There it is, creeping up again. That painful feeling of not doing enough for your students. That even more terrible feeling of not being there for your children at home. Not giving enough. Not working hard enough. Not being enough.
It’s the dreaded, constant agony of Teacher Mom (or Teacher Dad) guilt. And if you’re anywhere on the spectrum of a good caregiver and a good teacher, chances are you feel that guilt all too often. It can consume us, bringing on feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression. It can squash our feelings of self-worth and happiness.
Well, I’m here to tell you, standing on top of my teacher desk with bags under my eyes and my third cup of coffee in hand:
Stop with the guilt. Stop with the anxiety, the frustration, the beating yourself up.
Are you exhausted? You darn well should be. You have the two most important jobs in the world. And you happen to be good at both.
There you are, pretty much wearing your invisible superhero cape, juggling lesson plans and grading and duties and meetings and homework and sports practices and breakfasts and lunches and dinners and appointments and baths and diaper changes and tooth brushing and emails and grocery shopping and………. (this might take awhile.)
The truth is, being a Teacher Mom or Dad is NOT easy. I’ve been teaching for 12 years, and I’ve been a momma for 5 of those years. They’ve been the most difficult, most stressful, most exhausting, most joyous, and most rewarding years of my life.
NOTE: I wrote this post based on my personal experiences as a married teacher mom of two littles. Single moms and dads…I know that your struggles stretch far beyond the tips below and your superhero capes very rarely (if ever) get taken off. You are a remarkable gift to both your children and students. I pray that you will persevere through this year and have a much-needed support system of family and friends.
Are you creeping on Suzy’s Facebook again? Maybe admiring her gorgeous new home and toned arms and third trip to the Bahamas this year? Oh, look! She made an entire St. Patrick’s Day themed lunchbox for her child! And her kids’ Halloween costumes are totally handmade. And her Thanksgiving place settings look just like a Pottery Barn magazine.
You are not Suzy. And social media is not reality. Do I need to remind you again about your superhero cape? You are enough. Stop comparing yourself to others with completely different circumstances and realities. Put your phone down and look up to see the blessings right in front of you. (Read that again.) Go play in the back yard with your children. Be silly with your students. Be in the moment. Looking back on this life, the spontaneous, real moments with your family and students are what will bring you joy and fulfillment.
You know what my children love to eat more than anything else? Stouffer’s boxed lasagna. Yep. Not our family recipe of sausage and shrimp jambalaya. Not my mushroom asiago chicken Pinterest recipe. Not my 20 ingredient chicken tortilla soup. From August to May, we are in survival mode at the Brown household. That means easy dinners, easy plans, something that can be prepped lightning fast, and something my children will actually eat. Is it easier for you plan out and prep meals on Sundays for the week? Go for it! Does the thought of writing out a meal plan give you anxiety? Then, let it go. Two glorious things that have saved my sanity over the past year are Amazon Prime and Walmart online grocery orders. Busy caregivers don’t have time to be running to the store every other day and ordering online is something I can do on my phone in waiting rooms and on the go. The point is, you have to do what is best and most convenient for you and your family. That means that there’s nothing wrong with ordering pizza or going through the drive through on gymnastics night (and maybe the night after that too.)
And while we’re discussing headaches at home, let’s go ahead and touch on the joys of housekeeping and laundry: the two neverending beasts in our household. Keeping the house from looking like it was bombed is a family responsibility, and cannot and should not fall completely on your shoulders. As soon as your children are old enough, require them to pitch in, and make a partnership with your significant other to do the same. My husband and I have an understanding that family duties might not always be equal, but when the other asks for help, we are a team. Sometimes we even high five after we finally get the kids in bed just for making it through another day. I’m thinking matching jerseys might be next.
I remember the days when I was on three different school committees and two district committees. I used to go to my students’ sporting events and dance recitals on the weekends. I tutored after school almost every day. I used to attend two weeks of professional development workshops almost every summer.
