What can I do to balance my Mama self and my teacher self as I go back to work?

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By: Andrew MaloneCC BY 2.0
I am a preschool teacher getting ready to go back to work full time after a blissful seven months of maternity leave. I love teaching, but at the same time wish I had more time to be at home. I am struggling with all of the feelings that go along with this, anticipating how much I will miss my baby, and being so sad that our special time together is coming to an end.

At several points during my leave, people have asked me, “How will you feel taking care of other people’s children when you’d rather be taking care of your own?” My answer has always been, “Of course I will be sad and miss my baby, but teaching and mothering are not the same thing. My students don’t need me to be their mama, they need me to be their teacher.”

I don’t know if this mindset will feel true or help at all once I am actually back, but it’s been one of the ways I’ve been trying to grapple with this transition. My questions are for the mamas who are also early childhood educators. How did you feel going back to the classroom — what was it like to go from caring for your baby full time to giving your attention to other children? How do you balance these two parts of yourself? — Amy

Comments on What can I do to balance my Mama self and my teacher self as I go back to work?

  1. I’m not an early childhood educator, but I teach high school and have had similar thoughts. When I revisit the idea of staying home, which I do periodically, it always comes down to what I’m choosing for my family. We have chosen for me to provide more opportunities for us that, like it or not, require money. Mothering my children includes choosing quality child care, maximizing the rest of time that I’m with my kids, and all the balancing acts in between. Regardless of the work you do, it’s a choice about your family’s lifestyle, not about whose kids get your daytime hours.

  2. I teach college students, so I think it’s a little different because your baby is young, as well as the kiddos you teach…but I have looked at the daycare that I send my son to as an extension of my tribe…my village. If I think that it takes a village to raise a child, then I get to rest in the knowledge that he will get to develop relationships and grow there in a way that I can’t provide. And then, you, as a teacher of little ones, what a marvelous part of each of those kiddo’s tribe you are! You are part of the village raising those children, even if it’s not in the mama role, and other teachers will be a part of your kiddo’s village helping to raise them up to their fullness. It’s hard, but when I keep coming back to that philosophy for me, it makes it a lot better.

  3. I am an Early Childhood Educator…. I work in a daycare with a preschool component (so some just come for preschool, others are all day). For a while, it didn’t really bother me too too much to leave my child at daycare while I went to work at another daycare. However, recently I have been having a much harder time justifying it, and I think a large part of that is that this coming september I will not be teaching the preschool program (due to a change in shifts/hour availability). I love the preschool part of it (I love it all, but the preschool portion is my favorite) so the fact that I am not working the job that I dreamed could be a big part of that. I am currently looking into other options, either working very part time or, ideally, bringing him to work with me (which would require finding a new job that would be licensed for a younger age group). Finding an awesome daycare/child care provider for your child is so important- he LOVES his daycare and I know he is always safe and enjoys the activities. It has been a bit emotionally challenging, but I know that things will eventually work out. Is there a possibility of you working part-time? Knowing that planning a preschool program can take a lot of time at home too, you might want to cut back somewhat just so that you know you can dedicate time to both your family and your career. People might think it’s a bit strange to teach preschool while your child is in another preschool/daycare (I’ve had many people make comments like that to me), but teaching and mothering aren’t the same thing. Finding the perfect balance might be challenging at first but it will work out! I would be very sad to leave teaching completely as it’s a huge part of me.

    • Unfortunately I do need to work full time, for the money and for the health insurance. I wish I could do part time though, I imagine it would have made this feel a bit easier. I’ve thought a lot about the fact that I really don’t want to bring work home with me anymore. I agree that it usually does take a lot of work outside of school. That’s been a shift in my thinking about my work. It used to be that I would happily put in many extra hours, come in early for parent conferences, etc., while now I am very protective of my time at home.

  4. I am an Early Childhood Educator as well. Soon my Mat leave will be running out and rather than return to work I am going to take in a few children. For me I’m going to have to find a new balance and my son is going to have to learn to share his Mommy. There are challenges with either choice. I have never been the type to play favorites but I feel it will be a challenge when it comes to my baby. I’m almost afraid of going to the other extreme and being tougher on him because he is my son. In some ways it would be much simpler to just separate these parts of myself but this is the choice I have made. Sorry I don’t have any advice.

