It's hard being a parent, a spouse, a child, and a principal. I feel equipped and capable of assuming all of these roles individually. Just not all at the same time.
Being an elementary school principal isn't the most technically demanding job in the world, but the social demands can leave your head spinning, especially if you are an introvert like me. In a given day you might find me meeting with parents, covering a first grade classroom, counseling a group of fourth grade girls through some drama involving a can of green slime, playing basketball with kids during lunch, checking in on the sick chicken in the garden, evaluating instruction, doing traffic duty, sending emails, and attending a school event in the evening. I've had to step out of church on a Sunday morning to take a phone call from my superintendent. And this is exactly what I signed up for. I pined for this job, because I love kids and deeply believe in the mission of public education. Yet the variety of demands and the intensity of the work sometimes leave me absolutely fried.
Copyright: mrdoomits / 123RF Stock Photo
I want to be the best principal I can be. But I also want to be the best spouse, parent, child, friend, and citizen I can be as well. And each of those things are far more important than the job I have. Sometimes it feels like I can't be all these things at once. Like on the evenings when I come home from work after spending 10 hours pouring myself into parents, teachers, our kids, and I struggle to have enough energy left over for my family. Or when I get home just as the kids are being put to bed, or when I go to bed at eight o’clock so I can wake up at five to start catching up on emails. Fortunately, public education offers a rhythm where everything essentially stops between mid-June and August and for two weeks in December. For much of the year, however, everything goes at full speed.
Instituting some rules to protect my time at home has helped. I try to clear my inbox before I leave work and leave email alone until morning. A regular bedtime has helped me have energy throughout the day. I’ve found that taking the dog for a walk or even cooking dinner can keep my mind off work and help me be more present with my family. Weekends and school breaks are sacred time. Of course, sometimes things are just crazy.
Recently I came home and I felt so tense from my day that it seemed like my nerve endings were all firing at once, just going haywire. I couldn’t turn off my brain. The only thing that seemed to help was engaging my mind in solitary activities like reading or playing video games. The next morning I got up early to start the day’s work. Like Arya Stark, I started listing out all of the things that were stressing me out at the moment: tricky student situations, regrets over how I’d handled a difficult staff interaction, deadlines, and the abiding fear that I was constantly letting my family down because of the demands of my job. Naming things seemed to help a bit. Elliott, my three and a-half year old came down and joined me at the dining room table. It was a little before 6:30, just Elliott and I. He noticed I was writing and wanted to tell me how to spell his name.
"E... good job dad... L-L-I-O-T... I spell my name with two T’s dad. Good job! Now make a ‘J’. I spell my name with a ‘J’ now.
I stifled a chuckle.
"Don’t laugh at me," he said.
"I’m not laughing at you son. I’m laughing because you made me happy. I love you."
"Aww. I wuv you too dad," he said, giving me a hug.
This was a bit like a holy interruption. I’m familiar with the sense that God loves my children through my parenting, but that morning, in the pre-dawn darkness, it felt like God was loving me through Elliott.
Elliott has inherited this spiritual gift from his mother. Andrea knows how to bring levity when I am overwhelmed. She holds me accountable to healthy work-home boundaries, and shows me a supernatural level of grace. She suggests this sort of stuff might make for an Estuaries blog post.
I am a principal, a spouse, a parent, a child, and a citizen. Underneath and through it all, I am a child of God. It seems one of the great challenges I face is to move through life, fulfilling the worthwhile demands of all the roles I play without losing sight of who I am in Jesus. I’m grateful for how God uses my family and friends to assist in his work of forming and reforming me into his own.
Armed with an undergraduate education in history, church ministry, and biblical literature, Brian White decided he was best suited to serve others and work toward justice through the mission field of public education, where he has been a special education teacher, program specialist, and school administrator. Brian is married to the winsome Andrea, and together they have two terribly cute children, Emmaline and Elliott. Brian and Andrea have been part of The River since July 2014.