Things are different now. And the day may come when I have time to return to those commitments. But not now. Not when I have a five year old and almost two year old who need their momma, and need to go home and rest and play. Not when I have to run my daughter to dance practice and get dinner thrown together. Not when I have two birthday parties and a soccer games planned for this weekend.
Saying no to extra school responsibilities was extra painful for me at first. I wanted to contribute more, to be perceived as a school leader and a go-getter, to demonstrate my commitment to my students and my work. (Cue the teacher guilt.) However, most teacher moms and dads, regardless of the age of their children, have walked in your shoes and have done the same. They understand that your weekends are even more precious and packed full than ever before. They understand that you only have a few hours to spend with your children before they go to bed. The most important work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own home. That means that it’s okay to say no, to leave your teacher bag in the car, and let it wait until Monday. Say no, be at peace, and go home to your family.
If you ask your former students what they remember most about your classroom, did any of them talk about your bulletin boards? How about your color-coded classroom library? Did any of them mention that their papers were always graded within 24 hours? Probably not.
Years of teaching have shown me that you can be a stellar, committed, loving, innovative teacher without closing down the school. You can be a great teacher without letting it consume your personal life. You can be a great teacher without a Pinterest worthy classroom. You can be a great teacher without laminating and color-coding everything in sight. The most valuable gift you can give to your students (and own children, for that matter) is your relationship with them and time spent with them. All that extra “fluff” that you throw your precious time and energy into will likely go unnoticed.
If you’re anything like me, you might wait until far too late to ask for help with anything. I’m typically on the verge of a mental and emotional breakdown, attempting to keep all my plates spinning, and then one by one, the plates start to fall and I end up snapping at one of my family members or throwing myself a tearful pity party. As an added bonus, this often happens around busy holidays, parent teacher conferences, when one or both of my kids are sick, or state testing.
Teacher caregivers have to learn to hang up our superhero cape, swallow hard, and give ourselves grace. We must ask for help, from our colleagues, from our spouse or significant other, and from friends and family members when we need it most. Whether it be a load of laundry, a nap, a diaper change, wrapping presents, or emergency sub plans, just ask, and do your best to return the favor during a time when they might need it most.
This is a REALLY important one for Teacher Moms and Dads when it comes to our communication with students’ parents. When we have our own children at home, we can no longer answer 20 parent emails in the evenings and hold lengthy meetings after school. My teacher friends had great suggestions to set boundaries at the very beginning of the school year during your Curriculum Night or Back to School Night. Share with your students’ parents that you are also a busy parent in your evenings, and will do your best to return emails during school hours and within 24 hours. Start off the year at the pace you are willing to keep up, and that means establish habits for parent communication that are manageable and healthy for you and your family.
I saved this one for last, because I’ll bet you just rolled your eyes after reading it.
Time for ME?! Righhhhhht. What’s that?!
Believe me, I hear ya! We are always last on our own list, or not even on our list at all. Cue feelings of depression and low self-worth. If possible, this is when your significant other or family member needs to be your partner or support system, and needs to give you that precious gift of time…to go take a hot bath, get that pedicure, meet the girls for a quick happy hour, or go wander around Hobby Lobby by yourself. Even better?! Schedule that you time in, just like a doctor’s appointment. WRITE IT ON YOUR TO DO LIST, and make it a priority.
And while we’re on the subject of YOU time, that also goes for time alone with your husband or significant other. Truthfully, I can’t even have a conversation with my husband these days while the kids are around. And don’t even get me started on the nightmare that is taking our youngest out to dinner. (Just picture an entire cup of queso splattered all over the poor table next to us.) Couple time must be a priority, right up there with you time. It must be scheduled, and on your to-do list.
Whether it is a scheduled date night with a baby sitter or relaxing time on the back patio after the kids are in bed, make it happen. It is crucial for your happiness and mental health.
So tell me, which one of the seven tips are you going to try out?
We’re in this together, Teacher Moms and Dads.
Capes on. Another dose of caffeine. Let’s survive another day.