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Education@Home: Molly Nicol

Over the coming weeks we’ll be speaking with alumni who are stay-at-home parents, as part of our Education@Home series and a larger effort to explore work-life balance in the lives of our alumni.

By The TFA Editorial Team

February 3, 2015

This being Teach For America, we have to ask: where were you placed, and what did you teach? How did your time in the classroom match up to your expectations?

I was placed in Philadelphia as a 2005 corps member. I taught high school English for four years at Olney High School East (and for another five thereafter at The Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philly). The first few years of teaching were probably the antithesis of what I had expected/dreamed teaching high school English would be; while in college studying English and Education, I pictured a lot of laying in the grass reading in perfectly formed circles. There were glimpses, though, even in those tough first years, when I saw the potential to be the kind of English teacher I really wanted to be. (I am still working hard to be that kind of teacher.)

What did you envision for yourself after completing your service?

I always knew I would continue teaching beyond the two year commitment; I’ve wanted to be a high school English teacher since I was in high school myself. As cliché as it is, it was after reading Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities that I decided to apply to Teach For America.

When did you transition to being a stay-at-home parent? What influenced your decision to do so?

Staying at home with my daughter (Nora, now 15 months) was something I had casually dreamed of but didn’t really allow myself to dwell on for too long because it didn’t seem realistic or “practical.” My mother-in-law graciously took care of Nora when I returned to the classroom after maternity leave, but we planned on using full-time day care starting in Fall 2014. However, we learned at the end of the summer that our spot at that day care fell through. All this to say that staying at home was sort of an unexpected decision for me, but one that I am so grateful for. Although I am convinced that there is no ideal way to manage both being a mom and working, and that every choice has its pros and cons, I feel so lucky (and recognize that in many ways it is a luxury) to be able to share this special time with my young daughter.

Can you tell us about your partner and what he does? How do you balance or share the load, and what supports do you offer one another?

My husband Terry is an asset manager for a solar energy company and works from home. In many ways, this is incredibly helpful (as in, he has about a two-minute commute down from his third floor office) but me staying home this year has definitely shifted the responsibilities we both share in taking care of the house and of Nora. Although we were both exhausted all the time after my maternity leave ended last spring, we were in kind of a zone too: we each had our specific tasks and roles we played out each week that kept us humming along. In the first couple months of staying home, I definitely felt the tension of readjusting what jobs I would take on and the weight of responsibility in assuming the primary caretaker role. Honestly, most of the stress I was feeling came from thinking about outsiders’ perspectives of what we should and should not be doing. Eventually, though, I came to my senses and we figured out what works best for our family (rather than trying to be the best).

What are some of the challenges of being a stay-at-home parent? Some of the pleasures?

The best part about being a stay-at-home parent is that you get to share so many quiet, daily moments with your child because you spend all day with them. The hardest part about being a stay-at-home parent is that you spend all day with them. :) Every teacher knows how exhausting (physically, emotionally, mentally) it can be to engage with a young person all day every day, and you would think it would be easier when the adult to child ratio is a pretty enviable 1:1…but no, it’s still hard. I’ve never worked with really young kids before, though, and find their development really fascinating, so it’s also pretty awesome to have a front row seat to seeing your child grow and change before your very eyes.

What does your typical day look like?

I watch my friend’s one-year-old son two days out of the week, so that helps to create a structure for the rest of our days. I’m a really big fan of the story times at Free Library of Philadelphia branches (these are one of the few free resources I’ve found for stay-at-home parents during the day). When it’s nice out, we take walks/trips to the playground (though honestly, I try to get out even if it’s not nice out, because otherwise I go a little stir crazy). We also go to a music class once a week, which is awesome. And, of course, there’s a lot of just playing on our living room floor/singing/dancing/napping/eating/watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Often, someone will ask me how my week was and I have a moment of panic because I honestly draw a blank as to what I did, even though the days usually go by in a blur they’re so busy. It’s definitely a different pace staying at home; I would describe it as an odd combination of slow and active.

If you could help people to understand one thing about your role as a stay-at-home parent, what would that be?

Since stepping back from work, it’s been really interesting to notice how much one’s work plays a role in their value as a person. Staying at home definitely changes the tone of the whole “So…what do you do?” prompt. I guess I would want people to value the work that is done inside the home equally to that which is done outside the home. Not to view it as “easy” or question the extent to which I haven’t “leaned in” enough by choosing to stay at home and care for my daughter. To give stay-at-home parents the benefit of the doubt that they are as passionate about what they’re doing as anybody else, and that they are working incredibly hard every day to become better at what they do. So I guess that’s three things. :)