I was my family's success story all throughout my formative years. All As here and academic awards there; scholarships here and National Honors Society there. I even landed in our local newspaper twice based on academics. I graduated high school number three in my graduating class with academic honors. My family could not have been prouder - especially my mother.
I would often hear my mom on the phone boasting to her friends and our family about my success. "My baby gets all As." "My baby got three scholarships." My baby, my baby, my baby was a mantra constantly resounding off the AT&T cordless receiver as she alone solidified my place in her social group as the smartest, most achieved offspring in history.
As expected, I started college directly after high school. I had a strong desire to become a doctor, but my biology and chemistry 101 classes humbled me. College was a lot different for me than high school. Whereas I never really had to apply myself before, in college I had to study for probably the first time in my life. The As and Bs weren't coming in as fast as they did before. Neither were the endorsements and praise from my mother. When things got super frustrating during my sophomore year, I confessed one night over the phone that I wanted to quit school.
I never heard my mother that silent before and I realized that quitting was not going to be an option.
Though I wasn't failing, there were Cs and the occasional D wrapped up in my grades, and my mother lost her right to brag on my academics. However, I started a job at a childcare center while in school. Children have always been naturally drawn to me and working in childcare made me realize I really liked them too. Now, my mother switched from solely praising my academics to also championing the fact that I worked and went to school full-time.
Eventually, I got my act together. I realized the need to study. I ended up back on the Dean's List and started pursuing a degree in psychology. My mother could boast again. I was happier, and all was well in the kingdom. That is, until after graduation.
I graduated within four years with a 3.0. I was only 22 and the world looked promising. But I got a quick reality check. I looked for a job for months and, though I landed many interviews, I couldn't land a job. Every employer saw that I had four years of childcare experience and couldn't understand why I wanted to make a career change.
No employer wanted to understand that I was kid who worked in childcare because it sustained me through college. The only options I had at the time was either go back to school for a master's degree or settle into building a career in childcare. By this point, I was academically burned out, so I opted for childcare.
I loved my time in childcare, but as the years rolled on, the questions came. Every holiday with family, every experience at my home church, every encounter with my mother's friends were filled with the sarcastic retorts, "I thought you were going to be a doctor… why are you still changing diapers?"
Everywhere I went, the job I loved was reduced to "changing diapers". The wild part about it is that I have friends who are nurses. They also change patient's diapers, but their job title is never reduced to solely wiping butts. I quickly learned that in society, there are jobs that are esteemed higher than others based on the pay one receives or the education required to attain the job.
Over the years, my mother would never admit that I worked in childcare to other people. She would call me a" teacher" to her friends. My mama called me "teacher" because I seemed like a failure to society if I was solely a person who "changed diapers". She wanted to mislead people into believing that I actually went to college for a degree in the field of teaching because it sounds more fitting.
I had the sorrowful epiphany that according to society, it isn't proper to be smart, educated, degreed, and "only" work in childcare. I was shamed so often that I also started to call myself a "teacher".
Yes, daycare workers do teach, but why is it so shameful to call yourself a "childcare provider"? The stigma that is faced for doing very honorable and rewarding work, isn't fair. Childcare providers are respectable people who provide quality service to children while their parents work. There is nothing shameful about it.
I allowed the nagging of others to shame me to the point I quit the job I loved. After many years in childcare, I recently quit. I got a so-called "respectable" office job in my field and hated it. I missed kids, I missed the freedom to be compassionate, creative, and nurturing. I traded my happiness to feel respected by society only to realize that I was well-respected by the parents, administrative staff, and children who loved me.
The moral of this story is don't allow yourself to be shamed. Don't prostitute yourself out for the validation of others. If a career brings you joy, then pursue it. You don't need the support of the world.
All you need is to feel fulfilled inside of your own heart.
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