A Working Mother Vents

School play

I cried a little today. I needed to vent some frustration. I am frustrated because this Friday is the summer concert at my children’s school and I just found out. I may ask for some flex time to attend, even though it’s short notice, but my top priority is my daughter’s theatre performance. I wasn’t able to attend her fall performance due to short notice and a lack of flexibility at the time. And so I really want to attend the end of year show. If I can only attend one event, that would be my choice.

It’s not just working parents who miss out when they can’t get to school events. If you’ve ever watched  a child on a school stage scan the audience anxiously looking for parents and then waving and smiling when they are spotted, you understand how important family involvement is to a child. Schools constantly remind us to take an active role in  our children’s education – that involvement should extend beyond academics.

I may be able to attend both the concert and the theatre show – depending on what time of day they take place and how busy I am at work. The problem is, I don’t know when the theatre performance is because it has not yet been scheduled.

I reached out to the princicpal in an effort to be proactive. And I explained to her how, as a working parent, I really want to attend school events and that with advance notice and the big picture (dates for all the events for the end of year) I can make informed choices and plan my time.

She said unfortunately it is very challenging to schedule all the end of year events and she promised a notice would come home Thursday with the date of the theatre show and that it would most likely be the following week. I appreciate the response, but by the time I figure out if I can attend, it will be too late to ask for the time to see the concert. Luckily, I am fairly confident I don’t need to give the official two week notice (common corporate policy) to take an hour off – so that works in my favor. But I do have something on my calendar for the tentative date and it involves many people and won’t reflect well on me to back out with little notice. So do I ask for time off to attend the concert now, before I know about the theatre performance? Or do I hold out in hopes I can attend the theatre performance, and possibly end up missing both?

This issue isn’t exclusive to my children’s school. It’s district-wide. Last month, a notice came home from the administration that my children’s artwork was going to be displayed in a town-wide art show – the very next night. I immediately sent an email to the office asking to leave early the next night. Luckily, I work for a company that values flexibility and family more than the company handbook.  At the show,   hundreds of little masterpieces lined the halls. It must have taken time to hang all of that art – probably more than a day. The high school band was performing. I assume they were  given more than 24 hours notice. Refreshments were served. Again, that required planning.

I am trying to appreciate how difficult it must be to schedule the last month of school for seven schools in the district. But I am just so sick of missing out on my kids’ school activities — not because I work for a draconian company and can’t take time off, but because I don’t get enough notice and information to manage my coworkers, my clients and my career.

Working parents, especially mothers, have to consciously manage perceptions at work. If we are serious about our careers, and I am because it’s what  feeds my kids (and pays the theatre fees), we need to be seen as dedicated to the job. Yes, it has become more acceptable to work from home on the day of a school event or hold a conference call while driving to meet the bus, but it’s a fine line. We are constantly seeking the right balance of work and family.

Back to school, for example, is another busy time of year. There are orientation meetings, curriculum nights, fundraisers, and parent teacher conferences (which in my town are held during the school -and therefore work- day per the teachers’ contracts). When a savvy working mother picks and chooses which of those events she will attend, she is also thinking about any contingency days she may need for sick days and snow days too. She is constantly weighing the risk/rewards for every decision she makes to be at work or at home. Where is the greater payoff – the client call or the teacher conference? What carries a higher penalty – miss the meeting or miss the field trip?

True, no one will lie on their death bed and wish they had picked the meeting over the school play, but many will lie awake in their own beds at night wondering how to make more money in order to help pay for their child’s education. And for this working mother, right now, my children’s education feels like my biggest career challenge.

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15 comments for “A Working Mother Vents

  1. Petrina
    June 1, 2011 at 9:58 am

    Hi Liz,
    Ironically, what your PTA and your district probably needs are more working parents on their boards to bring issues like this to the forefront. Working parents are experts at planning and scheduling events. When they are engaged in the planning process, they bring about order and the notion of advanced planning, so that busy families can attend and block off time months in advance. It’s a Catch 22, since working parents have so little extracurricular time, but they can add so much depth and insight when they are able to engage. Liz for PTA President!

  2. Lee
    June 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    What a bunch of crap…the activities are well know, the schedule is well known — there just aren’t that many variables….

  3. Petrina
    June 1, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I agree with Lee

  4. June 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Just hopping on here to thank you so much for this. This is an insightful opinion on the difficulties of maintaining work-life balance, and we greatly appreciated it. This brings a lot of issues to the surface, and underscores how flexibility must be a true collaborative and cultural effort in order to work. Thank you!

