Returning to Work as a New Parent

Four weeks ago, I returned to work after being on parental leave for ten months. It was my second parental leave, so this time around, I felt much more prepared: I knew I wouldn’t be as rested, energetic, or rational as usual, so I did what I could to make my return easier on me. I took the time over the summer to plan out the first few weeks, wrote my long range plans in July, had my annual learning plan ready to go…

I was ready. Returning to work was still brutally hard.

It didn’t help that I had a challenging assignment, with many students in need of additional support that just does not exist in the French Immersion stream. It didn’t help that my second child doesn’t sleep as well as my first, so I was operating on an average of 3-4 hours of sleep. Mostly, though, coming back to work with a young child at home is just really, really hard.

The second week of school, I found myself reassuring a fellow teacher that feeling overwhelmed was a normal part of adjusting to life as a parent and teacher. She had just come back to work after having her first child, and she’d had a particularly rough night at home, followed by a rough morning in class. Everything she was feeling, I had felt myself – not just this past month, but two and a half years ago, too, when I went back to work after having my first child. I remembered how it felt to have someone else validate how I was feeling, reassure me that I wasn’t alone, and tell me that everything I was going through was normal.

Here is what I would like you to know, new parents who are now navigating life as both parent and teacher:

You are not a bad parent or a bad teacher, but you will feel like both. It took me a year of being back at work before I felt like I was almost back to being “myself” as a parent and a teacher. It was incredibly difficult to know that I wasn’t able to give the same level of attention to parenting or teaching that I was used to, and I hated feeling dissatisfied in the job I was doing on both fronts. I didn’t like rushing out of the house in the morning without being able to play with my baby. I didn’t like rushing out of school at the end of the day with calls left to make, assignments left to mark, and my plan for the next day being little more than a skeleton. I was sure that I was damaging my relationship with my baby and letting my students down.

Neither of those things were true. My baby still loved me just as much as she did before I went back to work. My students were still learning and enjoying school. Some assignments never did end up being returned with grades, and some days I didn’t get to see my baby at all because I would leave before she got up and get home after she was in bed, but it was fine. I was still a good parent. I was still a good teacher. My baby and my students were still thriving – just as yours will.

Your priorities will change. I’ve always been heavily involved in clubs, eager to take professional development courses, willing to stay late at work to ensure that things were organized and prepared for the next day. Now, I’ve scaled back my extracurricular involvement dramatically, I haven’t done much PD outside of a few AQs, and I only stay late at work when I have absolutely no choice. It’s hard to make myself leave at 3:30 every day, because I know I’m leaving behind a pile of work that will never really get any smaller, but I have to or I won’t see my children before bedtime. Having time together to eat, talk, and enjoy each other’s company as a family is really important to me. Work, which used to be my top priority, now comes in second. I’ve watched my colleagues make the same decisions – leaving earlier, passing the torch for clubs and sports teams, making less time for work and more time for their family.

It gets better. It may take a long time, but you will get to a place where you feel like you have things under control. You will start to feel like you can balance your teaching life and your life as a parent. Then something will come along to change that (like having a second child, or your kids starting school, or your home life changing) and you’ll feel out of sync again, but it will come back. It’s hard every time, but it isn’t forever.

Ultimately, your children and your students will be fine. You may do more worksheets than you used to because some days you just don’t have it in you to teach that hands-on, super engaging, but very exhausting lesson you had planned. You may serve a dinner you said you’d NEVER serve because some days you will get home and not be able to fathom anything more complicated. That’s okay. Your students will still learn. Your children will still bond with you. You’ll have to make some hard decisions to do what’s best for you – and even when some days are absolute disasters and you’re an emotional wreck, it’ll still be okay.

Be kind to yourselves, parents. You can’t be everything to everyone, and some days, you’re going to feel like you failed at everything. We’ve all been there. Reach out to your colleagues for help, even if only to talk through what you’re feeling. Lean on them. We’re all in this together, and I promise you that we’ve got your back.

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The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011 (or 2008 if we want to include Teacher's College).

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