Balancing the energy demands of teaching and family life is a daunting prospect (especially when you are already sleep-deprived).
Taking inspiration from some of the incredible parent-teachers I know, here are some tips that can make all the difference:
1. Focus on the bigger picture
Knowing what’s most important to us in our home and family lives gives purpose and energy to what we do – and also helps us to prioritise.
One colleague told me that she channels the grumpiness of fatigue to help her cut to the chase and get things done.
Another has an "urgent-important" and a "non-urgent important" to-do list: things that aren’t important at all don’t make either list. And for the tasks that are important but not interesting (meal planning, packing bags, picking out clothes…), having systems for them at least means that they take a bit less time and energy.
2. Work out what you can let go of
Things that invade our space – like mess, too many emails and negative relationships – drain our energy. Conversely, physically and mentally clearing the clutter boosts our energy.
Set yourself clear boundaries where you can say, “I’ve done enough,” whether that means leaving work at work, finishing at a set time or learning to say "no".
Saying "no" isn’t easy, and all too often, I recognise myself in my 18-month-old son, who gets upset when he can’t climb the slide because he won’t let go of the sticks he’s picked up.
What can help here,is focusing instead on what saying "no" allows you to say "yes" to: “Thanks for asking me to pick up these sticks, but right now, I’m going on the slide.”
3. Maximise self-care
Of course, it’s important to take care of yourself physically, through getting enough daylight and fresh air, exercising and eating well. But it’s equally important to take care of your mental health by planning things to look forward to, and allocating time for the things you enjoy: music, dinner with friends, creativity, movies, reading.
Sleep should also be on the list, but it doesn’t feel great to be reminded of how important sleep is when it is in short supply.
Instead of worrying about the amount of sleep you can get, focus instead on making the most on the sleep that is available. My quest for better sleep has led to many experiments: candles, red-light bulbs, lavender, keeping screens out of the bedroom, co-sleeping, techniques to get to sleep again quicker and a bedtime routine as structured as my son’s.
These things can help, but the most useful tip I’ve found is to be kind to yourself. Interrupt that negative voice, which shouts the loudest when you’re sleep-deprived, and counteract it by focusing on instead on achievements that we are proud of.
4. Get help
We need people we can trust and be honest with around us, and we need to ask them for help when we need it. The more specific the request, the better: a lie-in, a break duty being covered… I’ve even given my husband a script to say when things are at their worst and I can’t even tell him what I need.
And if you find that you’re lacking supportive family, friends and colleagues when you need them, reach out to other support networks, such as The MTPT Project – Connect! on Facebook.
Charlotte Andrews is a mum and former teacher who now works as a professional coach (@charlotte_coach) and is one of the accreditation coaches for the Maternity Teacher/Paternity Teacher (MTPT) Project @maternitycpd