Working a Double Shift: 5 Tips for Finding Balance as a Teacher Mom
Written by Theresa Engel-Wood, University of Calgary Research Assistant
The irony of my writing this post is not lost on me.Tweet
I sit here holding a sleeping, sick toddler in one arm, trying to write this blog entry with a deadline of Dec. 23 – the last day of teaching before the break, one week after I’ve finished my MEd coursework, and two days before Christmas.
Working moms and burnout? I am a reluctant expert.
A survey conducted in 2022 by the Canadian Women’s Foundation found that nearly half of working moms are experiencing burnout related to balancing their workplace and home responsibilities. Almost 70% said that they do more to manage their children’s comings and goings than do their husbands. When it comes down to it, mothers are working two full-time jobs: the first shift being their paid employment, and the second being caregiving, with about double the number of caregiving hours reported compared to fathers. (Read more at https://canadianwomen.org/the-mother-rising/)
Not so much.
Since the 1980s, the message to women is that we can “have it all”. A successful career, tidy home, dinner on the table, kids in fashionable (and clean) clothes, taking care of sick babies, getting the kids to their activities, volunteering at school, and arranging amazing birthday parties. A study found that women who feel the pressure to be the “perfect mother” have increased chances of burnout related to increased anxiety and to increased efforts to avoid making mistakes as a mother (Meeussen and Van Laar, 2018).
And teacher moms? Don’t forget that you also have to (and want to) love and support each and every one of your “kids” at school. You are an untrained/reluctant psychologist, nurse, mediator, cheerleader, coach, and event planner.
After dropping off my crying son at daycare, I found myself comforting one of my students at school. Not being there for my son so I can be there for my students – it’s hard to reconcile.(Cheryl, grade one teacher)
Talk about mother guilt.
But there is also teacher guilt created by moral stress and injury. Am I spending enough time at school preparing engaging activities? Am I decorating my room so that it is welcoming and warm? Am I doing everything that I can to help my students succeed?
I feel like my worth as a teacher is measured by how much time and energy I devote to my students. Anything less than giving 100% means that I just don’t care enough. .(Karen, grade 3 teacher)
I had a colleague say to me, “I don’t know how you do it all.” My reply was, “I don’t”.
Here are 5 tips that have helped me to find some balance as a teacher mom:
#1: Leave school at school…and leave school!
There will always be more to do. There will always be something that you could do just that much better. So, give it your all at school. But leave it behind when you go home. I work through my recesses so that I can leave that much earlier. And when I do leave, my school bag stays at school. I was just carrying the same materials back and forth anyway. No more! And no answering emails in the evening, either!
#2. Family is # 1 – and that includes you!
How does the saying attributed to Jet Li go? “If you died today, your job will be posted tomorrow, so take care of yourself.”? Sounds callous, but it’s true. You may be highly valued at work, but you are replaceable. Your family is your world. You are your family’s world. Work to keep it that way. Carve out time to make traditions, memories, and just enjoy everyday life. Find little moments to meet your needs too. I’ve only started to accept the reality that if I can’t do my 10 k run everyday, it is perfectly fine to sneak in a half hour every few days. Down the road, there will be a time when I can devote more time to me, but a little time each day goes a long way.
#3. Learn to say no.
Teachers are giving. They want to help students succeed. You are asked to join a committee, coach after school activities, or take on a new project, and it’s hard to say no when it’s for the benefit of others you care about. The problem is that when you take on more, something’s got to give.
Educators are great at teaching students how to develop healthy boundaries. We are really bad at doing it ourselves. You aren’t a selfish, non-team player if you say no. You are a person who cares about their health, family life, and quality of life and makes decisions to protect that. No one else is going to do it for you.
#4. Drop the ball.
Yes, you have proven to be a master juggler, but you don’t have to be. Maybe on crazy hair day, your child doesn’t get the custom coiffure that you had planned. Maybe it’s not the right time to run for parent council. Decide which balls will shatter if you drop them and which are more likely to bounce or just roll to the side, and dial back your juggling game from six balls to three.
#5. Work smarter, not harder.
I’ve gotten really good at determining what is crucial, what is fluff, and what is the way to get the biggest bang for the smallest output. Recently, I organized a gingerbread theme day for my class. Donations of cookies and decorating supplies, free, no-prep activities, and an older student to help guide the activities for the day (and help with clean-up) were key. My job? Yes, I planned it all – during recess, I hasten to add – but my focus for the day was being with my kids and enjoying all things gingerbread. I had a low-stress, fun day and left school without feeling exhausted or harried.
Not sure if you’re experiencing burnout as a mother? Try this research-based parental burnout assessment at burnoutparental.com, create by Roskam et al. (2018). Your results will include practical ways to cope and to deal with burnout to help you get back to where you want to be.
Canadian Women’s Foundation (2022). https://canadianwomen.org/the-mother-rising/
Meeussen, L., & Van Laar, C. (2018). Feeling Pressure to Be a Perfect Mother Relates to Parental Burnout and Career Ambitions. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2113–2113. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02113
Roskam, I., Brianda, M.-E., & Mikolajczak, M. (2018). A Step Forward in the Conceptualization and Measurement of Parental Burnout: The Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 758–758. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00758