How to preserve your sanity as a parent-educator

Lucy Flower

Lucy Flower is a secondary music teacher from Leeds having stepped down from SLT following her return from maternity leave. Lucy is a regional advocate for WomenEd and the MTPT Project, and believes passionately in the power of ethical leadership. Lucy tweets and blogs about leadership and parenthood, and can be found on twitter @MrsLFlower, on her blog at Recently she spoke on the subject of leading after a setback at #BrewEdIsolation, and her presentation can be found here:

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When Boris Johnson announced the lockdown at 8pm on Monday 23rd March, I wept. I was relieved to know that I wouldn’t go home after a busy day of teaching 150 different children feeling terrified at the possibility of bringing death into my home. But after suffering from postnatal depression last year following the birth of my first child, I was shaken with the dawning familiarity of feeling trapped and isolated. The prospect of being confined within my home with my needs coming far below those of my child, husband and students, left me panicked. 

The first week was truly bleak. My sense of purpose and fulfilment seemed entirely wrapped up in my little girl, and to my shame, I wondered ‘is this it?’ I was desperate to make an impact, and to award myself value again through the use of my brain – to achieve, to be recognised, to be validated. The never-ending impossibility of working, toddler-entertaining, maintaining a relationship, keeping up with family and friends, feeding everyone, and having time to cultivate a side hustle (as spectacularly unhelpful social media influencers seem to suggest is mandatory) overtook me.

And now? Eight (approximately – who truly knows what day it is anymore?!) weeks in?

I’m excited by new possibilities. I’ve been offered opportunities I never dreamed of. I feel a stronger leader than ever before. Most importantly, to my all-consuming relief, for the first time ever – I am enjoying spending time with my daughter. 

Look, I’m by no means perfect. My carpet is covered in crumbs, I haven’t worn makeup or a waistband in weeks, and my toddler’s screen time is probably into the hundreds of hours. I have days where my entire body is begging me to return to bed, and where the smallest setback, as trivial as breaking a cup or dropping dinner on the floor, can lead to destructive over-reactions of tantrums, tears and rage (mine). But maybe, just maybe, the small, often practical things that help to bring me out of these slumps, might help you too? 

1. Banish work-related guilt by ‘Managing up’*: Manage the expectations of your line manager by being realistic with them about your time and childcare commitments. I’m sure they want this important document/crucial SOW for next year/vital update to the marking policy immediately, but remind them that you are spending X hours a day homeschooling/toddler entertaining/keeping said children ALIVE and that you will complete the work, just slightly later than they’d like. *Please note, this does not work with delaying children’s dinnertime.

2. Save time with online lesson setting by ‘Collaborating’: Surely it’s not just me that finds setting online lessons to be extremely onerous? Having to explain everything as though you are there in person, whilst keeping instructions direct and clear, takes almost as long as planning lessons in my NQT year did. Asking members of your department, other schools within your Trust, as well as magpie-ing resources from free online sources such as Oak National Academy, BBC Bitesize and putting a callout to your networks on #edutwitter can save hours. HOURS!

3. Go against your entire teaching-belief system by ‘lowering your expectations’: I very much subscribe to the notion of having the mantra ‘high expectations’ engraved on my tombstone. But my friends, this is not the time. It’s not the end of the world if your child doesn’t complete their full quota of lessons today, or if your online lessons are slightly slapdash, or if dinner isn’t cooked from scratch but is hastily assembled from the remnants of your freezer. Go against the grain of a lifetime and let go.

4. Keep your brain active by ‘Embracing accidental CPD’: My 16 month old doesn’t speak yet. Before lockdown, this was a niggling worry that I banished to the back of my mind, locked tightly in the box entitled ‘parent guilt’, along with all the other things I felt I was failing at by having the audacity to both work and parent. With the many hours a day my daughter and I now spend together, I’ve read research into how language and speech develop, and am using this with her. As a secondary teacher, it could be seen as useless knowledge, but for my lower prior attaining students, I can see how their written and spoken work isn’t as developed as it needs to be, and perhaps how I can utilise some of my new knowledge to support them. And yes, my daughter has said her first word. And yes, it was ‘Dada’.

5. Relax! The phrase ‘unprecedented’ has become somewhat cliché, but yes, this is an unprecedented time! Do whatever you need to do to relax – put on Hey Duggee for the hundredth time to steal a few mins to scroll through your phone, have a bubble bath every single night, avoid the news where it is just mindless speculation, mute or block whoever you need to, crack open the wine at 5pm, binge watch series after series, eat comforting foods, go for runs whether you post about them or not, take up a new hobby – or equally, don’t. Do what you need to do. You are doing just fine.


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