Q: I recently came back to work after my maternity leave. I used to be the A+ teacher at my school—staying late, volunteering for projects and devoting myself in any way possible to being the best teacher for my kindergarten students. I received a lot of accolades from my peers and principal, and I felt very proud of the work I was doing. However, since coming back from my maternity leave, I feel like I can’t give 150 percent. I’m still getting my work done, but I haven’t heard that I’m doing a good job, and I don’t feel like I am giving what I used to give to my job. I just don’t have the same energy. I feel like I’m failing at work—and home. What can I do to make sure I’m giving the most to my job and my new family?
I hear your challenge and understand your desire to do it all. I suspect that if you were able to do all the things you want to do, to the standard you’d like to do it, you’d probably need to double the hours in the day, and on some days that probably wouldn’t be enough. If this resonates, then take a look at my tips below.
Get comfortable with your new reality and set realistic expectations.
I think it’s important to set realistic expectations up front for what you can and can’t achieve now that you have a baby. I have seen many working mothers continue to put in extended hours, and attempt to keep the same or similar routine as pre-baby, but something usually suffers. Whether it’s their time and joy they experience with the family, attention to self-care or increased levels of stress and exhaustion, something usually suffers. This is where you will need to make a choice—how do you want to allocate your time now that you are a mother, so that overall, it feels good to you? This is a new stage in life. Continuing with the expectation of the same pre-baby work routine and adding in meaningful family time where you get to take care of yourself on top of it, is going to be hard to manage. You can still be a great teacher—but setting realistic expectations up front about what you can and can’t do will help in experiencing joy and a sense of achievement at work and at home.
Write a “to do” list, and then get practical of what you can and can’t do.
With the additional demands on your time, careful allocation is critical. I would suggest writing out a long to do list of all the things you need to do—both at work and at home. Decide which activities must get done and which things can either be scaled back or delegated to others. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Perhaps you can arrange for extra support—whether it be from a teacher’s aide at work or babysitter at home. Keep going through this list until you get something manageable which works for you and your schedule, and importantly, where you feel good about the things you are doing.
Knowing when good enough is OK.
Many people strive for perfection. As a recovering perfectionist, I know it can be hard to get comfortable with good enough, when you know in the perfect world of more hours in the day you could make it even better. Having compassion for yourself that good enough is—and can be—OK, can help in taking the pressure off and relieve some stress. Examples could be buying prepared food versus home cooking to save time. Or perhaps at school you concentrate on a couple of activities which you feel brings the most return to the classroom. Discerning when a project or activity is good enough versus aspiring for perfection can free up a lot of energy to enjoy the moment.
Addiction to praise?
It can be disheartening when you are used to receiving a lot of praise from peers and principal and now you aren’t. But here’s a question which may be worth considering—am I addicted to praise from others? Are you allowing your worth and sense of self to be defined from the outside? Based on your question, it sounds like you are continuing to do a great job and getting ALL your work done. So, your performance isn’t suffering, it’s just the extras which you haven’t had time for. If so, can you acknowledge yourself for job well done in this moment? Allowing yourself a period of adjustment—without judgment, as well as more compassion and self-acknowledgment, and where you give yourself time to integrate life as a working mother—can help in feeling good about what you are doing.
Commit to writing three things you feel good about.
It sounds like you are a dedicated and committed teacher who cares for the children in the classroom. I would suggest buying a journal, and commit to writing three things each day you feel good about doing—where you feel you made a difference to the children you teach, as a colleague and as a mother. Paying attention to all the great things you are doing, instead of what you aren’t doing, can help in feeling a sense of accomplishment and joy.