For people outside the teaching world, it might seem that teaching would be an ideal, even easy, career for someone starting a family. Unfortunately, in many ways, it’s not. Both of these roles are incredibly exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong: I treasure being a teacher. I love my students fiercely and show up for them both in school and out. Seeing my students light up when they finally learn a new skill from an engaging lesson will never get old. In fact, it’s moments like that that brought me back to the classroom after I had my twins, despite reservations and questions I had about the work-life balance. I knew it was going to be tough, but I had no idea how deeply it would test me. It was then—in that transition back to the classroom after becoming a mom—that I realized work boundaries were more important than ever.
Teaching without boundaries can feel a lot like wading in a rough part of the ocean. You might get a good workout at first, but eventually, if you’re not careful, you will fatigue and be vulnerable to the undertow. I want to be a loving teacher and a loving mom without feeling like I’m drowning.
It’s important to note that I did not develop these boundaries overnight. It’s a list that is constantly evolving depending on where I’ve been in my career as well as changes in my personal life. This year, in particular, when demands of teachers have skyrocketed as support is spread thin, I have been changing them quite a bit so that I can be the best mom I can be to my toddlers and the teacher that my students deserve. Here are the boundaries and guidelines I’m currently operating under:
The 7 Teacher-Mom Boundaries I Live By
- During my contract hours, I’m all in. I give myself 30 minutes before school starts and 30 minutes after for tasks related to teaching that I can’t fit in during the workday (a game-changer: writing to-do lists with the tasks in order of priority). I learned to accept that I wouldn’t always complete the checklist and to break bigger tasks into more manageable chunks over time.
- Maximize time to connect with family. I do this in a variety of ways. I use my commute to call my mom, dad, grandmother, and friends. That way, when I’m home, I can focus on my husband and kids. During my lunch break, I mentally plan for some simple, fun activity I can do with my kids that evening. It might be a walk to the mailbox (very exciting around my house), pushing them on swings in our backyard, or sharing a cup of Cheerios over an episode of Thomas the Train.
- I don’t work on weekends, breaks, holidays, or during my 30-minute lunch. This is my time to recharge, and I treasure it. My mentor teacher once told me that you need to be “mama bear protective” of your private time, and I’ve realized how crucial this is for creating sacred spaces where I can. I also look forward to the 30 minutes at lunch each day where I can scroll my phone and eat. (Pro-tip: I’ve started eating school lunch, and it’s not bad! I’m no longer burning out on cold teacher food or breaking my brain trying to come up with lunches for myself. This small change has let me have one less thing to worry about.)
- I limit my phone use while I am home. When I’m engaged in family time, I avoid scrolling on my phone. If my kids are happily playing with each other (one of the more delightful aspects of having twins) or they’re tucked in bed and I’ve got a moment to relax, sure. But for me, even though my phone can be a good way to disconnect from my stresses of the day, that can often come at the price of disconnecting from my family.
- I give myself grace. Lots of grace. Especially when it comes to feeling guilty. I forgive myself when I drop the ball at work or home. I focus on what I did do right, and I dwell in those moments. Because, friends, if you only focus on your shortcomings, you will drown in the waves of guilt.
- My family always comes first. Period. I’ve learned that even though teacher guilt can feel overwhelming at times, and even though being a teacher is one of the highest honors, ultimately, this is a job. The school will still run without me. School years will end. My students will have new teachers and new opportunities to learn. I will still be my children’s mom whether or not I’m a teacher, which means they and my husband have to come first.
- I recognize the importance of self-care and relationship care. For me, this can look like massages once a month, reading a good book while getting a pedicure, creating intentional time to connect with my husband or friends, or even just making space to breathe. It can be hard to remember your personhood outside of being a parent and a teacher, but it’s absolutely crucial to recharge.
Boundaries are so important, but so is the notion that they can change. Of course, there are days when something comes up, and you have to negotiate or work around it. That’s OK. This is where the “give yourself grace” comes in.
I don’t know what my boundaries will look like in the future (this is, after all, my first time raising twins). But I do know what is non-negotiable: family first and no guilt allowed.