Teaching Profession Opinion

When School and Life Compete for Your Time, Put Your Family First

By Starr Sackstein — October 30, 2018 3 min read
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In years past, given my inclination toward workaholism and perfectionism, taking the necessary breaks to ensure balance in my life was incredibly difficult.

Either I felt guilty about working when my family needed me or I felt guilty about not working and my responsibilities to my students or team that went unfinished.

It felt like a perpetual lose-lose situation.

It still does sometimes.

But the older I get, the more I realize that we don’t have all of the time in the world to be everything to everyone. So we have to choose the ones who matter most: our families.

My son is my first priority, and no matter what is happening at work it is never as important as making sure that my son is taken care of. He needs to be healthy, and if I do anything less than care for him when he needs it, then I’m doing everyone a disservice, especially him.

Being a teacher and/or leader presents many challenges and emotional entanglements and feelings of responsibility and obligation. Early in my career, I allowed these feelings to rule what I did both in and out of school, and it ruled my life.

In some aspects, it saved me by providing focus and allowed me to dive deeply into the work I am so committed to.

Now, however, circumstances have changed. I’m extremely happy at home and in my career, so priorities have shifted. As silly as it sounds, I’m not getting any younger and I can’t afford to miss out on those things that only happen once in my son’s life. So if I have to choose between doing an observation at work or caring for my sick child or going to a night event at my job or my son’s school, the decision is a no-brainer ... my son wins. My husband wins.

Being an educator requires so much of us as people that it is easy to lose focus and allow the work to completely envelop us, sucking all of the life, patience, and time we have from the other aspects of our lives. We must be super intentional to prevent this from happening.

Here are some hard lessons I’ve learned:

  • Work is never more important than family. If your family needs you, don’t hesitate to do whatever needs to be to done to take care of the need. Try not to feel guilty for doing this.
  • It is always hard to be your best at work when you’re distracted by outside challenges, discord, or emotional distress. Trust me, I know. At some points in my career, work has helped me stay focused at home, or at least help me escape from the craziness. You know your limits. Don’t push other people away by throwing yourself into work at the peril of your relationships.
  • Relationships end when we don’t nurture them, and although work is important, our lives are important, too. So make sure you are intentional about what is happening both during the day and when at home so that the two don’t spill into each other.
  • I’m always worried about missing out ... missing out on what is happening at work and falling behind and missing out on the lives of those around me. Instead of worrying about missing out, try to be present where you are when you’re there, keeping boundaries and expectations clear. Recently, we made a no device rule at the table, and I can no longer check email, text, or tweet while we eat. I want to give my full attention to my family.
  • I have a hard time letting go of stuff sometimes, and that means some of my challenges can follow me home or to school. I’ve learned to have a routine to shake off one or the other. I give myself time to breathe and/or clear my head listening to music or saying the serenity prayer. Either way, I want to be present and give my best self to all aspects of my life.
  • Know your priorities and let others know them too. Be clear on what you value and lead by doing.

Education professionals throw their whole selves into what they do—at least I did. Always learning and feeling good at work often took me away from my family. Now that my son is getting older, he needs me more, and since I got remarried, I want to spend time with my husband. We work hard to make time for each other whether that means waking up earlier or meeting each other for meals when life gets hectic.

How do you balance your work and life so nothing suffers? Please share.

*Photo by Starr Sackstein

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