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Balancing Work and Family: What Happens When Working Parents Engage With Schools?

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Balancing Work and Family: What Happens When Working Parents Engage With Schools?

Balancing work and life are not always easy.  For working parents, it can be a series of gruelling choices.  Choices that are laden with guilt and judgement at every turn. With almost 15 years’ experience as a working mum now chalked up, I negotiate this for the most part with the expected amount of grace.

But now and then, something will swing out of the ether and knock me for a six.  It may be a seemingly small act such as a forgotten excursion or a missed out of uniform day.  But when it happens it rallies that ugly inner working parent critic that I’m sure many of you will relate to.  The critic says;

“You’re a terrible mother,” “you care more about work than your children,” “surely you could just spare one moment to participate in your child’s life rather than attending that meeting,” “she’s growing up quickly, without you”.

Such was my experience last week when I dropped my youngest bundle of joy off at the school gate, costume in hand and picnic snacks in a bag.  I dropped her off knowing that I would not be at the family occasion the school had planned.  I dropped her off, and my heart just about snapped in two as she told me “it’s OK mum, don’t worry about it”.

And it probably was OK for her. But it wasn’t for me.

I drove to my required destination, lump in throat; inner critic turned up loud and proud.  Oh yes, that critic has a sharp tongue, and she’s not afraid to use it. I’m happy of course to take my part of the blame for mismanaging the barrage of paperwork that comes with my family each and every week from the three different schools my three children attend.  However, I do believe there is a greater issue also at hand.

And the issue is this.  It’s a distinct lack of interest schools seem to have in truly, truly engaging their working parent communities. The reason I wasn’t attending the previously mentioned family occasion was simple.

I plan my diary at least two weeks in advance. We missed the note because my child was absent from school on the day the note was distributed. There was no other notice. If this was an isolated incident, I may not be writing this article.  But I find that it’s an ongoing and frustrating part of parenting school-aged children.

For goodness sake, I’m not asking to have notes delivered on a silver platter, I don’t need a personalised text (though it would be nice), and I don’t need the school to schedule appointments with my personal assistant. What I do need is simple (a) notice and (b) somewhere, somehow a list of scheduled activities that I can access and check in on.

Now, the three school thing does give us some level of perspective, and it’s clear some schools engage their broader community better than others. But here’s the underlying thing, every single school has a wealth of untapped resources.  It’s parent and the broader community.

My challenge to schools is to stop treating us with obligation, guilt and contempt (oh sorry, your language for that is officially notes, engagement and information).  Include us, ask us how we’d like to engage and show us that you really welcome that participation. When a school truly nurtures its WHOLE learning community a seed is planted, and of that seed who knows what will grow.

What are your thoughts about schools engaging with parents? Have you had a similar experience? What do you do to manage the constant balancing act?

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