Teaching and Parenting…a Delicate Dance

Confessions of a Teaching Parent

I remember when I first began teaching at the age of 22, my mentor teacher told me, “Teaching will make you a better parent and being a parent will make you a better teacher.” The wisdom of these words has stayed with me.

When I had my first child, I realized my time in the classroom had armed me with many of the tools I would need as a mother. I was calm in moments of crisis, I did not hover but rather encouraged my children to be independent and explore, and I was used to dealing with the demands of kids. These tools were even more valuable when my second child was born and I became a busy mother of two.  

As much as teaching helped me to smoothly transition to motherhood, it is my work as a parent that has made me a more compassionate, flexible and patient teacher. Having small children at home–a 6 and 8-year old–is a constant reminder that kids are kids. And kids today are juggling a lot. My own children are already playing soccer, practicing the piano, attempting to balance their activities with the daily homework and reading requirements for school. I love that my kids are beginning to find their way in the world and gravitating to activities they enjoy, but I’ve struggled to find a balance between my work as a parent, my work as a teacher, and my own individual passions.

In the day to day mania of my life, there is very little time for me. My days fly by in a blur of driving the kids to school, working, making dinner, cleaning up, packing lunches, lesson planning, and grading. There are moments when I wonder when life will slow down enough for me to have time for me.

I daydream about mornings when I can wake up slowly, enjoy an uninterrupted cup of coffee, and allow my mind to wander. I image that in those moments the thoughts that are unconsciously shelved because I’m “too busy” will bubble to the surface and take shape. Yet, those slow mornings feel far away as I write this.

I am writing this blog because the lack of balance in my own life has left me feeling exhausted. I want to remind my readers, many of whom are also working parents, to strive to carve out time for you. This is advice I freely give but struggle to make a reality in my own life. It is something I continue to work on and it deserves my time and attention.

Our work as parents raising kind, curious, and confident children capable of navigating the world around them and teaching the next generation of engaged, thoughtful, and innovative students is work that demands we also nurture ourselves. Without nurturing ourselves as creative individuals, we will not have the energy or inspiration to do our best work at home or in the classroom.

Being a mother is the most wonderfully exhausting work I will ever do.

Being a mother is the most wonderfully exhausting work I will ever do.

If you are a parent who teaches and has strategies you employ to nurture yourself despite the chaos of life, please post a comment and share them! I’d love to learn from the wisdom of other educators. If you are, like me, struggling to find your balance and want to share your story, I welcome those comments too. Sometimes it’s nice to just share our experiences as human beings attempting to make our way in the world.

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28 Responses to Teaching and Parenting…a Delicate Dance

  1. Ellie says:

    Caitlin,
    With a six- and a nine-year old at home, plus a full-time job teaching English, I am right there with you. The “me” time is hardest to carve out, and I’m constantly coming up with new ways to take a breather: a walk around campus in the middle of the school day; a weekend run early in the morning before breakfast duties begin; a trip to the gym on a Friday evening. I also *need* to be able to read for at least 15-20 mins each night something that is not school related, and I often do that while my son reads his own bedtime book (he no longer wants to be read aloud to–at least not much).
    Like you, I think about teaching and parenting all the time, and I find that the two frequently overlap. I am better at each of them because of the other, but I am also more tired because I am doing both. On bad days when I think about quitting teaching in order to focus exclusively on parenting, I remind myself that: 1. my kids benefit from seeing me do something I love and 2. when the children are out of the house, my life will be that much richer for having my “kids” in school. I know that it makes sense to teach and parent simultaneously, but yes, some days feel better, more balanced than others.

    • Hi Ellie,

      Reading your comment made me smile. It was a reminder that I am not alone in this struggle to find balance. I, too, try to carve out “stolen moments” for myself. Some weeks I am more successful than others. I love yoga and would be happier if I did yoga more often. It’s one of the rare activities I do that allows me to escape from my own mind for a bit.

      I appreciate your comment about how important it is for your kids to see you doing something you love. I wholeheartedly agree! I want my kids to know how rewarding it is to pursue a career you’re passionate about. I feel that way about education and hope to model that love of my work for them.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and strategies.

