Lately there has been a lot of buzz about the teacher-mom struggle. If you’re a teacher and a mom, you know what I’m talking about. A few weeks ago Marissa Cooper shared her struggle in “I Cannot Be Both a Good Mother and a Good Teacher.” I read this (with tears in my eyes, I’ll admit) and could completely relate to her words, as I’m sure many of you who are also teacher-moms can. The problem with being a mom — and a teacher — is that with both of those jobs, there is always more you can give. The stress comes from the feeling that there is more you SHOULD be giving to your children, your family, and your students, and all of those “I should be…” feelings cause guilt. And stress. And anxiety. And burnout. And…well, you get the idea.
Then last week I read a related post by Brooke Brown (of Teach Outside the Box) titled “7 Ways to Survive the Teacher-Mom Struggle.” Brooke offers some great suggestions for alleviating some of the stress and guilt that come from never feeling like you are giving enough. She also shares a few ways to devote more of yourself to the things that really matter (family and students). Good stuff!
Interestingly, I noticed that both Marissa and Brooke have been teaching for 12 years, and both have young children (Marissa’s kids are 1 and 3; Brooke’s are 5 and 2). I have been teaching for 23 years now: for 20 of those years I’ve also been a mom (my boys are 20, 16, and 7). So I know from experience that the teacher-mom struggle exists–and never goes away. But I also know that with time you get better at finding balance and handling that struggle.
So on this 20-year anniversary of my being a teacher-mom, here is what I’d like to say to all of you younger-than-me teacher-moms out there: YOU CAN DO THIS! Nothing is permanent, and that is both good and bad: Our children are only young once and our first job is to be their mommy. There will be days when all you can manage is a video in the classroom and frozen pizza for dinner. There will be school years when you don’t feel like you’re hitting your stride. Your own children will go through phases when they demand more of your attention — and it will happen at the exact same time as you are redoing your entire curriculum or madly trying to finish your gargantuan evaluation portfolio by the due date. There will be days when you want to quit–everything! Been there, done that. More than once.
But there will also be days when the clouds will part, the angels will sing, and your students will make you proud. You’ll have days where everything is clicking on the home front as well, and your own children shine. You will! Because you are a good mom AND a good teacher.
All of these ups and downs are just part of life — teacher-mom life, regular working mom life, stay-at-home mom life, and everything in between. Keep reminding yourself how LUCKY you are to have children to care for, love, and teach at home as well as children to care for, love, teach at school. You get to make a difference EVERY DAY. All of these moments, the good and the bad, are fleeting. The stressful times make you appreciate the calmer times even more. And the calmer times do exist too, trust me!
Here are some things that have gotten me through all of the ups and downs of the past 20 years:
1. Get everything ready the night before.
Mornings just suck; there’s no way around that. You know if you’ve ever tried to make small children hurry in the morning that it just never goes well. If you can get everyone’s clothes laid out, lunches packed, and bags packed, it helps things go more smoothly during the stressful sprint to school/work/daycare. And that goes for gas and errands, too. Whatever you need, get it on the way home today because you know there will never in a million years be time to get it on the way to school tomorrow.
2. Fake it ’til you make it.
Tired? Stressed? Pretend you’re not. Sounds too good to be true, but it really does work in the short-term. Pretend to be innovative. Pretend to be energetic. Pretend to be organized. Pretend to want to improve yourself by going to conferences and workshops. Pretend to be patient with your kids and your students. Pretend to be interested in what other people are saying when you’re tired or thinking about other things. If you pretend long enough, it’s not really pretending anymore: it’s who you are. Keep in mind, though, while this will get you through a few rough days or weeks, it’s no replacement for good ‘ole sleep if you are physically tired or run down. Take a personal day and get some rest if that’s what you need to do.
3. Smile. Even if you don’t feel like it.
It’s hard, but just the act of smiling will make you feel better; and before you know it your smile might become real because when you smile at people, they tend to smile back and be nice to you.
4. Lower SOME standards.
Prioritize and hit those priorities (kids, students, spouse, your family’s health, etc.) hard. I lowered my house cleaning standards quite a bit while my kids were small. As they got older, I’ve given them more responsibilities around the house and I’ve stepped my game back up as well. Know what? It really didn’t bother me that my house wasn’t (even remotely) spotless during those years. It’s still not completely spotless, but I’m okay with that. Likewise, every single classroom assignment doesn’t have to count for a grade. You should also find creative, less time-consuming ways to formatively assess students (try exit slips, think-pair-share, one-sentence summaries, gallery walks, and also web-based tools like Kahoot and Socrative).
5. Focus on the positive.
When you fret about all of the things you’re not doing as well as you think you should, this takes time and energy away from working on those things. If there are things that aren’t going well, rather than worrying about them, make small tweaks until those things are better–or if they are not priorities (serving on committees, anyone?), reduce or cut them out entirely.
6. Take care of yourself.
I know it sounds crazy when you’re so busy, but you have to make time to exercise. I get up at 4am to work out every day, and nothing EVER suddenly comes up at that time to make me miss my workout like it used to when I worked out after school. That might not work for everyone, but it works for me. Find what works for you! When you exercise, it’s so much easier to maintain a positive attitude because you feel good and have more energy (and you’ll get a better night’s sleep, too). You don’t have to go to a gym either: things like fitness DVDs and walking or running are great because you can do them anytime you want. Enlist friends and workout together if you can: friends add accountability and I find that talking with my girls always makes me feel better. Along with exercising, try to eat healthfully and drink plenty of water. A strong and healthy body goes a long way to helping you combat stress and feel better about yourself.
7. Have some fun.
Really, do goofy things with your kids (both at home and at school). Joke, laugh, squirt somebody with a spray bottle. Lighten things up every once in a while: your own kids and your students (and you!) will remember these moments long after. What’s more, laughing will make your current load feel lighter.
8. Keep on keeping on. You really can!
Yeah I know, another cliche, but it’s a good one! What I have learned from 23 years of teaching and 20 years of being a teacher-mom is that if you stick it out and keep pushing through, things will turn up. Every time.
The best news of all is that it WILL get easier over time. And that’s a promise. I don’t know whether it’s because you get desensitized from being constantly stressed or whether you develop better coping mechanisms and more effective practices. I hope it’s mostly the latter, but it could be a little mix of both. So, from one teacher-mom to the next: don’t worry, you’ve got this!