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Professional Development Opinion

The Difficulty of the Personal and Professional Balancing Act

By Starr Sackstein — February 14, 2017 3 min read
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I’m a single mom. I acknowledge that I have it a lot better than many in my position, so this is not meant to be a rant. This is meant to be a heartfelt outreach for support in a time that has been really challenging.

In addition to being a single mom, I am a new teacher coach and teacher in a new school community that is very far from home. Eagerly, I accepted this position with the hope of a bright future and promising opportunities to grow professionally.

What I didn’t plan on was the impact my new job would have on my son.

Logan is 11. He is a smart and sensitive little boy who is so mature physically, emotionally and intellectually that it is easy to forget that he is only 11. Since I had been at my last job for most of his life, WJPS was like a family to him too. My colleagues and students there watched him grow up from being strolled in my first year in his stroller still in diapers to my last year him sitting in on calculus classes with my neighbor and students eagerly taking in new math.

It’s not that I didn’t consider him in my choice to leave my old job, I just thought that the transition wouldn’t be too bad for him.

We started trying out small things at the end of last school year: he started getting to school on his own, walking home from school at the end of the day and we even practiced him making his own breakfast to ensure he’d be able to handle the responsibility on his own.

He loved it! It didn’t just seem like he did; he actually did. Many times he would tell me how the independence was nice.

When this year started and both his dad and I started jobs much farther from home, he put his best face forward. He knew the choices we made were to serve our careers and therefore the family as well. I believe he tried to adjust to the new situation.

But something changed.

Logan did not like being left alone for hours in the morning and then again in the afternoon for hours without adult supervision and this challenge started to manifest and create additional issues I could not have planned for.

So what I struggle with now is knowing when to take a step back from my own professional pursuits in order to care for my only child who is clearly suffering some growing pains. It may be easy to assume that these issues would have arisen eventually anyway, but that kind of speculation doesn’t seem useful. Instead, I’ve taken a practical approach to trying to handle the problem.

Simply put, my son’s needs need to come first. He is my only child and my greatest responsibility.

However, I can’t stop working; I am after all a single mom and have financial obligations that must be met. I also have a burgeoning career in and out of school that I love. So choosing feels selfish... in both directions.

Often confronted with the dilemma of what to handle first: helping 90 students who aren’t my biological responsibility but to whom I feel very responsible for and accountable to, working with my colleagues which is a major part of my new job, to my number one person, my son and my professional life outside of school with writing projects and speaking engagements.

Overwhelmed with always feeling like I’m making the wrong choice, I realize that the sacrifices I’ve made to get where I am now cannot be taken back, I can only look forward and sometimes temporary decisions must be made to mitigate further damage.

So how do we decide what the best decision is for everyone not knowing what the impact of even the most current choices will be as the ripples usually flow farther than the eye can see?

Have you ever been at this crossroads or one similar to it? Which choice did you make and what was the outcome? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.