    • June 1, 2011 at 8:56 pm

      Yes, I didn’t realize until I wrote this just how integrated the school system is in a working parents life and career.

  5. Barbara Heffner
    June 2, 2011 at 9:38 am

    Hi Liz – My heart goes out to you and other working parents who are trying to juggle the many end-of-year events. My son just graduated from college, so this life stage is behind me, but I remember it as being so stressful. It’s nearly impossible for parents to attend all the many year-end events unless you can work half-time for the month of June. And who can?!?

    Courage. Committed parents (as you are, I can tell!) show their kids ten ways to Sunday that they are loved. So while your daughter would love to have you there for every single milestone, she’s proud that you work and will understand that you’ll miss some things because of it.

    And for those of you without kids – pitch in and support your colleagues. One day, you’ll need the support, whether it be because of kids, aging parents or health issues (goddess forbid). The karma bank remembers.

    • June 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      Thank you Barb. You made me cry a little again! But in a good way.

  6. June 8, 2011 at 3:37 am


    This has been an issue for a working mothers. As they leave their house for work, they do kiss their child and ask for forgiveness like “I’m sorry, I have to work”.

    If you have time to attend that would be great, and if not, talk to them and explain why you weren’t able to attend the show. They will understand eventually.

    • June 8, 2011 at 7:39 am


      Thanks for the support. As a working mother I know I will miss many events – it’s all a tradeoff. My kids understand why and I don’t have guilt for supporting my family. My issue is that with fair notice from the school, I can make my schedule work and make it to a handful of events at school. But that requires the schools to plan ahead so parents like me (not just working parents but any parent who may have other priorities in their life – volunteering, caregiving etc,) can plan and prioritize.

  7. June 25, 2011 at 8:48 am

    It’s never easy balancing work and family. Now that our children are in school, I can see that the challenges are going to rise exponentially. Volunteer efforts in the classroom, school productions, field trips, PTA. The list goes on… At the moment, our children are currently out for the summer and the question has become, “How do I productively fill their days, when I’m gone for at least 10 of them?” It feels like I’m being pulled in two, and it’s only that small component of my brain that thinks about “MORTGAGE AND FOOD” that pushes me to be in the office. The rest of my being is with my children. Personally, I believe that the “solution” does reside in a home-office arrangement with highly-flexible work hours, but I recognize not everyone (including myself, at the moment!) has that option.

    As for your school situation, I wholeheartedly agree that these kind of announcements could be made much sooner to allow working parents the opportunity to arrange their schedules accordingly. I recently had a “constructive” discussion with our children’s “Room Mom” who would send out the monthly volunteer schedule the first week of the month that we were supposed to volunteer. This wasn’t much of a problem if you were penciled-in to volunteer at the end of the month … but it was a BIG problem if you were penciled-in to volunteer the very next day! I find it helps to eat Tums like candy…!

    • June 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      Jen, thanks for weghing in. I recently found someone in town who has influence and authority and is willing to work with me on changing the culture in our school system. Because that’s just what I need – another project!

      For the most part, I like to go towork every day. But in the summer’s less so. I absolutely agree about the home office arrangement. It’s the ultimate goal.

      Hang in there. And try eating candy like candy instead of Tums. It’s more fun!

  8. June 29, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    When my daughter was in elementary school I struggled daily with issues around lack of advance notice for *anything*, not just performances and special activities. In the case of our elementary school I know one of the drivers was the fact that working mothers are a distinct minority. All volunteer activities and meetings were held during the school day and when I suggested creating opportunities for working mothers I was either greeted with pity that I “had to work” (which I don’t) or as if I had two heads. I thought it was disrespectful of working parents (regardless of gender) and so I stopped volunteering so I could focus my energies on balancing activities and projects specifically related to my daughter. I think everyone in the equation lost out (me, my daughter, and the school) but it was the only choice I felt I could make and still meet my job responsibilities.

    Middle School has been a breath of fresh air. I’m not sure what the drivers are because working mothers in our community are still few and far between, but things are scheduled months in advance and the school is very efficient about communications. I believe it may be a factor of the schools putting more responsibility on the students and wanting to give them as much information as possible as they learn to manage their own schedules. Regardless, it’s been a breath of fresh air.

    I don’t have a solution to the problem but the point of this has been to say it may get better as the kids get older, which doesn’t address the bigger issue but may offer a light at the end of the tunnel.

    • July 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      Thanks for giving me hope that it might get better.

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