      Catlin

    • Erica W says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. The part you wrote about thinking about quitting teaching resonated with me, because I too feel that way at times when I come home exhausted from teaching Kindergarten and have little energy for my own family. But, you have good points about the modeling we’re showing our kids about doing what we love and making a difference in children’s lives. My daughter (who’s going into 2nd grade) loves the idea that now she’ll be older than my students and can come in to help (when her school isn’t in session). Catlin-thank you for sharing your story as well.

      • Hi Erica,

        I can’t imagine teaching elementary. They have so much energy and need so much from you both physically and emotionally. I can imagine you are drained when you come home. It will be fun for your daughter to come into your classroom to help!

        I wish you luck with the balance. It’s an ongoing challenge for me. Some days I feel more successful than others at balancing the various parts of my life.

        Catlin

  2. Ilse says:

    Catlin,
    Thank you for sharing this. As a parent of two kids the exact same ages as yours, I am right there with you. I long for those meandering weekend days and wish I could tell my younger self to enjoy and appreciate those more than I did! I think we go through cycles of balance — sometimes I find the scales tip heavily toward the teaching side of things and then I purposefully tip them toward the parenting side. It’s definitely not easy. I have to remind myself that I will be a better parent and teacher if I take care of myself first. Sleep is priority, but in busy times it’s often what gets affected first. And exercise, which gets harder as daylight get shorter now, is a second priority. During really tough weeks, I pick one day to leave school as soon as I can and either go home and go for a run or walk (or sometimes a short nap) before I pick up my kids. It gives me the energy and fresh perspective to get through the evening and be present with them. Even so, the balance is hard to find!

  3. Kevin says:

    My advice is avoid that time for yourself unless it’s with your kids. As my daughter is now a teenager and my wife and are aren’t so fun for her anymore. I don’t regret spending that time on her rather than myself, I regret those few times I could have spent with her but didn’t for whatever reasons, tired, overworked, etc. At 13 I only have a few years left where I will see her everyday and I will have more than enough time for myself.

    The thoughts I had of quitting came far more from the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy at school more than anything else. Since I couldn’t prevent what additional work the school would throw at me, I started reducing my own number of assessments and assignments so that I took work home very rarely. A VLE helped this by allowing basic knowledge checks to be performed by the student at home or in after school study. It also helps to have all the content for kids who are sick missing etc, they can get the coursework and what they missed there. Basically I try to shave a minute off my workday in as many ways as possible. Having all my units preplanned helped. I don’t take summer as a full holiday and put in 2-3 hours a day during most days to pre plan units and assignments for the coming year. It took a few years to get that down but well worth it and I spend less time during summers now. I’ve also had to lean how to both sit on my hands and learn to say no which I’m arguably still not very good at. I always had the though of if I’m not helping for things, the kids might miss out but it turns out saying no once in a while doesn’t stop the world and they find a way to do things without me.

    Hope it works out. Somehow we chose one of the most difficult, stressful, and ultimately low salary/education jobs in the world that is always slammed in the news but, at the end of the day, we get to work with kids which are far better to work with than adults.(In my opinion)

  4. Becca says:

    Your blog post could not come at a better time! It really resonated with me as I just told my husband last night that I feel like I haven’t even talked to him in a few weeks, besides the instant messages or texts checking to see who is getting the kids, making dinner, etc. I am feeling this exhaustion as well. My children, 6 and 8, are busy with activities, homework and I feel like sometimes I am missing out too. I teach English and coach a varsity sport at my school, so often I am gone till late in the evening. This week has been awful with the end of the quarter and I am a peer coach, so I have had observations and post observations to complete as well as required professional development meetings before school. Thank goodness for my husband, as he truly is a rockstar and supports my passion of coaching volleyball! Often times I think I need to quit coaching, but then he reminds me how much I love it, and how the kids need to see me passionate about my career.
    What I have found really helps is morning exercise. It sometimes is a struggle to get up at 4:30 a.m. but I have never regretted a workout. My husband and I have made that a priority and it has really made the difference. If I skip a day, I can really tell. I am “short” with my children and students, and I generally just feel off. I made a new friend at the gym, her and I were always there at the same time, so we have built a relationship. She is a teacher as well, so it is nice to spend that time with someone who understands the demands of our profession.
    In the evenings we try to do something as a family after homework and household chores. I know that the time when my kids want to hang out with me will be gone soon enough so we really try to make that a priority. Sometimes we go to the community center and swim, or take a walk. Other times we play a board game or even just all sit together and watch a show the kids like (putting our devices down:)
    Making time for exercise and family makes me take a moment to realize that through all the craziness, life is pretty good.
    – oh and I should add – I hired a cleaning lady – that was the BEST decision ever to give me time back in the week 🙂
    Hang in there!!

