I have recently returned to my teaching job for the second time following a ‘year off’ to bring our newest babe into the world. Just three weeks in, and I can’t help but compare my younger pre-child working self, to the person I am now. At times, the newly qualified me would sleep, breathe and eat ‘work’. I allowed it to become all consuming and welcomed this even, on occasion. If I wasn’t spending hours trawling the internet for new fan-dangled lesson ideas, I was laminating resources and spreading them the length of my living room floor; I was investing in stickers, stationary and personalised stampers to ‘jazz up’ my marking and generally driving my lucky husband crazy with hour after hour of ‘classroom talk’. Like many professions, it was stressful (still is), it was hard (still is), but it was also, strangely addictive.
Today my laminator lies unused in a box upstairs gathering dust and I spend more time googling suspicious ‘baby rashes’ and ideas for ‘days out with kids’, than ways to incorporate mini-plenaries into my daily pedagogy. Do my classes notice the handouts I give them are less shiny/plastic looking? Probably (no definitely!) not. And as far as I can tell, ‘my kids’, as they become known, are at no disadvantage when I recycle and update tried and tested lessons – they are still new, as far as they know. I love being in the classroom. I love the pupils that I teach (most, well some, days) and feel as much a sense of duty to them as I ever did, but they are not my number one priority.
They are not my number one priority, my own children are, but they are still A priority. And herein lies the problem really. With an ever growing list of priorities, it got me wondering if, as parents, we can ever actually find a magic ‘balance’ or whether we will forever be damned if we do (work) and damned if we don’t? From a distance, I have the best shot at ‘balance’. I work part-time. I get to retain a little bit of the old working me, and then spend extra time with my own babies at home too. I am lucky. I am lucky, yet despite this, I so often feel pulled in a million different directions. Am I half a teacher, half a mother and half a wife because my attention is so often divided and I can never give my all to one thing? Logic of course says no, yet so often this is the over-whelming feeling.
I’ve worked full time, although not since having children. I imagine it to be an entirely different ball-game all over again and watch in actual awe and admiration as friends and co-workers balance full time work with the demands of home life. Some choose it, others juggle it through necessity, but all, from those I’ve spoken to talk of the pang of guilt that comes with being a full-time working parent far more than the good example they are setting to their children and the strength of character they are so continually showing. Perhaps it’s human nature to always feel guilty over one thing or another, or perhaps it’s yet another sign of our desire as 21st century mums to achieve the unachievable and be all things to all people all of the time? Besides working full-time and part-time though, I’ve also had the pleasure of spending two separate but almost full years at home . Two ‘years off’ on maternity leave. Two ‘years off’ that also happened to be the two hardest working years of my life, physically, emotionally and mentally. Two ‘years off’ that left me with the most profound respect for stay at home parents who sacrifice their careers to do this year after year after year.
I’m beginning to wonder if, lottery win aside, we simply CAN’T have it all. There is no ‘right’ balance when it comes to work and home life, no magic solution. Perhaps, the best option is simply to drink gin, and wine and to laugh when we can, cry when we need to, support those close to us and try and get on with it and survive this crazy rollercoaster called ‘adulting’?