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Blog: I Like Juggling!

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Blog by:  Lisa Fathers, Head of Teaching School / Bright Futures Educational Trust Co-Principal

I’m calling this blog ‘the juggle’ because that’s what my life is and I’m sure very similar to any other working Mum’s life. Personally I wouldn’t have it any other way, I love being busy and I genuinely love working. I love my job! Above all else I love my children though, without a flicker of doubt they are my reason for being.

I read a quote that made me feel sad “The obligation for working mums is a precise one: the feeling that one ought to work as if one did not have children, while raising one’s children as if one did not have a job”. Unfortunately it does feel like this for many working mums at one point or other. It doesn’t have to though!

I’ve got two children, a four year old boy who has more energy than a baby lion and a 9 year old girl who chooses the most inappropriate moments to be poorly, usually when I’m heading out to jump on a train to London at the crack of dawn. The guilt is almost tangible isn’t it.

TOP TIP  number 1: forgive yourself, you are not alone in feeling that guilt, you are not alone. You wouldn’t leave your children if you didn’t know they will be absolutely fine.

Before children I straightened my hair for school, I stayed up late on week nights and I took hours and hours planning new schemes of work with excitement and glee. I read books into the small hours, went out partying at weekends and danced until my feet hurt. Now there is no time to read for pleasure and early nights are my thing!  The joy I feel in watching my children grow and giggle is exquisite though. There is no doubt at all that I am a mother first and anything else second and I feel nothing stronger than an absolute deep rooted desire to protect my children.

Going back to work after my daughter was born was tough. I was a new slightly naive senior leader desperate to ‘make a difference’ and not only did I have to prove myself in a new school but I was anxious to prove to myself that I was even more efficient than before, I wanted to demonstrate that being a mum hadn’t changed me and I could almost certainly still put the hours in! I have no idea where I got this drive to pretend I hadn’t changed when clearly I had. On reflection I missed out on a lot in those first few years because I focussed on school above all else, I put the pressure on myself. I had a very supportive Headteacher who was also a mum but there was lots to do at school and a rapid improvement journey that needed to happen. Despite the fact I worked every night after 7.30pm for hours I still felt guilty slipping out the door before other staff some days.

TOP TIP Number  2: We don’t need  to prove anything to anyone! Leadership isn’t about who stays in school the most amount of hours – what a silly notion! Embrace the fact that life has changed and work with that.

As I grew as a person and as a leader I became much more mature in my thinking. You realise that good leadership starts with looking after yourself and that if you don’t prioritise yourself then nobody else will and nobody will thank you either. You also realise that you have to model being kind to yourself for all the other working mums who look to you to role model what this looks like. You have to ‘own’ your own wellbeing and that means managing your diary really well and being sensible. You can’t get the time back once your children have grown up so enjoy it while you can. It’s also important to look after yourself the same way you look after your children, thinking about a variety of food, exercise and whatever makes you feel good.

TOP TIP number 3 : Great female leaders who are mums will demonstrate that anything is possible and inspire confidence in other female staff to do the same. 

After my son was born I really did learn the meaning of ‘the juggle’. One very well behaved girl was one thing but a little monster invaded my house, stole my sleep and did it all with the cheekiest smile on his face. I was different this time though, I was better. I was better at saying the word ‘no’ . I tried to reshape how I worked, I got into school every day before 7am ( I was lucky that I had support in place for me to do this at home). On the days I could I was out the door early and then focussed on my children until they were in bed and then I’d finish off anything I needed to do for several hours, emails, marking etc.

TOP TIP number 4: There isn’t one way to be successful; demonstrate how you will re-prioritise schedules, talk to your line manager and be solution focussed. Most schools want to keep their best staff and will be keen to help find a way through issues.

Support networks are important. I’m really lucky that my husband can do the drop off most mornings and that I have supportive grandparents nearby. However, I was a single mum for a while and I have absolute respect for any single working mums out there or mums who have partners who work away. I had no choice but to widen this support network I had, mums can help each other. I’ve managed to make good friends with other mums in the area and we help each other out. I’ll often ask for help in the school week in return for providing some childcare in school holidays. I can’t stress how amazing it’s been knowing there are people beyond my immediately family that will help. The feeling of rising panic when you can see a childcare clash with an ‘important meeting’ or an ‘evening event’ is not a nice one. But slow down and think, be mindful. This isn’t life or death!

TOP TIP number 5 : Manage your inner chimp! The chimp might be saying one thing and self-doubt will creep in but you need to manage this with positive self-talk. You are in control and there is often a solution. Utilise the wonderful networks online; @WomenED is a brilliant movement by women for women, really encouraging and supportive.

Occasionally I’ve felt ‘judged’ by stay at home mums or mums who have chosen to work part-time. Occasionally I’ve felt judged by other women in schools, perhaps women who can stay in work till the lights go off at 7pm. In contrast, I have no judgments to make on any choices a teacher/leader/mum makes. We all do what we need to do to be happy, fulfilled or simply pay the bills and survive. Occasionally I’ve felt envious of the mums I know who do the school run then saunter off to the gym or head off for shopping and coffee but A) I know that’s my fantasy of what their day is, it’s probably not reality for most and B) I know I’d get bored eventually.

TOP TIP number 6: Don’t apologise for the choices you have made, stand by them. Too many women subconsciously apologise; think’ ‘sorry not sorry’. Don’t litter your sentences with ‘could I just, would you mind, I’m not sure’. We all do it but try to be more aware.  

I organise my life to the extreme, my outlook diary contains appointments, notes, reminders, to do lists……. At home friends laugh at my timetables up in my kitchen but it works for me! So indulge the teacher in you, get the highlighters out and map out who is doing what when in your family and when your ‘me’ time will be. Saturday mornings are mine, all mine! I go spinning at the gym and then I’ll either have coffee with friends or I’ll go and do a body combat class. Having this defined time that’s mine helps me!

Finally, I’m proud to be a working mum and have a successful career. Perhaps at times I do feel that I have an insurmountable week ahead of me but then I remember that I’ve done a timetable of who is picking up and dropping off and I’ve planned for most of the things in my diary and that things are manageable! Oh and I remember that I’d rather be fulfilled and challenged and that this is what I need. That’s not to say that I don’t mess up and find myself meant to be in two places at once but it happens less and less these days (she’s says, convincing herself :-))

FINAL TOP TIP: One last point, turn off your iPad and your mobile a few hours every evening and be in the moment rather than multi-tasking! Multi-tasking is over rated! Your children need to know they are more important than technology or emails pinging in from work. There is always time after bedtime to pick up where you left off.

 

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