  5. Nicole says:

    Catlin, you are speaking my language right now. My son is 3 1/2, and I teach 6th graders, so basically my entire day is spent with needy, moody, egocentric humans who talk back and don’t appreciate anything I do for them. Combine that with the fact that I’m trying to be an innovative, effective teacher who is often reinventing the CCSS wheel. There are some nights where I’m just so mentally and physically exhausted that I wonder if I’m doing something wrong, that it shouldn’t be this hard.

    I find “me” time on the weekends, where I go roam Target by myself for an hour or so. Lately I’ve been meditating with my students at the start of each period (using guided meditation apps or calm.com) to help remind us all to stay focused and grounded. I try to extend my meditation practice to the calm of 5:30 in the morning when I’m the only one awake and I’m sitting in my dark living room with my coffee before my crazy day begins.

    If you find the magic antidote (besides “summer vacation”) let me know!

  6. Janelle says:

    Hi Catlin! As a mom of three — 8, 6, & 3 — who also teaches high school English at a demanding college prep school, I identify completely with this post. Being a parent has made me a more empathetic teacher. Being a teacher has made me a more exhausted parent! I never realized that I’m introverted until I had three kids & felt what a challenge it is to “be on” and have no time to myself until 8 or 8:30 pm. Other than prioritizing exercise time to keep me healthy & time to connect with my husband when we can actually have a conversation longer than six words, the thing that helps me embrace the chaos is reminding myself each day that when I do eventually get to those elusive days of sitting in peace sipping coffee and reading for pleasure, I am certain I will deeply miss the energy of a house filled with little kids. Keeping that in mind enables me to better appreciate how crazy my days are now — on campus and at home. Hang in there. You are doing a phenomenal job!

  7. A.Marie says:

    Thank you for opening up and sharing your joys of parenting and teaching as well as your trials and tribulations. I find that when I was a young teacher, I took more time to enjoy myself and force myself to relax. I used to take a day off just for me and go shopping, eat at a nice restaurant, and engage in activities just for me. I remember my husband used to give me a hard time and told me that I would need those days one day. When we had our children, I never had enough days.

    Fast forward…While pregnant with our second child, I worked at an inner city school and was under tremendous stress and scrutiny to take kids from below average to exceptional. I did not have a balance or an outlet. When I delivered my son, he had a knot in his cord and immediately I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. My son survived and is 8 now. I believe my heart went into overdrive to give my son the oxygen ands blood he needed to survive. That experience was a result of imbalance and not taking time for me.

    Today, as a wife, mother of two, and teacher, I take a day off for me whenever I feel the need. Also, after my children go to bed, I take a candlelit bath in epsom salts twice weekly and exercise. In addition, occasionally, before I go home, if I feel tense, I take myself out to dinner prior to picking up my children. When we get home, I am calm and relaxed.

  8. Mary says:

    Catlin- your blog has inspired and formed my teaching for over four years – and now I can let you inspire my parenting too! I’ve been a teacher for 8 years and a mom for 19 months. Whew. I am no expert at either. I do feel the absolute mandate to have time to myself to do the things I love. (I went to the dentist alone yesterday, which was lovely, but it doesn’t count!) For me, what works is scheduling the time on a regular basis. I have absolutely no clue what it means to have two kids in elementary school, but for having a toddler, I take Sunday afternoons. Every Sunday from about 2-6 is Mom time. Dad is in charge, and we work out whether I’m at home or out, but he is elsewhere with our girl. Right now this works for our family. I really want to applaud you for bringing this up on the blog. Working with children, whether a teacher or a parent, is draining work that asks everything of us. It really is true that we need to “put on our own oxygen masks” in order to be of any use to those we serve. I’m so glad you raised this issue on your blog.

