School starts in one week and I’m bracing for the tears and the anxiety. Not my kids’. Mine. As I’ve written before, “Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a working mother like the last six weeks of school, except maybe the first six.” There are so many activities to coordinate: school supply shopping, orientation meetings, curriculum nights, fundraisers, and parent teacher conferences. The challenge of managing my September Outlook calendar makes balancing a multimillion dollar marketing budget seem like first grade arithmetic.
I’ve been critical of my school district in the past; as far as I’m concerned, there is no excuse for notifying me that my child’s artwork will be on display in the town-wide exhibit the night before the art show. Actually, I think there are two possible excuses: lack of planning or lack or respect for parents’ time. So this year, I must commend the administration.
Last night I visited the school website and on the school calendar I saw the dates and times for curriculum night, the Halloween dance, the winter concert, the spring concert and even the end of year carnival. Having this information is a huge help. I’ve already entered the events in Outlook, asked for time off for the concerts and noted the nights I need to leave work early to get to the school by 7 p.m.
Still, even with improvements in planning and communication, managing school activities can be a challenge for working parents. Also last night, I was browsing Facebook and I saw that one friend was scheduled to volunteer midday today at her child’s school handing out supply kits. Meanwhile, another friend wondered why the kits wouldn’t be available at any times convenient for working parents. The packets are available for pickup from 8 -10 a.m., but if, like me, your work day starts at 8:30, and you have a 45 minute commute, you’re still out of luck.
The reality is, schools and school routines just weren’t designed with the working parent in mind. Three o’clock dismissals, parent-teacher conferences that start at 10:15 a.m., the dreaded half-days and summer vacations, are all out of sync with the work world. And even when schools make adjustments – scheduling meetings at night or offering packet pick-up at 8 a.m., fitting it all in can be a challenge for working parents.
Women especially have to consciously manage perceptions at work. As I’ve noted in the past, “If we are serious about our careers…we need to be seen as dedicated to the job.” A working mother “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?”
So even with the fabulous school calendar and long-term planning, there will be some anxiety this school year. And there may be tears. After all, the art show is still to-be-scheduled and the musical theatre instructors may wait until the last minute to let me know my kid needs to wear a mint green t-shirt in the performance. And so you may hear me, and working mothers across the country, complain from time-to-time about managing work, life and school. When that happens, please do not respond with any of the following:
Six things not to say to a working mother
Do you have to work?
First of all, that’s none of your business. Second of all, it’s completely irrelevant. Some women enjoy working. But if you mean, do I have to work from 2 – 2:30 on Wednesday when the class is decorating gingerbread houses? Yes, I have a meeting with my boss at that time. Otherwise, I’d try to rearrange my schedule…again.
Don’t feel guilty.
Who said anything about guilt? You did, not me. I may be frustrated that the teacher didn’t cho0se the field trip chaperones until three days before the outing and that’s not enough notice for me to miss work. I may be crazed because I am trying to find a skin-colored leotard with black straps by tomorrow. Maybe I feel disappointed that I am going to miss my daughter’s play because I’ll be out of town. Most likely, I am exhausted because I got up at 5 a.m. to get some work done before the science fair. But I don’t feel guilty about providing a paycheck for my family.
This is important so do your best to be there.
I don’t need to be reminded how important it is for me to be involved in my child’s education. In fact, I think it’s the administration or school staff or PTO board that needs the reminder if they’re the ones responsible for planning an event at an inconvenient time or with too little notice. I do my best everyday. But I cannot reschedule a client meeting or business trip or deadline with too little notice. If I could, I would.
Don’t worry. Your child will be fine if you’re not there.
Who said anything about my child? I know my child will survive if I don’t volunteer at the holiday bazaar. And I even think my child benefits from my missing a concert or two. What better way to learn to perform for the joy of it instead of for the applause? But I understand that life is short and our children grow up fast and so I want to be there.
I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t stand to miss out on my child’s activities.
I don’t need to explain why you should never say this. It’s horrible and you know it.
I guess if you’re going to work, you have to accept that you’ll miss out.
As a working parent I don’t expect to be at every event. But what I do expect is enough planning, communication and courtesy so that I can choose what events I miss and what events I will use my vacation or personal time to attend. What I will never accept is missing events that I may have been able to attend if only I had enough notice.
And the one thing we’d love to hear you say?
You’re right. All parents are busy and need more notice and flexibility. Let’s work together to affect positive change.