Babies and school – how to find balance

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I haven’t posted a lot lately because I have had my first baby in July. She is definitely the best thing that has ever happened to me. However she is also the biggest challenge I have faced. It is more than the challenge of taking care of a tiny little person who is totally dependent on you round the clock. For me the biggest challenge has been adjusting to how I define myself and how I will find a work life balance.

I have always identified myself through my work, especially my work ethic. I pride myself in being able to dedicate 500% of myself to my students. This has meant long hours of work after school and on weekends to create the best learning opportunities and resources for my students. I pride myself in being able to juggle multiple roles. In addition to my roles at school, I also worked with UTS, UNSW and Microsoft. I rarely said no to any opportunities that came before me. Even before the baby arrived other teachers have said I was going to have a nervous breakdown because I was working so much.

And now the baby has arrived, I have realised I can’t continue doing what I did. I now need to say no. So far I have said no to working on the national assessment program for science literacy with UNSW, the summer school program with UTS and presenting in Singapore because I was either physically unable to or doing so will mean I will not be sleeping for months on end. Not saying no will no longer just impact on me, it will now impact on a little person as well. This is something I am really struggling with at the moment. It feels like I’ve lost a part of who I am.

However, the biggest challenge for me will be next year when I return to work full time. Baby will be 6 months. I am already thinking of how I’ll balance work commitments from school, my baby’s needs and my own wellbeing. Some things I have asked myself are:
-When should I do school work? Should I stay at school and finish everything at school? This would mean picking up baby from daycare late and by the time we get home, it will be time to put her to bed. If I pick up baby straight after school, I’ll get more time to spend with her but will I then be doing school work till the early hours of the morning and affecting my own health and wellbeing?
-Will I be able to dedicate myself to my students & my faculty as much as I used to?

I’d like to hear from other teachers who are parents and are already on this journey. What are your advice & tips? How do you balance your passion for teaching with your family’s needs, and your own needs?

30 thoughts on “Babies and school – how to find balance

  1. I haven’t had kids partly because I know I’m too obsessed with teaching. I think if I decided to pop one out, I’d have to give up teaching altogether. I just can’t see any way to give both the attention I think they deserve, so for me it would have to be a choice, I think. But if anyone’s going to find the perfect balance, I know it will be you! Good luck with the journey, and congratulations on the bub!

  2. For me, it’s a continuum! When I went back to work 12 weeks after my first baby, I was most certainly a mediocre teacher, well, compared to the teacher I had been before! Now that she’s almost 2, I certainly don’t spend as much time on school work as I used to, but I feel like I’ve found a balance. Sometimes I devote extra time to students, but I normally give every extra second to my family:) It comes and goes! My advice is to not forget about taking care of yourself. I was the last person on my list for quite some time and that made it difficult to be the best I could for the rest of my list. Prioritize what is important to you, and, hopefully, things will begin to fall into place. Good luck, momma! Remember that you are always doing your best:)

  3. Being a teacher-mum is a challenge. I wasn’t ready to go back to teaching until my baby was 12 months and then when I put her into the childcare environment, she got sick constantly with gastro, chicken pox, colds, etc so I had to take heaps of time off to look after her, so I felt guilty about always being away. Everyone is different and you’ll just have to give it a go and see how it works for you…

    • Hi Hana. I am worried that bubs will continually get sick as well. I’m hoping she’ll be one of those very few kids born with an iron-clad immune system lol. I think I’m just going to have to go with the flow, trial and error and just see what works.

  4. Alice I dipped out. I raised my kids and then went back to teaching and then only part time. Now I am spending time with grandchildren. I see my colleagues doing the balancing act very well but usually with the help of supportive partners and grandparents.

  5. A couple of things that worked for me:

    – introduce concept of ‘me time’ early on; they won’t get it straight away but it helps for them to hear the phrase. i kid you not, when the kids where little, ‘me time’ was being in the bathroom…they’ll talk through the door anyway (and that has its blessings) but eventually they get it as something for you and something for them eventually. ‘me time’ can be spent together, too, e.g. reading books quietly or having a nap together
    – priorities change as circumstances do. as kids grow up, their needs change and so parents adapt. for example, instead of working at end of school day, you could do it when bub falls asleep at 7pm.
    – put on hold/reuse/upcycle what you can because kids change so quickly, e.g. delay studies for a year/sem
    – know that juggling is hard and that while there are bad days, there will be good days – I’m not sure it gets easier either
    – be kind to yourself. sometimes good enough is really good enough.

