Reader Question: I’m pregnant and due in 6 months (yay!). I’m completely and totally petrified to announce this to my students (boo!). I have no idea how to manage my studio and be a mom. Can I do both? This is my first child and I just don’t know how to navigate this life change. Can you help?
Several of my friends and family members have had babies recently. And I have to admit… I’ve watched in envy as they’ve enjoyed a full year of paid maternity leave. They attend leisurely playgroups, they host elaborate 1st birthday parties complete with hand-made decorations and fondant cakes, they scrapbook their child’s milestones and they remember to write down height and weight at every stage. The only thing they have to do for that entire year is raise their child.
Me? I returned to work just 8 hours after having my first baby girl; answering emails from my hospital bed. My midwife watched in amusement and commented “You do work for yourself do you not?”
This question really got me thinking. While I was certainly self-employed, deep down I believed I actually worked for my students and their families. Maternity leave was not an option. I’d lose my students; I’d lose my job.
And so I did what many piano teachers do. I just coped. I said goodbye to my little teeny first baby just 8 weeks after she was born and was back teaching; fearful that any more time off would certainly spell the end of my hard-earned studio. I perfected the one-handed typing technique; nursing my baby as I prepared lessons and answered emails. I wore her kangaroo style as I accompanied students on stage during our end of year recital and I became an expert at baby distraction techniques every time the phone rang.
By the time my second baby girl was born I had decided that this was not the way I wanted my child-rearing years to look. I had seen just how quickly that teeny infant became a bossy toddler in gumboots and a jean skirt. I didn’t want to multi-task anymore. I wanted to be a mom. And so I chose to be a mom.
And my studio didn’t die… in fact it flourished. And my students didn’t leave… not a single one. And I learned how to truly multi-task… not how to multi-stress.
Piano Teachers… Create Your Own Maternity Leave!
My answers to how to manage maternity leave as a piano teacher may not work for everyone, but through my own mistakes and triumphs I learned a thing or two about how to create your own maternity leave. And because I feel so passionately about the importance of Mom and baby (or Dad and baby!) being together as much as possible in those fleeting first years, I hope that the strategies below work for those of you in this situation.
Plan A) Find a Fill-in. Advertise for a fill-in or “apprentice” piano teacher. Try your local universities and seek out a senior student or a graduate student who is interested in some hands-on teaching experience. This person would then teach your students from your own studio and would be paid by you as a sub-contractor. Your students can continue on in lessons as though nothing has happened! This solution can work long-term or short-term… your choice. You also continue to make some income as you can decide how much of a wage you would like to pay the fill-in teacher.
If you go this route, I suggest you spend some time training this new teacher for a seamless transition for your students. Depending on how your studio is set-up, it may not work to have lessons going on around your family and this may call for some creativity. It is really convenient, however, to have a fill-in teacher you can call on even after you return back to work for those days when your baby may be sick… or teething… or very upset that they can’t find their red shovel.
Plan B) Change Your Schedule – Re-arrange the way you teach and take holidays according to your due date. If you usually take July and August off, but are due in November, instead teach through the summer and take November and December off (or longer) instead. Add additional weeks onto the holidays you normally already take off (like spring break, Easter etc.) If someone can look after your baby in your home, build your schedule with lots of breaks for snuggles or feeding in between lesson times. Consider breaking up your teaching into smaller chunks of time spread over more days.
Plan C) Change Your Lesson Format: Consider having your students attend every other week for 45 minutes instead of every week for 30 minutes. While it’s not an ideal situation, it does continue your students’ learning and gives you every second week off for the months that you need that time. Alternatively, you can match students of similar age and ability and have them come for partner lessons (focus on duets, theory, music history… anything that can be done in pairs) for the first few months after your baby is born. You’ll cut your teaching time in half, but still connect with all of your students regularly.
Quick Tip – To keep your kids practicing in the “off-week” check out this resource
Regardless of What You Choose… Don’t Forget To:
1) Announce Your News With a Plan – The most important thing you can do is to announce your baby news with a clear plan in place for your students. When I told my students that my second child was due in October I had a clearly laid out (in writing) plan for how their lessons would look for that year. Leaving it up to their imagination until you get organized is never a good thing. Even the kindest clients will tend to look for alternative solutions on their own after hearing this kind of news as they make assumptions that may or may not be true. Make the decisions early on as to how you will navigate this in your studio and share all of the information immediately with your clients.
2) Allow for Flexibility – It is so important to find a solution that does not have a predetermined end date. You have no idea how these first baby months will go. Don’t make promises that will hold you hostage to a looming deadline. Find a solution that can be long-term if need be and let yourself enjoy those first baby moments for as long as you need/want to.
3) Keep It In Perspective – Keep in mind that there will always be new piano students, but there are very few times in your life when you get to be a new parent. Remember what is truly your priority and let your time be spent on what really matters. Fancy incentive programs, recitals, elaborate theory games, studio awards… they can wait. Remember that, to most of your students, piano lessons are one of several things they have going on in their life and, while it is certainly of paramount importance to you, their world will continue to turn if their piano lessons are simple for a few months.
Once I learned to give myself permission to be on my self-created maternity leave, my life became much simpler. And while I chose to do a combination of the 3 plans listed above, your own personally-created solutions may just do the trick as well.
And I still certainly don’t have it all figured out… I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that just last week I gave my 2 year old a donut in her car seat and parked in the shade so I could make a bunch of phone calls. So… if you’re an experienced parent/piano teacher who navigated the baby years with a piano studio in tow we’d love to hear your experiences! Share in the comment section below.