The Struggle is Real: Parenting While Teaching Art

Hey, art teacher parents! I want you to post a picture of your messy laundry or work desk on the AOE Facebook page, and here is why…

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Parenting our children is the ultimate postmodern masterpiece. We begin with a lot of control over the piece in its infancy, but ultimately it follows its own trajectory. It develops in striking directions we couldn’t have foreseen.

Except, in this metaphor, we are all outsider artists. We fumble without training and hope our craftsmanship will be enough to carry the message into future generations. When you move past the romanticism of artful parenting, however, the reality is that it is sometimes just really, really hard.

It’s time art teaching parents start having more authentic conversations with one another about what it means to raise children within our profession.

Teaching art is genuinely challenging, and it impacts our families. Art education is a beautiful, messy intersection of curriculum and emotion, and it can feel like an iron man triathlon at times. The personal energy and physical demands of drawing, painting, or sculpting with children for eight hours straight can take a toll. Our profession is a deeply worthwhile venture, but it is incredibly strenuous.

So how do you reconcile a life divided? How do we continue doing what we love with all our energy (teaching art), while still saving enough energy for the people we love (our children)? Here are four ways I am currently rethinking my role as an art teaching parent.

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Don’t Multitask Your Kids

We all know the secret to getting a lot done as an art teacher is multitasking. We grade artwork while previewing YouTube clips, cook dinner while scanning the internet for project ideas, or finish a bulletin board while eating lunch. Recently, I was reminded of the power of “single-tasking” my kids. When I am present (really mindful about giving them my undivided attention), they bloom in front of my eyes. Thirty minutes of imaginative play is more meaningful than two hours of halfhearted attention as I try to simultaneously review work emails.

So, this month, consciously try to get back to “single-tasking” your loved ones. It sends a clear message when you are singularly devoted to a task.

Say NO So you can say YES

We became art teachers because we have artistic gifts we yearn to share, but we are not bottomless wells. There are a finite number of hours in the week (168) and each time you say “yes” to something, you are effectively saying “no” to something else. You cannot create extra time. Believe me, I have tried.

Sometimes, we say yes to extra art-related duties out of love, and that is a wonderful thing. But sometimes, we say yes out of obligation and have a very real sense we are saying no to our own children. Of all the reasons to say no, our children are the very best. So, the next time you are feeling a little burnt out, try saying this to a colleague: “I have to say no to X because I said yes to family game night with my daughter/son.” Whoa, hard to argue with that one, right?!

Scale Back Your Pinterest Usage

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Gasp! I know, Pinterest is practically a religion for many of us. It has lots of valid uses, but I am beginning to believe it may also add to art teacher/parent stress. The more you browse Pinterest, the more it begins to feel that every child needs a bento box lunch with sculpted cucumbers inside, or every art teacher’s classroom must have a coordinated rainbow polka dot theme, complete with color coded lesson binders.

If we are able to create these things, but don’t, what does that make us? It makes us normal. We are busy art teaching moms and dads. So, limit your Pinterest time, and quit playing the comparison game.

Be Authentic With What YOU Post

Besides external Pinterest teacher/parenting pressure, there is also parenting pressure we create by unconsciously being inauthentic on social media. We are caught up in the process of perfectly branding ourselves as art teacher super parents. I yearn for a parenting world where we are more transparent about the realities of our homes and classrooms for our own sanity.

Let’s make a move toward authenticity by sharing what really happens in the balancing act of art family life. How about an Instagram post like this: “Here is a pic of an awesome poster I made for school, and #herearemykidseatingfruitloopsfordinner.” Because, sometimes, that is how we get things done. People have time for some things because they aren’t doing other things. As I write this very article, I am surrounded by mountains of laundry on my kitchen floor. My kids and this art-related article were just more important today – and that’s okay!

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So, my parenting/art teaching friends, the struggle is real. I am right there with you. I know the day-to-day of teaching and parenting can be hard, be we are truly lucky. So, in an effort to show solidarity and transparency, here is my messy laundry – let me see yours! Be brave, it’s a good first step.

What tips/tricks do you have for dividing your energy between work and home?

How can you be more authentic for your students, colleagues, and family?

Lindsey Moss

Lindsey Moss is an elementary art teacher in Yorkville, Illinois. She enjoys art history and finding creative and artistic solutions to educational challenges.

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  • Emma Long

    Thank you so much for this post, I really needed it today. I only teach part time but still feel this real struggle between putting the most into my teaching and the most into my family. Your advice is a timely reminder to take a deep breath and be a little more mindful of priorities.

    • Lindsey Moss

      Emma- I’m glad this helped today. We ALL need these reminders, it is so easy to get overwhelmed… I’m there this week!!! Thanks for reading.

  • Vicky

    Hi this is a great article and so true. I quite often feel like I am failing my own kids because I give so much energy to my classes. It can be a struggle to balance everything, just like you said. On top of our jobs we also have the obligations like the school show sets etc that are simply an expectation and I feel I already give so much of me to school that I end up feeling a bit resentful of the time away from my family.

    • Lindsey Moss

      Vicky- Thanks for your comment… I can totally relate. There are so many obligations that a good art teacher has to fullfill, and most of them take you away from your home. If it is any comfort at all, I think we are modeling what hard work and passion look like, and it might make them more successful adults? I hope that my daughters will someday appreciate/implement this work ethic in their own lives. They are a better version of me, so I am hopeful that they are learning something profound by watching momma…but it still hurts my heart sometimes.

  • Tara Hookano

    This is the first year (year 6 for me teaching at a charter school) that I am determinedly not bringing work home weeknights and weekends (except for report card stuff that I just finished). I had to build my program from scratch and now have a body of work to draw from for my K-8 classes. I do continue to add new content every year so that I have a revolving set of projects to keep things from getting stale. But, as a newly single parent, my boys come first. That means I’m not always popular with my boss or school parents who like to send me work related emails on the weekends or at 4 A.M. (seriously, put down your iPhone people!). My obligations to my children, my home, and my health (I have a chronic illness) demand that I set boundaries. And, I am enrolled in a class that has me painting a lot. These things do take priority over just about everything else. Burnout is not an option. And in a world where much of what I do is “invisible”, I must be vigilant to protect myself so that I can be present for my other children when they are in my Art room. I can only do my best, and part of that comes from honoring myself and healthy boundaries.

  • Marci

    I really needed this article! I work with two other young, child-free art teachers (I’m the itinerant), and have a one year old, so its a little overwhelming this year. Especially since one of the other teachers is a high achieving self professed OCD teacher of the year type who spends her spare time posting her student work on artsonia, planning amazing lessons, etc… She’s amazing! It becomes very competitive at times, because alot of our budget comes from Artsonia proceeds. It’s really lead to some ill will on my part, because as the itinerant, I have a portable with no sink, no open periods, etc… but I’m getting over it because I realize we have very different lives, different strengths, and different styles. Perhaps we can both be awesome in our own way.

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