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Being My Kids’ Teacher Makes It Harder To Be Their Mom

teacher mom teacher mom

Last spring, when our school district finally made it official that kids would not be going back to school for the rest of the semester, I started sobbing. I realized I’d been holding onto some small, improbable hope that I wouldn’t be forced to continue overseeing school for my two kids, in first and third grade. I was holding onto that hope dearly, because, honestly, I hate being my kids’ at-home teacher (and principal. and vice principal. and recess monitor). Not just because I suck at it, but because it makes me a worse mother.

I know the best thing I can do for my kids right now is to be their steady and present parent, and yet running school at home uses up so much of my energy that I cannot be fully available to them. I want to be the safe place where my kids come for a hug when they feel overwhelmed — not the disciplinarian doling out phonics practice and math worksheets. Maybe some moms are able to be both; I’m not.

Let me be clear: It isn’t so much the heavy volume of work that chips away at my sanity, but the grit required to get my kids through the work each day. I’ll say right now that our teachers have really done an incredible job organizing this work for us. I appreciate it so much. And yet, still, I find it impossible to constantly have to keep my kids on task, help them through their frustration with schoolwork, and somehow leave space for all their heightened emotions while I, too, struggle to stay on task and manage my own emotions.

So, the current setup is not only affecting how my kids are experiencing school and learning, but how they’re experiencing me as a mother. I yell more often. I push them too hard because I want the work to get done faster so I can be done. I’m in a zombie-like state by the end of each school day and have nothing left to give them during non-teaching time. I move between feeling enraged that this job has been put upon me and resignation that it has to be done — it’s just what’s happening right now — no matter the cost to my mental health or my relationship with my kids. I could rebel, I tell myself sometimes. But it’s not easy for me to say no to teachers’ assignments and class meetings. I feel so indebted to these teachers for their efforts; I don’t want to disappoint them. And am I really going to let my kids fall behind simply because I’m too lazy to buck up and deal with my new responsibilities?

That’s the thing. Thanks to this pandemic, we all have a lot of “new responsibilities” and I’ll need to decide which are most important to me, because there are simply too many to tackle. Deep down, I know I need to prioritize my role as my kids’ mom, because that’s what they need most. So perhaps it’s time I call a truce with myself and get solution-oriented about school. Maybe, in conjunction with the teachers, I can find a way to guide my kids to do some — but not all — the school work. I have to figure out something.

Part of the solution will require me to trust that the professionals will get my kids up to speed when we go back to in-person school. Stressing myself out isn’t good for anyone, and it’s certainly not a recipe for success in the isolation classroom (AKA our dining room table). Let’s face it, I’m never going to do as good a job as their real teachers, and this type of teaching isn’t meant to be my primary job with my kids, now or ever. What I really need to do is to help guide them through this uncertain time so they can come out the other side ready to re-enter the classroom.

And for that I need to be their mom, not their teacher.

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Gemma Hartley is a freelance journalist and author of Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women and the Way Forward. She lives in Reno, Nevada with her husband and three young children.