I am married to a principal, a principal of an elementary school in a smaller sized community. When he got the job, I thought I understood what our family was walking into. I knew there would be later hours and that he would be gone more often. I knew I was going to have to take over jobs he regularly did, like cooking – and I have. However, little did I know the impact such a public position would have on all of us.
Sure, you have the usual characteristics that come with administrative jobs, long hours, more stress. But, it is the characteristics of being married to someone with a higher profile job I didn’t expect. I know I am not alone in this and I can imagine the families of ministers, politicians, and other public figures go through these same things.
Here are some of the things we as a family did not expect when it comes to living with a Principal:
When you are out as a family, people will stare. My husband’s students tend to stare at the kids and the parents of his students tend to stare at the adults. It’s a bit odd, and somewhat uncomfortable, particularly in restaurants. Run into someone at Walmart? Please tell me no one is playing the “fill mom’s cart with spam cans” game again.
When your husband refers to “my kids” he is usually talking about the 500 at his school. For example: “There are two of my kids” He points at two children playing outside as we drive by. “Why are they hanging barbies to the tree with masking tape?” I ask in response.
When you open up the newspaper, you may actually see your spouse’s name listed. And, though it has not happened to us sometimes it is critical and negative. Most of us, unless we really mess up, are not going to see our job performance crawling across the pages of the local paper for the world to see. In this era of accountability – everything school administrators do is open to public scrutiny.
I asked each of the kids what they thought was strange about being the child of a principal. My son said it took him awhile to get used to the fact that no matter where we went his dad had to talk to someone. My oldest daughter said it is weird that all these kids her age know her dad and she doesn’t know them. Finally the youngest said, “all these girls hug daddy.” And that is true – it’s rare to be out on the town without a few little girls running up to hug her dad.
For me one of the strangest feelings is what I call “First Lady” syndrome. When I am out, in situations with other moms, inevitably school comes up in the conversation. When I ask what school others’ kids go to – often it is with a bit of trepidation. If they said his school’s name should I just keep quiet or tell them. What happens if they go off on a tirade only to later find out who I am. So, I usually let them know pretty quickly. And this is where First Lady syndrome sets in. Once I had a woman have her son apologize to me about his poor behavior. Honestly he was doing nothing that other kids weren’t doing in this environment – including my own. But for some reason she felt obliged to have him make a public apology to me – not the other moms, just me.
The other day, my husband was pulling the trashcans back to the house from the curb. He was dressed in a motley of clothing items – probably picked up off the floor and piled in heavy layers to combat a cold Colorado morning. One of his families drove by. The next week, those kids happily detailed to the rest of the student body just how “funny” their principal looked. And that is just the point. We are a silly family. We have issues. We make mistakes. We are not bland, boring people. And, most of all we definitely aren’t perfect.
While we can laugh off some of this, I think it would be detrimental if we started internalizing this ideal of perfection. I have a good friend who is working her way towards the ministry. The other day she wrote a blog post, called Great Expectations, about how much expectation aspiring ministers place on themselves. It occurred to me that any of us pursuing these helping yet high profile professions are much in the same boat. Learning to balance those expectations with reality; learning to embrace our own imperfections as we work within the communities around us – that is no small undertaking but important. This is particularly important to me as our three children watch and internalize the expectations we place on our family.