  5. I teach kindergarten and my daughter is 2 1/2. When she was a baby, it wasn’t so bad because I could come home and nurse and cuddle with her. There was a very clear difference between my baby and my kinders. Now that she is older, however, I am finding it much harder. I spend all day teaching five year olds how to sit on the rug, walk in line, and listen to directions, and then I come home to a willful two year old. It is so hard to snap out of teacher mode and be a loving, nurturing mother. School just started, and I can already feel like it is going to be a rough year. Right now, I am leaning on some of cherished activities. We go to the library, the zoo, and the public swimming pool. We cuddle and read books together every night. We make “cookies” out of play dough. I can’t say that I’ve “balanced” being a teacher and a mother, but I do enjoy both roles tremendously. It’s a work in progress!

  6. I teach grade 1. I returned at the beginning of this year when my daughter was 9 months old. I have never found it difficult separating the Mum me and the teacher me – it really is a very different thing in my experience. I do find that I am a more empathetic teacher than I was before and I often try to imagine how I would feel if my daughter was in a students’ position before dealing with a situation. I think this makes me a more connected teacher. When I get home I switch off work (which I never did before…I used to bring all the children’s angsts home with me) and try to be 100% Mum. It’s not easy, but both roles are rewarding and valuable, and that feels good.

  7. I am not an early childhood educator, but I am a social worker. I had very similar feelings returning to work after just 10 weeks. And I have to say, I feel that returning to work has been a blessing for me. I struggled (and continue to struggle, though to a lesser extent) with postpartum depression, and reminding myself that I have a role outside of Mama/Wife was exactly what I needed.

    This is not to say that the transition was easy, or that every time I can’t pump enough milk I don’t feel tremendous amounts of guilt that I *should* be home nursing my child and therefore would not have to worry about pumping. Yet I have been able to keep a strong boundary between my clients and child and know that his needs are being taken care of while I’m at work, and my needs to embrace my identity outside of the home are also being met.

    Our society programs us to feel guilty about any/every choice we make as mothers. I have moments of struggling, but in the end this is the best scenario for my child and my family.

  8. Going back to work wasn’t harder than I thought it would be, but the hard part lasted longer than I expected, so try to be patient with yourself. I went back when mine were only 10 weeks, because I had to take some time off before they were born as I was on bed rest. My first day, a coworker said, “Give it a month. That’s when it gets better.” I was basically appalled at the idea of it taking that long, but at one month I realized that I didn’t wish I was at home every day. What kept me going was remembering how much I missed work while I was off. Even after about 5 weeks I missed my coworkers, my projects, my office, my Internet time, and my lunch places. I also had to remind myself that dreaming of being a stay-at-home mom was only escapism for me. It wouldn’t be like Saturdays every day. I’d be alone with them all day, not strolling through the city eating frozen yogurt with my husband. Plus, if I quit my job, I wouldn’t be able to afford frozen yogurt. I know I’m a better mom because I’m working. I know that it gives me balance, that I don’t get sick of them, that I don’t become too obsessed with them. That’s what helps me in the moments when I feel unsure.

  9. I work in social work, and used to be a preschool teacher. I returned to work when my son was 13 weeks old, and it was really hard. I was grateful that I could go to the bathroom or get a drink of water with ease, but emotionally I was a wreck. Now that he is 14 months old, I struggle in different ways- really wanting to have more time with him. I do work that supports children, and having my own child has made me actually less compassionate towards many of the parents I work with. That sounds horrible, but it’s true. My experience has been that my priorities have changed, as well as my values. I have less patience for helping people fix their problems. I want to make my child a priority, and it’s hard to do that when I’m out of the house 45 hours per week.

    I don’t have the balance figured out, but it’s essential for me to devote some time every day to just playing with my son- without cooking dinner, cleaning up, playing on my phone. Just 100% focused on him. The other essential thing is finding some time (hopefully everyday) when no one needs me. I’m not on the clock at work, I’m not caring for my son, I’m not cuddling with my husband. I am doing whatever the hell I want to do. Maybe it’s exercise, or reading/falling asleep with a book, reading stuff online, or eating chocolate… Whatever it is, I really need some time that I am allowed and able to just take care of me.

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