They say having a kid changes everything.
They are right.
Priorities change, perspectives change, and relationships change. Your core identity shifts in ways you could never imagine. Everything you thought you knew tilts on its axis, throwing you off-kilter as you navigate your new life in an unfamiliar role.
As a teacher-parent, your career also transforms.
After having kids, I saw my students differently, appreciating their individuality more. I imagined what kind of student my own child might be like one day. And I for sure saw my parents differently; it helped me realize on a deeper level that (for the most part), we were on the same team. My heart softened toward both difficult students and parents.
But the flip side to this was that my family/work balance was thrown a major, irreversible loop.
I was fortunate that year as I was teaching the same content for the fourth year in a row. I had most of the major planning and materials ready to go. That helped some with the transition, but I still found myself misty-eyed each morning as I hesitantly handed my child off at daycare and then peeled out of the school parking lot as soon as I could to pick him up each afternoon.
Battling “mom guilt” can be difficult in any career, but teaching is unique because you are caring for kids other than your own all day long. And more often than not, I would find myself tapped out of both energy and patience for my boys at the end of each day.
While I never fully mastered the teacher/parent balance, I did learn a few things along the way that helped.
1. You and your kids are going to be ok. Every family looks different, and what works for the people around you won’t necessarily work for you. I saw some teacher moms handle everything like a champ, some who struggled constantly (like me), and I saw some who never returned to the classroom after giving birth. All are equally valid–and equally important. Well-meaning people will likely offer unsolicited advice about how to handle your career. But you will instinctively know what’s best for your family. Trust that instinct and lean into it.
2. Set clear boundaries. This is especially challenging because teachers are perpetually asked to do more–sponsor this club, cover this class, attend another meeting outside of school hours. Assertiveness is key here; don’t be afraid to stand up and protect your family time. Remove your school email from your phone. Stop checking email and working at a certain time at home. Or pack your laptop and teacher bag into your car at a certain time each evening. Let your parents and administrators know upfront when you will generally be available, and please, for the love, don’t let that include weekends. (Not that you won’t be working weekends, mind you… Just don’t let others expect you to be at your beck and call.)
And if you find that your administration does not support your family boundaries, it may be time to look for a position elsewhere.
3. Allow the busyness of day-to-day classroom life to distract you from any guilt you may feel. As a classroom teacher, there’s not much time to think about anything other than what’s right in front of you at that moment. The days usually fly by. Use that to your advantage.
4. Enjoy your “time off” as much as you can. We all know that teachers don’t really get summers off or even long weekends very often. But try to stack work as much as possible to block off some wide-open spaces for you to relax with your family. Go to local parks or lakes. Hit the beach or the mountains. Go camping. Travel to see family. Make it a priority to create memories with your little ones, and keep that tradition going as they get older.
5. Recognize that teaching can help you be a better parent. As your own kids approach the age of your classroom students, you’ll be amazed to see the similarities in cognitive development, personalities, and even individual struggles. You’ll learn to recognize signs of a kid who might be struggling academically or emotionally, which will help you see these things in your own kids at home.
6. Don’t be afraid to make adjustments. Maybe you need to change your childcare situation, change your hours, or shift your career entirely. (I hate to even bring this up because this world desperately needs good teachers.) And I know that for so many of our beloved educators, teaching is more than just a job. However, if all the things you love about teaching get buried under heaps of constant stress and exhaustion, don’t be afraid to carefully examine what is causing the pain point and what you can do to fix it.
Twelve years into parenthood, I’m still figuring out the work/home balance. And while it’s improved drastically, it still feels like a constant battle. But one so very worth fighting.
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