    I’m sure your students love you not just for the great resources you give them but for the obvious passion for science, teaching and learning that you have. Given a choice, choose fostering relationships vs creating an awesome resource.

  6. Hi Alice, Great to hear you are enjoying motherhood. It is hard to balance work and family commitment, but I feel that it is important to prioritise yourself and family first. If each of the students that we teach are the first priority of their parents we would have a much more positive climate to work in.
    I think that students appreciate teachers that have a life outside of the classroom too.

  7. Congratulations Alice! She is beautiful. You haven’t lost a part of yourself, you have been lucky enough to gain a new “part”. School will always be a huge part of your life and will always be there, but family – that’s the most important thing in the world and not always there – cherish it and spend as much time with them as you can.

  8. Great post Alice. I will be honest. This has always been a struggle for me, particularly in the early years of parenthood. I worked myself into serious illness.

    The hardest part for me was saying no and my biggest lessons were in prioritising. Define who you want to be as a parent and an educator. What are the most important things to you. Write them down & when you are torn between work & family read them & ask yourself, “does this fit my priorities?” You don’t have to do everything. Pick the best things & do them well. This will define you as an educator, not how much you do.

    Small babies change routines regularly. Don’t set hard & fast rules about when & how you work. Set yourself deadlines to stop work. When school is at its most hectic, I set limits on how long I work. I never work past 10pm but find it easier to get up at 4.30am.

    My mantra has become “if you set reasonable limits & it doesn’t get done then it was not humanly possible.” I have also become more efficient.

    You will find your ‘groove’ but prepare for it to shift often. Stop worrying. You will be great.

    • Thanks Graham. I am still trying to decide what is the best time to get to school. Our school starts at 7:30am though so it looks like I’ll have to get there early no matter what.

  9. Hi Alice,
    It’s definitely a juggle but it can be done! I returned to school full-time when my bub was 5 months old. On my first day back, I boarded a plane with a group of students and headed to France for 3 weeks. It was challenging but I have had incredible support from our family and friends along the way.
    I try not to do work at home, except for one day on the weekends. When I collect W from care, I know he will have my undivided attention for the evening. We had to get more organised here at home (planning meals, having more routine) but that has been key. It has to be OK to eat eggs on toast for dinner!! I am learning to say ‘no’ with more gusto and on a number of occasions, I know I’ve made the right decision in putting my family first, over my students.
    I look forward to hearing about how it goes – you’ll be great, I’m sure!
    Cath

  10. It sounds to me like you didn’t have a great work-life balance before bub was born!

    I agree with Jen – you don’t have to say yes to everything and you can still serve your kids well but there is more to life than work. Your kids (and your kid!) deserve the best of you, but not all of you.

    • I don’t think I had any work life balance before the baby either! I would say yes to everything. I think I now have to priortise which means saying no to some things. I have to come to terms to saying no doesn’t make me a less effective, less hardworking educator.

  11. I am a mother of a child with liver disease (and he was bub no 2), and I had a lot of difficulty coping with the illness, work and trying to take care of myself. I learnt a couple of things along the way (particularly after I decided to do Master no 2 and project manage a home Reno whilst on leave). First and foremost, how do you want to remember this time? Will you look back and regret anything? The first years seem like a long time while you’re in them, but are so short when you look back. Second, it helped me to think about my internal dialogue, and change the “I should be doing….” conversations in my head to “I could do….” This helped me to stop putting so much pressure on myself to do absolutely everything, and allow some things to be less important. Work out what works for you, and love every moment of bub’s first years!

    • I think that’s a great point Ruth: Will you look back and regret anything? That’s a great question to ask. For me, I look at my answer in light of the achievements I make in my career, along with providing the best childhood I can for my daughter. I know that I might regret missing some of the key moments with her, though, and being aware of that means that I’m really engaged in spending quality time with her when I can. Whether or I not I would feel this way with baby #2, and be able to work full time with that one as well, is another question. Things change, emotions change and situations change.