  9. Hi i love your blog. Sounds like you are a great mom and teacher. I use to volunteer with preschools and head start. i have two kids one has autism the other has selective mute. I Always thought about doing something with kids maybe preschool or kindergarten maybe be a teachers aid because i just love children they are my life. i live with ms and fibromyalgia on top of caring for twi special. kids. if i went back to school. to become. a teacher i get worried one of my kids will need me like if my autistic daughter had emergency at school then i would have to leave school or my job to help her. So i don’t know if working in a school if they would be flexible if i had to be with my kids if any of them needed me. i also take care of another autistic kid as mom needs me and watch three other kids as needed and always do activities with them that are creative and i volunteer with classes every chance i get. i know my passion is kids. just trying to figure where to go with it. i admire all the teachers who do all they do for my kids and other kids. i have ben doing random kindness for teachers a lot lately. i have one daughter who loves technology science art so i always support her and my autistic daughter loves reading. You are a great mom and teacher. beautiful kids. take care : )

    • Thank you, Kelly. Hearing everyone else’s stories really helps me to put my own life into perspective. So, I appreciate you sharing!

      I’m sure the teachers who are on the receiving end of your random acts of kindness appreciate it more than you know.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  10. Thank you for sharing your struggles Catlin! I know that I am not alone in the work-life balance challenge, but it helps to have something like this to show my husband! I don’t have too much advice, however, my children are a little older (9,12,14,20) so here are a few things that have made the struggle less painful:

    1. Husbands have to share the child-rearing duties! My husband makes all the school lunches, I do weekday afternoon carpool, he does weekend duty. It’s pretty 50-50 now…which maybe wasn’t the case at first—but the duties do get more intense as the kids get older so there is time to work on the home duty balance in the next few years.

    2. Everyone does their own laundry!!! My children don’t have set chores, but there is an expectation that everyone will pitch in as needed and when time allows them. My daughter with a big science test coming up might be off the hook one night during dinner clean up, but she’ll do extra when she can. But the laundry is huge! When they are little I help with the putting away, but 6 year olds can put clothes in the washer, move to dryer and back to bin easily.

    3. Include the children in your work life. When my children were little I would bring them to school at least one day each year. It’s hard as a child to hear “I’m too busy” when you ask your Mom for something and she has a pile of essays to grade. It helps if the children understand when they know your students.

    When my children got to HS age, I would run lesson ideas by them or ask their advice. They also sometimes help me record grades or cut out materials for a lesson. Also, they are way more likely to tell me what they are learning in their classes after I tell them what I’m doing in mine! Advantage teacher-parents!

    • Hi Mary Lou,

      Thank you for the comment! It sounds like you and your husband have found an effective workload balance. My husband is also a hands-on dad, so that’s helpful. He does all the laundry, but I agree that is an area that kids can get involved in early. I remember doing countless loads of laundry as a kid. I want to get my kids involved in helping “the community of us” as they get older. I look forward to giving them a dinner night each week where they cook and learn those skills.

      I love your comment about including the kids in my work. It would be interesting for them to see that side of my life. I teach, train teachers, speak at events, and write. All of those activities take time, but they see very little of it. It would be valuable for them to have a better understanding of what mommy is doing when I am away at work.

      Take care!

      Catlin

  11. Anthony Maceli says:

    Catlin,
    You are pretty amazing. My comment is not really related to this post, but I had to post something here. I’m a music teacher in Westchester County, NY and I am a technology liaison in my district. I am preparing to work with our English department on integrating technology in an English classroom and your blog is a gold mine. Thank you greatly for all your insights, experiences, and enriching content.
    Would love to collaborate sometime on how we could integrate music and English (I teach band, College Music Theory, and a Rock-Band type class called Experiencing Music). Would be interesting to see how you might mix content.

