Navigating Parenthood and School Leadership: Finding the right balance
Being a parent and school leader are two of the most rewarding, but challenging roles says KS2 Leader Bethan Ware. Here she explains how navigating these roles has required a delicate balance between professional and personal responsibilities, and offers some tips that could help.
Articles / 6 mins read
With many choosing to start families later in life than ever before (Office of National Statistics), it is likely that education staff who choose to become parents, will raise a child in the same years as a promotion to Senior Management. This can result in many feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Education Support’s Teacher Wellbeing Index 2022, has found that:
- 84% of senior leaders are stressed
- 61% of senior leaders roles always go into work when unwell
- 39% of senior leaders a mental health issue in the past academic year
- 87% of senior leaders experienced symptoms due to their work.
Perinatal mental disorders affect around 1 in 5 women (Maternal Mental Health Alliance), with around 10% of new fathers experiencing postnatal depression (mentalhealth.org.uk). These statistics, alongside the “mental load” of running a household, anticipating challenges and organising activities in both school and home, highlights why 67% of senior leaders considered leaving in 2021/22, with 58% actively seeking alternative roles.
Just thinking about navigating parenthood and school leadership can be a daunting task. When I was getting ready to return to my role as Key Stage 2 Leader after a year’s maternity leave, I worried for months about how I would be able to be mentally and physically available to the staff, children, and parents, while also being a present mum to my little boy. The answer lies in finding the right balance between these two important roles.
Balancing parenthood and school leadership, and enjoying both, is possible with support from colleagues, family members, and friends. By setting realistic expectations and prioritising responsibilities accordingly, school leaders can successfully navigate this delicate balance while still being effective in both roles. Here are some of the ways I try to manage both roles.
Setting clear boundaries
The first task to do when setting boundaries is to consider your values. As leaders, we are very familiar with the phrase “non-negotiables”! Sit down and reflect upon what your values are at home and in work. If you want to pick up your child every Wednesday, think whether this is flexible or if it is a ‘non-negotiable’? If you want to ensure you’ve checked in with every member of staff before leaving work, is this something that can vary day to day, or is it another ‘non-negotiable’? A firm idea of what is important to you, makes it considerably easier when prioritising, delegating and simply saying “no” to additional tasks.
Organise your time
One of the biggest challenges faced by school leaders who are parents is time management. With so many responsibilities on their plate, it can be difficult to find time for everything that needs to be done. This often leads to sacrificing personal time or family time in order to meet work obligations.
The strategies that you draw upon when managing staff, children, and parents alongside your own duties are crucial when balancing the metaphorical seesaw. My diary is my organisational crutch; I use it for planning out both work and home responsibilities and events, and I use it daily. At the end of every school day, I write three things that I need to remember, so that I can check it later in the week. Before bed every evening, I look at the day/week ahead so I can plan my time effectively. I ask myself if there are things I can delegate, things I can combine, or things that need to be done first. This quick check in helps me to compartmentalise personal life and home, and allows me to have the head space needed for family time.
Reach Out for Help/Delegate
Effective communication with colleagues and family members is vital. As a school leader, delegating tasks to capable colleagues can help reduce workload stress while ensuring that the school runs smoothly. Similarly, communicating with family members about work commitments can help them understand your schedule better and take over part of the ‘mental load’ at times when school is busier.
With both leadership and parenting, it is crucial to maintain a positive attitude. Both roles can be stressful at times, but focusing on the positive aspects of each can help you stay motivated. Gretchen Rubin’s well known phrase “the days are long but the years are short” is fitting for both academic years and our own children’s journey to adulthood. Being a parent provides leaders with valuable insights into the needs of students and their families. This knowledge can help leaders make informed decisions that positively impact the school community. Likewise, the knowledge of the education system equips leaders with the skills to ensure their child is “school ready” and able to shape them into a well-rounded individual. This sense of reward in both areas is intrinsic to motivation and looking at the bigger picture (years are short), definitely helps me to put things into perspective when “the days are long”.
Foster the culture
Creating a schedule that allows for quality family time, without compromising on work responsibilities by setting firm boundaries and good delegation, allows leaders to model healthy work-life culture for their staff. It is important to show vulnerability in both parenting and leadership roles, a toxic “burnout badge of honour” is not helpful to those experiencing burnout, nor the leaders having to source cover for staff absences due to this. By demonstrating that it is possible to maintain the balance in both areas, leaders encourage their team members to prioritise self-care and family time.
Navigating school leadership and being a parent requires integrity, good organisation and effective communication. Although I know it’s natural that there will be times that I feel I don’t have the seesaw as equal as other days, by drawing upon the strategies explained in the above tips, I am confident that I will continue to find the right balance in both areas without sacrificing either role's quality – and you can too.
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