  12. Hi Alice, I LOVE your honesty in this post. I’m a director of learning tech, working full time obviously, have a 2 year old (started this job before she turned 2), help run two small businesses and also do my masters part time. I’ve got some advice:
    -There is a huge distinction between a 6 month old and a 1 year old, and again between an 18month old and a 3 year old. They have entirely different needs. At 6 months I could have never imagine working full time, but for me 18 months was a time when I was ready. Don’t be afraid to change your mind about the time you go back, or the hours you do when you go back, if you have a change of heart. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy to just know off the top of your head when the right time to go back full time is, until you’re there with the child at that time and you know what it’s like.
    -you can do what you need, and you can do it well and still have a young child. I’m living proof. BUT, it’s very difficult. Every now and then you miss out on things, and you lose time that you would have otherwise been able to have with them. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do, because you have your own unique reasons for needing to do what you do. My reasons include life satisfaction, happiness, and financial security. You can choose to work hard to have those things while still raising a child, it’s just that you have to accept the guilt and the tiredness and the overwhelming nature of it all.
    -your child is the most important thing. As soon as those benefits of working don’t outweigh the disadvantage of not being with the baby, it’s time to reflect on whether it’s a good idea. When you’re raising your own child, you’re doing work that’s just as important as helping your school students and future generations.
    -it’s ok to be selfish sometimes. It might be time to accept that, despite being able to do it all, you won’t actually work in the same way anymore. You will have key priorities (perhaps 1-2 conference presentations a year, doing everything possible before 5pm and then saying no after that, dedicating family only time on 85% of your weekend time, etc), and this will all be a bit different to what you’re used to.

    • Thanks Catherine for your advice. I think I’m going to see how it goes in term 1 next year and change my work commitments accordingly. Like you said, it’s so hard to predict what it’s going to be like as each person’s situation is unique. So I think I’ll just have to do a wait and see approach.

  13. Hey Alice,

    I have been meaning to reply to you and have now made time!

    Life is a constant juggling act and you need to balance your time according to your priorities. When you become a mum and have a family to care for you cannot operate as you once did. My family always came first and I always worked. I know my kids missed out on things because I couldn’t do everything all the time and you can’t control everything which makes it nearly impossible to anticipate things and try and account for unexpected hiccups. This makes things way harder to control. If your child cannot go to daycare because they are ill and you need to take a week off work to care for them, you then lose the week away from work and your continuum is broken. This destroys your planning and management… Some things like that will happen and as long as you can have a great attitude to why this happens you will be fine. You are one of the finest teachers I have ever known. Your students love you and I am sure you will be able to work out the best method of operation of life/work ….you may not get the best deal (mum’s never do) though. I certainly miss you at work and I look forward to your return. Your children are babies for such a short time, enjoy as many moments as you can…..they are only yours for a whisper of your life. I know you will work out the balance, there will be some compromises but you will succeed.

    Enjoy your family now, and take the flexible approach of devising a plan that will need constant adjusting.

    Jenny πŸ™‚

  14. Pingback: What I wished I knew about returning to work from maternity leave | Alice Leung

  15. Hi Alice, congratulations on the arrival of your gorgeous girl. I hope the new year back at work is going well for you. Like you I’m a science teacher, I also teach mathematics and was running the Mathematics Department at my place of work for the past two years. I’ve just had my second child, a little girl, in mid-September last year.
    While I’m on Maternity Leave, I volunteer for a large community organisation which allows me to use my teacher skills but also allows me to manage my time according to my needs. I also volunteer at my eldest child’s primary school assisting with their literacy skills.
    When I return to work, in a part-time capacity, next year I will continue to volunteer. Volunteer work allows me to have the community/people contact that I need, as well as meeting my need to read scientific literature, and above all allows me to spend time with my children that I couldn’t spend with them when working full time.

    • Hi Sarah. Congratulations on your little girl. I really admire your volunteer work. I don’t think I could’ve balanced taking care of a baby and doing volunteer work during my maternity leave so I take my hat off to you.

  16. Pingback: Speak up – #MentalAs | Alice Leung

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