a bandaid over a deeper struggle. I feel overwhelmed by the gushing river of responsibilities that is my home and ineffective at my attempts to manage it. And I so often feel GUILTY.
I don’t feel guilty because I DON’T value what I do in my home or don’t see raising my boys and loving my husband as my first priority tasks, but because I DO. I don’t need lectures on my home as my ministry. I know how important this job is. And that’s what makes it so painful when I fail. My husband thinks I’m a good mom, and that has helped me tremendously, but more often than not, I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants, running as fast as I can, just to not lose track of all the good moms I’m trailing so far behind.
But, boy howdy, I can teach math!! I need to be good AT SOMETHING. And when I applied myself to teaching math, I seemed a lot better at that than cooking meals, cleaning house, or raising boys.
Teaching was a cool thing over the years because the rewards came a lot quicker. You had high school kids for 9 months (or college students for just 11 weeks). My objectives were completed quickly, and once I turned in grades each quarter for a batch of students, my obligation to them was done. I could watch them walk out of my classroom with satisfaction knowing I had met my personal objectives with them. Not so with husband and kids. I talked about the long term nature of our investment in our family here, and that seemed to resonate with a lot of you. Raising kids takes multiple decades. Marriage is for a lifetime. It’s not a sprint. It’s a long, hard marathon.
I had a conversation with a friend recently about motherhood. She and I have similar mental battles. While lots of women struggle with pride in their homes, both she and I struggle with self condemnation—certain that our children will one day, instead of rising up and calling us blessed, will call us something else, possibly unfit for publication. She said her adult child regularly tells her now that she IS a good mom and seems to genuinely love and appreciate her, and yet my friend STILL struggles with self-condemnation for mistakes she made as a young mother.
It’s not logical. But it is real in her heart. And for her and I, no amount of external affirmation can fill us in that place deep in our psyche that whispers, “Failure!” to us over and over again. Only Christ can meet us there, and only a full and robust understanding of the gospel upon which we regularly meditate and practically apply can meet us in this need.
*I am made in the image of God.
*I am a sinner marred by the fall who is being conformed back to the image of Christ through His sacrifice on the cross.
*God hasn’t just forgiven me for my sins and failures, though He most certainly has done that! But He has also lavished on me His grace, clothing me in Christ’s robe of righteousness. He sees me through Christ’s sacrifice, and I never appear inadequate to Him in that robe.
*My home is now, as my teaching was then, a place to steward my gifts for the kingdom of God. I’m a steward for King Jesus. And He will equip me for every good work to which He calls me in this season.
*His approval of me is not based on my maturity or perfection, but on Christ’s maturity and His perfection. And my failures teaching my students or raising my children are TRULY covered by His sacrifice.
As I resign at the community college, I’m letting go of that last little tie I had to a time in life when I excelled (or at least when I FELT like I excelled). And I’m going to firmly live in the middle of a place where I don’t excel. The good thing is that it pushes me out of my comfort zone and reminds me of the basic truths to which I must cling at every stage of life—those big, robust truths encapsulated in that little word GOSPEL.
[Disclaimer: this post is not intended to influence either for or against working moms. It’s about our identity in Christ and security in Him. Period. ]