The work/family juggle – school days edition

I submitted this as a guest post to the Work It, Mom! Blog back around the beginning of the school year; on October 16 it made its way to the front of the queue and was published there. (Guest blogs run on most Tuesdays and are a popular feature, so there’s a wait for posting.) And on a related note, check out Elizabeth Horn’s post about managing “the afternoon activity shuffle” at Mommy Track’d.

Many of us want to be involved in our kids’ education. It may frustrate us sometimes when schools schedule events that cause us to juggle our workday if we want to be there – and can make us feel that they just don’t consider working parents, especially in schools that seem to have a lot of students with an at-home parent – but then again, it is their workday too. School classrooms, offices, and administration buildings are staffed by working parents, but they don’t tend to work the same hours that many of the rest of us do. (I have to admit it took me a long time – and the input of some teacher friends – to see that perspective on it.)

That schedule difference usually means having to make arrangements for our kids before school, after school, or both. If some form of flextime can’t take care of everything – and it’s unusual if it can, on both ends of the day, when you’re working outside the home – then you’ll need to decide among child-care programs, sitters, and, for older kids, the “home after school on their own” option.

Unless they’re part of your regular after-school arrangements, extracurriculars add even more wrinkles – literally, if you’re stressing over them a lot. My thinking on that is to keep them limited until your kids become independently mobile (read: high school), because fitting games, practices, dance lessons, etc., into already crowded schedules is completely optional, unlike school. And my opinion is also that school, including homework, is the most important thing they’re doing – and homework is becoming a bigger thing all the time. I’ve also noticed that these activities often are scheduled in ways that aren’t especially friendly to working parents, either. If you are making time for activities, though, you might have your child choose the one activity or sport he or she most wants to do; it’s not bad for them to learn that there are limits. (Some of us parents need to remember that at times, too.) If you do that, I think it’s important for it to be the child’s choice, even if you might have a different preference – he wants karate, you’d rather have him play baseball – so that he or she is really invested in the activity. And they honestly will be OK if they don’t do extracurriculars, at least sometimes – it might give you all a little more unstructured family time (or even find you some “me” time – can you imagine?).

Since it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing year-round schools with schedules approximating our standard work hours (perhaps with before- and after-care hours included for families that need them), we’ll need to learn the best way for us to work the school-year juggle – so it doesn’t end up working us. And although as moms we tend to take everything on ourselves, we shouldn’t forget that – if we’re lucky – there’s another parent around too.

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  1. In Canada, we were on the verge of getting a comprehensive system of in-school before and after care … and then there was a change of government and the plan was scrapped. Sigh.

  2. Bub and Pie – You folks still got closer to it than we have, and I suspect you’ll have such a system in place long before it’s even seriously discussed in the USA.