Amy Jo Cherner

Amy Jo Cherner

Today, fellow choral educators, I am going to use my voice to be open and vulnerable.  I am not ashamed to say that I started therapy in August, and it has been one of the best decisions I have made.  It has made me a better mom, wife, and teacher.  In many therapy sessions, we talk about my work/family/life balance and where on the pendulum I am at on that particular day.

When meeting new people, how do you describe yourself?  What comes first… job or family? I am Amy Jo, a mother of three and a high school choral director in their 16th year of teaching in the public schools.  However, I have realized that many times I put my job ahead of my family.  To me, teaching is NOT just a job, it is a calling and a career.  It also is a job that doesn’t end when the school bell rings.  It is after school and evening rehearsals, weekend commitments, concerts, etc.  These extra commitments mean time away from my kids and husband, and relying on grandparents and friends to help with carpooling kids to each event.   I KNEW this would be my future when I followed my mom’s footsteps and became a choir director.  I grew up seeing a hard-working woman paving her way through a male dominated world.  I saw the hours it took, the emotional strain of taking home your student’s baggage, and the time spent away from family. Yet I still wanted to be a choir director and a mom so bad!  Luckily, we were blessed with three beautiful children, each coming with their own set of quirks.

We first had Eli, and he was easy going, happy, slept and ate great. We even had him potty trained by 2.5 years old.  We thought “we’ve got this parenting thing down!”  22 months later, Avi came into the world and everyone told us “Don’t compare your two boys”.  We were not concerned when Avi walked and talked later, and couldn’t figure out potty training until closer to four.  Then one day we got called into daycare because the teachers had concerns about “delays” they saw in Avi.  As a mom and teacher, I was flooded with guilt and shame… “How did I not see this?” We immediately got him in for testing and he was given an IEP.  The special ed services were a lifesaver for Avi, and continue to be present in his daily schedule.

It has been over five years since Avi was given his first IEP.  In the meantime, we had child 3 and I learned more about ADHD, anxiety, and sensory delays than I ever learned in my Special Ed class in college.  Through these five years, the amount of guilt has continued to grow.  GUILT for Eli not getting the “attention” his younger brother gets.  GUILT for worrying about whether Avi will have a good day at school, rather than focusing on my responsibilities at work.  GUILT for not having home cooked meals every night. GUILT for giving my kids screens so my hubby and I can have some time together.  And it was this GUILT that led me to therapy!

In therapy, I was introduced to Appropriate Guilt, Irrational Guilt, and Shame.

Appropriate Guilt is “a feeling of psychological discomfort about something we’ve done that is objectively wrong.”  This type of guilt is HEALTHY!  I said something mean to a co-worker and I felt awful and wanted to make it right.  “Healthy guilt allows us to seek forgiveness and correct a wrong.  It can lead to healing.”

Irrational Guilt is “a feeling of psychological discomfort about something we’ve done against our irrationally high standards.”  As a teacher and mom, it is OK I didn’t know every sign to look for in delays in three-year-old boys!  “Irrational guilt leads us to emphasize self-punishment over behavior change, trapping us in guilt.”

Shame is “an intensely painful feeling of being fundamentally flawed.”  Sometimes we see ourselves as unworthy, deeply flawed, and it causes us to disconnect from others.  Personally, I shame myself that I chose to send my kids to daycare and camps in the summer.  I know it is good for them socially and they learn good skills, and deep down, I know I feel less stress and appreciate the down time.  I allow the SHAME to overcome my needs to self-reflect, renew, and recharge after each school year.

I am still working to shut out the irrational guilt and shame I put on myself.  My therapist also makes sure that I don’t just say work/home balance… it should be work/ home/ LIFE balance.  I am not JUST an educator, JUST a mom, JUST a wife… I am a person who also needs outlets to have mental and emotional balance.  I need to make sure I allow myself time to breathe while doing things I LOVE.  I know this is a journey, and I will continue to struggle with this, but now I can at least identify what I’m feeling.

I will leave you with some things that have changed in my life these past 9 months.

  • Things I am doing for myself
    • Playing Mahj with neighbors
    • Planning girls’ nights in advance
    • Being content with allowing screens on so I can get dinner ready or talk with hubby!
    • Saying no to things I love, but can’t balance into the equation right now (Board of Directors, LINK Advisor, etc.)
    • Happy hour with my colleague!
    • ASKING FOR HELP!  Thanks mom ☺ © The National institute for the Clinical Application of Behavior Medicine