What’s the hardest part about juggling parenthood and your career?
I think it is mostly about time and making sure each event, for work and family, is planned for. I try to plan ahead as much as possible so that the days run smoothly. I couldn’t do it without my husband and the help of our family, especially grandparents and godparents.
What makes trying to balance both easier?
We keep a family calendar where all activities for my kids and meetings and events for my husband and me are recorded. When the kids were little, my husband and I kept the calendar and made sure everyone got where they needed to be. Now that my daughters are both in middle school, we all share the responsibility. We also have a family chore list, and everyone takes turns making dinner. It isn’t always easy and certainly not perfect. I make mistakes all the time, but knowing that we all love each other and are doing our best is how we deal with mistakes when we make them.
What do you love about being a parent?
Everything. I love being a teacher, but becoming a mom was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I’ve enjoyed watching my girls grow and figure out who they are. I love listening to them talk about a topic that they are passionate about. I am perpetually in awe of their creativity, kindness and beauty both inside and out.
What’s your biggest parenting fail?
Screens. I guess all parents must feel like a failure when it comes to their kids and their screens. I am always trying new things: a screen controller app or a screen-free day, but I never feel like we have succeeded. I don’t want to make it taboo because then they will just want it more, and we have an honest relationship that I don’t want to jeopardize.
We certainly loosened up with screen restrictions during the pandemic, and I have recently announced that during the summer we will be instituting some sort of screen-free time. Getting back to a healthy amount of screen consumption post-pandemic is going to be a challenge, but it is one that I am ready to face.
How has your family been handling the pandemic?
Well, at first, we were just trying to get through the end of the school year asynchronously while having groceries delivered and wiping them down before they came into the house.
Once we wrapped our heads around the fact that this was going to be somewhat long term, my husband and I decided that some norms were going to have to go out the window and we would focus on spending time together. I didn’t want to have teenagers in their rooms alone for months and a missed opportunity to bond with my kids. I kept saying to my husband, “Before we know it, they won’t want anything to do with us. In a way, this time is a gift. Let’s use it.” So it was plenty of TV, but TV together. We got a good dose of time together just before my oldest starts high school. Of course there have been plenty of challenges, and we have taken each one as it comes and have done our best to cope.
What do you hope your kids will learn from you and your career?
Kindness matters. Everything I do in my work comes from a place of kindness. I want every student to feel accepted and welcomed. The only way to do that is to be kind. I also want my girls to know that a strong woman who uses her voice is a good thing.
I want them to grow up to be women who are not afraid to speak their minds. I don’t think I found my voice until I was in my 40s, and I want my girls to know that it is good and correct to be assertive and that you can be assertive while also being kind. I also want my family to know that part of being a member of a community is helping others. That task is infused into my work responsibilities, but we try to make it part of our family life as well.
Often it is through the school where I work that we are able to help others as a family. I want my kids to understand that we all need help from time to time, and receiving help is nothing to be ashamed of. Giving help is not going above and beyond; it’s part of what it means to be a good human.
Learn more about Jennifer Perez Ryan, Frederick County Public Schools Teacher of the Year for the 2021-2022 academic year.
FAMILY MEAL: Pho
DESSERT: Carrot cake
BOOK TO READ TOGETHER: “The Land of Stories” by Chris Colfer
WAY TO SPEND A WEEKEND WITH YOUR CHILDREN: Going to the movies, swimming, going out for coffee and shopping
VACATION SPOT: Emerald Isle, North Carolina, with the Ryans and Pine Island, Florida, with the Perezes