It’s an interesting thing, working full time with kids but not having any of your own. Giving parenting advice but not being a parent yourself. Being somewhat of a kid ‘expert’ but (in theory) leaving your responsibility for the kids at the school doors. Before becoming a mom, I had moments where I hoped parenting would give me more credibility with my students’ parents. There were also moments of worry that I’d be less enthusiastic as a counselor once I had my own littles and got my ‘kid fix’ at home. Through all my speculation about ‘when I’m a parent’ though, I never really thought becoming one would change anything about my work as a school counselor.
Maybe it was my own defensiveness about it all; I didn’t want to think that I couldn’t be as wonderful in my work as someone who did have their own kids. In the back of my mind though was this blog post from six years ago that a school psych wrote on the topic that reminded me things might truly change.
I’m now a mom of two amazing little boys (3.5 years and 10 months). It’s been a big year of reflection for me (I wrote a 5 year reflection this past summer) and with that has come acknowledging that becoming a mom has absolutely changed me as a school counselor. Here are six ways I’ve seen the impact:
1. I know what parents want to hear (kinda).
Sure, I always tried to keep in mind “What would I want to hear if this was my child?” but the truth is this was still very abstract until I had my own. It’s much easier to put myself in a parent’s shoes now, though I do run the risk of assuming too much. What was once hypothetical is now a lot more concrete. You know what we want to hear? That we’re doing a good job. That everyone can tell how much we love and care for our children. That our kid is gonna do great things. And that everyone else cares about our kids as much as we do.
2. I’m much more confident with parent communication.
I’ve never enjoyed talking on the phone; it’s always caused me some anxiety, even just calling a friend. Calling a parent used to require a personal pep talk, especially since, let’s face it, the calls we make to parents are often sticky. There was a piece of me that also felt very vulnerable and inexperienced. I wouldn’t say I relish calling parents now, but I certainly have a lot less anxiety over it which means I just do it as soon as I see a need. Gone are the days of hemming and hawing and putting it on my planner and talking myself into it. Surely some of it may be my having a few more years of experience under my belt, and the fact that I’m pretty close in age to many of my students’ parents, but I owe a lot of my newfound confidence to being a parent myself. I’m no longer just on their team for supporting their student, I’m also on the parenting team with them.
3. I understand my co-workers’ needs for work/life balance more.
My school (and district) is known for young teachers that stay until 5-6pm every day; I certainly clocked those hours my first couple of years. While I never resented my co-workers with little ones that didn’t stay late, there was definitely a piece of me that didn’t understand why they wouldn’t want to put in more time or how they could get it all done without staying late. Now I see that it’s a matter of priorities and responsibilities. Most days, I have to leave at 4 just to make it to daycare on time. Sometimes it means I don’t ‘do it all’ or ‘get it all done’ but I think I’m still rocking it. When I see my co-workers walk out at 3:15 or taking a mental health day or missing work because of sick kids, I think “I see you” – and this grace extends to everyone, not just those with kids.
4. My heart breaks a little more.
Being a school counselor (or school social worker or school psychologist or often even teacher for that matter) can be inherently heartbreaking. We’ve all gone home and cried about our students’ situations. I’m thankful that I’m able to compartmentalize and not take too much home, and that I have an amazing co-counselor that allows me to process through some of the tough stuff before I leave the building. Having my own babies makes it all a little tougher though. A sad or traumatized or anxious child hits me all the harder now. Maybe it’s because I also feel for their parents? Maybe because I imagine my own boys going through it? No matter the reason, I find my heart breaks just a little bit more now.
5. My empathy for single parents has grown exponentially.
I’m not a single parent. I have an amazingly supportive husband that is the best father I could dream for my kids. But obviously there are moments where I’m flying solo – summer time, the hours before he gets home, the days he’s traveling for work, etc. And these moments…oh these moments! They are the moments my patience and strength are tested. The moments I lose my cool. The moments I feel the real stress that many of my students’ moms are under EVERY SINGLE DAY. So now when a kiddo tells me about their mom snapping at them on a regular basis, I feel more empathy than anger toward that parent because I’ve had glimpses of that life and I’ve seen how challenging it is.
6. It’s easier to be zen at school and harder to be present at home.
My oldest is three and a half which means I’ve been through a few different phases of tantrums and meltdowns. I’ve learned how to weather that storm. Now when I’m teaching and the kiddos won’t stop talking or seem incapable of following my directions, I’m able to find my peace easier. On the other hand, after a full day of zen and patience and empathy and being present with my students, it’s incredibly difficult to continue at home with my own babies.