Are you a slacker working mother? Some people would say every working mother is a slacker. But many working moms struggle with mommy guilt every time their presence is requested at a school function that falls on the same day as their big presentation.
The truth is that few working parents have enough vacation or personal time to attend all the parent-teacher conferences, music and dance performances, athletic events, Mother's and Father's Day parties, award ceremonies, and field trips, especially if they have more than one child.
Here's an idea: don't even try. Yes, you should go to the events important to your child's academic future or personal goals, but there are four good reasons to skip your child's school functions, once in a while. And none of them makes you a slacker working mother.
You'll Give Someone Else a Turn
One of my favorite quotes is that motherhood is being the center of someone's universe, at least for a short time. We all bask in our young child's adoring gaze and realize we'll only appear perfect for a short while.
But that's no reason to hog all the attention. If you can't make a school function because of a work conflict, you may discover your husband or partner's schedule can accommodate the event.
It's also a great opportunity to invite an aunt or uncle, grandparent, or even a favorite neighbor to attend. If you're always bending over backwards to make sure you're there, you'll never give someone else a turn.
Not only will this be special and enjoyable for the relative, it will help your child develop a stronger relationship with the fill-in chaperone. And you'll have the fun of comparing notes after the event -- a fresh pair of eyes may notice something that you didn't on previous occasions.
Your Child Will Learn Independence
When you're in the room, your child's behavior changes. Younger kids may be clingier; older kids may act out; and teenagers will avoid eye contact and pretend they don't know you.
If you're absent, it frees your child to have a different experience. She can form her own impressions of the event, without checking your face to see your reactions. It's one more chance for her to develop independence.
She may even enjoy it more without you. On field trips to the movies and a play, our middle daughter cried and dragged me out of the theater as soon as the lights went down. Finally, I got the bright idea to be unavailable, and she had a great time on the next movie trip without me.
You'll Make the Other Moms, and Their Kids, Feel Better
As a working mom, it's easy to slip into thinking that you're the only one with obligations that conflict with school events. But people with different family structures and career choices also have trouble making functions -- when you're not there all the time it makes everyone feel better about missing occasions too.
Stay-at-home moms have doctor's appointments and volunteer obligations, and they may be taking care of aging parents. Single parents have no spouse to cover school events. Imagine how their kids feel about seeing you there on every single trip, holding your child's hand, when their parent can't attend?
Ideally, when you chaperone a trip, you take under your wing the kids whose parents are absent, knowing that their parents will do the same for yours at another date.
I heard from one mom who contorted her schedule around a major work meeting to attend the school picnic. She imagined her daughter as the only one whose mother was absent, being the subject of pitying gazes from stay-at-home moms and their children. As it turned out, plenty of other parents had conflicts, and their children still had a great time.
You'll Give Yourself Breathing Room for Emergencies
As with everything, the decision of whether to attend a school function should be balanced against your job obligations. You're shortchanging your family in a different way by squeezing your schedule to come to a field trip, only to stay up all night getting your work done.
You'll also build good will in the office by limiting absences to a reasonable number. When you ration your planned days away, you'll be in a better position to take emergency time off for illnesses or snow days.