    Best,

    Anthony

    • Hi Anthony,

      Your comment is coming at such a perfect time! I am actually looking into transitioning next year into teaching a 9/10 English class with a music focus. Our school is set up so that an English, history, and science teacher work together and share the same population of students. Many of the cores have themes or areas of focus. I’d like to write a program for a music focus. If I’m able to get it passed, I’ll be in touch. It would be wonderful to connect on that front.

      I appreciate your comment!

      Catlin

  12. Manuel Trenchs Mola says:

    Catlin, what you learn as a parent I believe then you can use it as a teacher.
    I think the better parent you are the greater teacher you are too
    My best wishes and thank you for your sharing teach ideas.
    Take care of your family

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  14. April Bailey says:

    I just came across this post via Twitter and enjoyed reading it and all the comments. Thank you! I am a middle school math and science teacher who also teaches algebra to high school students who struggle with math (rural school so we wear many hats). I am also a wife and mother of four, ages 3-16. I try to get enough sleep and remember I am showing my children that I believe it is important to try and make a difference in the lives of others. I am lucky to have my school aged kids at my school, so after school while I still need to work they can paint, play with play-doh, etc. in my classroom. We are together. I have also accepted I cannot do it all every day. Baths start at 7:00 with lots of books read and quality down time before bed.

  15. Ellie Pojarska says:

    April, hats off to you!!!

  16. Jenn Blalock says:

    High school math teacher, 3 children 2,6,8 drowning, exhausted, overwhelmed, always late, rushing, trying to squeeze in new initiatives and feeling behind. So hard to juggle it all. Every where I turn this year every teacher I know is saying the same story. A group of teachers started a 10 minute mediation with an open invitation for all before school. That is sometimes nice. I also listen to what I want to (not kid programs) on my drive in and out. But I do find myself prioritizing family time especially around the dinner table. But the more I spend with family, the more guilty I feel for not getting planning or grading done. Then feeling guilty if I do school work and let my kids zone in front of tablets and tv. Often times I try to spend time with family and I set my alarm for 3am to grade, it’s exhausting and some times I hit the snooze a million times not getting up but getting poor sleep in an attempt to get more sleep…. and end up not grading either. It’s all a vicious cycle. Many say you’ll feel better if you exercise, but when? 10pm after kids go to sleep lunches are packed and dishes cleaned up, or 2am before grading…. Crazy.
    You are not alone.

  17. I changed as a teacher after having my twins. I readjusted my expectations of myself and my students. With two 11 year olds I struggle with balance. It’s too easy to give the best of myself to my job leavingbthw tired, cranky teacher for my family. I get up really early just to have some quiet time where I can read or make art. I’ve also become more understanding of parents who struggle with their kids. My son is stubborn and reluctant reader/learner. His teachers have looked at me as a teacher wondering why I can’t fix him. So when I talk to my students’ parents I get their struggle.

    • I love your comment about readjusting your expectations, Emily. I absolutely agree. I feel like I also became more realistic and empathetic in my interactions with students and their parents.

      Catlin

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  19. Debbie says:

    Catlin,
    First, I want you to know that I read your posts and find them very helpful. I am a Language Arts teacher and a mom. Even though my sons are 19 & 15 I can relate to your struggle of juggling your time. My personal experience has taught me that I have to find time for myself and ask for help when I need it. Also, I learned to accept that I will not be perfect in all areas of my life all the time. Once I accepted that truth I was not as stressed and learned to give myself a break.
    Best wishes,
    Debbie

    • Hi Debbie,

      The parenting work/life balance is tough. I have not carved out that space for myself. I’ve read so much about self-care lately and know I need to continue working on that.

      I also struggle with the burden of wanting to be the best parent, educator, wife, etc. that I can be. I know perfection isn’t attainable, or even a healthy goal, but I push myself extremely hard. I wish I could just be more gentle with myself. Maybe as my kids get older, I will mellow out on that front. Here’s hoping!

      Catlin

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