I left my job this week.

I left a government job, with benefits, retirement, insurance, and security. Even as I type this, it sounds a little strange. Why would I choose to leave a position like this? Am I crazy? What will I do for money and all the above mentioned perks?

This was a difficult decision. The job itself was not difficult, and I love working and having a second income. However, this job was a commute of an hour each way (on a bad day, this could be up to 3 hours total) for only a 21 mile distance. I was spending a good deal of money on gas for a job that was not earning me a significant income. I did not like the job and thought there would be more room for growth, which I quickly learned would not be as possible as I was lead to believe. I was leaving with my son before my girls even woke up for school and returning long after they had arrived home, meaning I had even less time to spend with them or with my husband. If he was gone for work, I was killing myself trying to be everywhere and to do everything. I would stress about how I was going to keep my kids in their activities, lessons, etc. while working and commuting so much. I had never struggled this much as a working parent.

I was exhausted, stressed, and unhappy; my family could see it, and I could feel it. I did not know what to do or how to make myself feel better.

One of the difficulties of being a military family is that you do not have the benefit of living near family (unless you luck out with an assignment near them). I never realized how much you can rely on your extended family for daily life, especially with two working parents and a large family. My grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins were all involved in my childhood and filled the roles of babysitter, chauffeur, and cook when needed. We were all supportive of one another, physically and mentally.

While the military can be like a big extended family, there are limits. How do you ask another spouse to pick up your kids when she has her own to manage? How do you not feel guilt in leaning on someone when that family is also a spouse down for a TDY or deployment? I end up feeling worse, like I cannot handle my own life and have to dump it on someone else who is equally burdened with parenthood, marriage, and military life.

I over analyzed my thoughts and was wracked with guilt as I contemplated what to do. What about my meager but necessary income? What about being an equal partner? What about providing a strong, female role model for my kids? As I pondered these questions, I found that the anxiety of this job and its conditions was more than the anxiety produced by all these questions. My kids would still see me as a strong, female partner who fills the roles needed for this family to thrive. My husband and I work to equally provide for our family, and maybe this means I work less outside the home than I originally planned.

So I weighed my options, kept looking for another job, and finally decided to leave.

I’m going back to substitute teaching and working in a school close to home; this allows me to continue looking for another job, to still earn an income, and to keep a flexible schedule for my family. I will spend way less time in traffic and way more time being a parent; after all, I cannot get this time with my children back. I left with a heavy heart and conscience, but I also left knowing that this was the right decision for myself and for my life. I console myself with a fact that I have to repeat constantly when I feel like I am failing – we are all just trying to do and to be the best we can, no matter what it looks like. 

Perhaps there are other parents and military families that can “do it all.” The older I get, the more I realize that I simply cannot. I have to prioritize and do what is right for the six of us.

I always thought that I would be a working professional with long hours, responsibilities, and success. It turns out that I am a working professional – but for my family. I put in long hours, overtime, stress, love, heartache, and more for all these people. With a husband who is military, with frequent work trips and a demanding, inconsistent schedule, I have to be the parent and partner who can be the constant. This might be my most important job, even if it isn’t what I imagined my working life to be.

Maybe someday I will find the right job, with the right income and right work-life balance. Unfortunately, this was not that job. And even as I sit here and still wonder if I was crazy to leave, I know that this was the best thing for myself, my family, my mental health, and my life.