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.