My Family-vs.-Career Tug of War
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My Family-vs.-Career Tug of War

A reader wants to return to teaching, while her husband needs her as his secretary.

Rachel Stein

Toco Hills resident Rachel Stein writes about spirituality and, working with readers, tries to help community members deal with dilemmas.

This sense of wonder from students drawing a mother and wife back to the classroom.
This sense of wonder from students drawing a mother and wife back to the classroom.

I glance at the clock for what must be the 10th time in as many minutes, and I let out a sigh, wondering how 60 seconds can feel like an eternity.

It’s like this all day, every day, trudging along just to get through another period of 9-to-5. But does it have to be like this?

Don’t do it, Lisa, I caution myself. Rob doesn’t need to see you cry. It’s not like he cares anyway.

A lifetime ago — before I got married and had a family — I followed my dream and got a master’s in teaching. I landed a plum job as a seventh-grade teacher in a Jewish school, and my heart took wings. I knew this was where I belonged and felt as if I was making a real difference in precious lives.

Whenever the clock showed that the lesson was over, I wondered how the time had flown. Hadn’t we just started?

A few years passed, and a friend introduced me to the man I would marry. Rob embodied everything I wanted. He was warm and personable, determined and motivated, smart and kind. … During our first decade together, our life proceeded according to my script. I continued teaching as several beautiful little people joined our family, and Rob managed his insurance business.

But once I had three kids, I could no longer cope with the teaching. There was not enough of me to produce creative lessons, teach effectively and tend to the needs of three growing children.

“You can always go back to it,” Rob assured me. “But for now, our kids need you. They won’t be little forever.”

Heart throbbing with conflicting emotions, I waved goodbye to my students and my career and dived into being a stay-at-home mom. We went to parks and libraries, baked cookies, read stories, and enjoyed life together. And then, almost before I blinked, all three were in school full time.

“Guess I’ll start sending out my résumé,” I said one day, my heart sprouting wings at the thought. I had been there for my kids in their formative years, and now it was time to make my mark on the world again.

“You could,” Rob said, “but I’ve been thinking. I could really use some help with the business. Since Dayna (Rob’s secretary for 10 years) moved away, I’ve been kind of swamped. And it would be great not to have to hire someone else and just keep the money in the family.”

I gulped. Me, Rob’s secretary? But that’s not what I want to do.

That’s how I found myself answering phones, filing papers, sending out bills and looking at the clock. Every time I tried to tell Rob that I wanted to return to the classroom, he brushed me off.

“But this is working so well!” he said. “We’re a husband-wife dynamo! The business is thriving, and it’s the best thing in the world for our family.”

So why did I taste bitter disappointment? Didn’t I also want what was best for our family?

One morning at breakfast, the thought of another day of office work felt like a noose tightening around my neck. I plunked my coffee cup down with a thud and eyed Rob.

“Do you want me to be happy?” I asked.

“What is that supposed to mean?” His brows knitted in puzzlement.

“It means that I want to teach. I never signed up to be a secretary.”

“But I need you,” Rob said. “Doesn’t that count for anything? Why do you have to rock the boat when things are going so well?”

“But they’re not going well for me!” I cried. “I’m a teacher, not a secretary or an office manager! Why don’t you care about my needs?”

Rob blinked, stung.

“I thought we were in this together,” he said softly. “I guess I was wrong.”

After an uncomfortable silence, he said, “My parents always worked together, and they were happy.”

We locked eyes, and another silence stretched between us. “Well,” he finally asked, “can you at least wait until I find someone else?”

“Of course,” I said, smiling at the vision of myself giving a scintillating lesson to eager students.

But weeks have passed, and no new secretary is in sight. Is Rob even looking? Is he just delaying my job search so that it will be too late for me to find anything for the coming school year? Am I shirking my duty to the family by insisting on following my heart?

Suggestions about how I can handle this dilemma would be greatly appreciated.

All dilemmas printed in this column are submitted from friends, relatives or AJT readers. They are not my personal conflicts.

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