With the summer in full-swing, I am finding time to reflect on the crazy year we just survived. Last fall I went back to work as a teacher after having two kids. After the birth of my son in 2015, I took a year off to be at home with him. When I was making my plans to return to the classroom in 2016/2017, I discovered that I was pregnant again and took another year of leave. After being a stay-at-home-mom for two and a half years, I enrolled my kids in full-time daycare and went back to teaching 3rd grade.
Switching gears from being a full-time SAHM to a full-time teacher AND mom was dramatic. Our daily schedules were turned upside down with my husband and my commutes to work over an hour each direction. I was barely home in time to make dinner and get the kids to bed at a decent hour, and still had a ton of work to do outside of the classroom. I had to learn how to scale back on my classroom responsibilities and personal expectations in order to attempt a balance between home and work life.
Whether you are heading back to work after maternity leave or after many years off, here is my top five tips for surviving your first days back:
1. Plan Your Meals
I HATE meal planning, cooking, and basically even thinking about food. I just want to eat and move on. I would seriously just live off of toast, smoothies, coffee, and wine if I could. But apparently my kids need more than that. I found these freezer meals to be hugely successful as I went back to work. All are dump-and-go meals, meaning you just throw it all in your crock-pot in the morning, and it’s waiting when you get home. The prep time takes a little while, but I just pick a few and double them to make that part easier.
2. Have a Plan (and a Back-Up Plan) for Illnesses
My kids were constantly sick last year. We had something in the range of four stomach viruses, sixteen colds, eight ear infections, multiple mystery fevers, and other various viruses. It was insane. I made a go-to list of my class’s favorite substitutes, which really helped both my class and me because they knew my systems, routines, and kids. Our back-up plan if I couldn’t get a sub and my husband couldn’t miss work was to call my amazing mother-in-law. She was our savior, coming to the rescue countless times last year, and we wouldn’t have survived without her help.
3. Simplify Your Commute
This was our family’s biggest challenge. Both my husband’s and my extremely long commutes were stressful. When you consider that your day starts at 5:30 a.m. and “ends” (haha, parents’ days don’t end!) at 9 p.m., you want there to be some hours in there for quality family time and relaxation after a long, hard day. But for us, those precious hours were wasted in traffic. We solved this problem by selling our beautiful house, and moving to a more convenient area for our drives to work. We put the kids in a neighborhood daycare, and life has improved dramatically!
4. Surround Yourself with Supportive Coworkers
Whether you work independently or on a team, having colleagues and employers who are also working parents is incredibly helpful. They can commiserate and cover for you when you have a family emergency. Going back to work was so hard, I almost threw in the towel even though my job brings me so much pride and joy. My team and my principal’s support were instrumental in keeping me from resigning. I am glad I stuck with it.
5. Remind Yourself Why
Most of us go back to work because we have to, but some of us are fortunate to enjoy our careers. For me, I chose to be a teacher because I LOVE being an advocate for young children and teaching early literacy, communication skills, empathy, and how to have a growth mindset. I have to work because it keeps me sane, and well, because we need the money. It keeps me going each day to remind myself that I contribute to our family’s income, help my kids have more opportunities, and it makes me happy. My mom guilt is heavy for going back to work, but every time we come out on the other side, I remember that this too shall pass and we are all better when we are all doing what makes us feel happy, useful, and loved.
The biggest lesson I learned this past year is that time with my family is irreplaceable and simplification is key to survival. Being a mother and a teacher is extremely hard, but the rewards outweigh all of those struggles. Now that I have survived my first year back and have learned some key things along the way, I know that next year is going to be that much easier. I am immensely proud of all that my family and I accomplished through this difficult year, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!