At the beginning of my week, I already felt a headache coming on. On Sunday night when I glanced at my calendar, I saw: two parent-teacher conferences; a violin recital; a dance performance; three additional end-of-the-school-year extracurricular activities on top of those; plus, the deadlines for summer camp applications still looming.
Much like in September, when my life was overrun by pre-school orientations and home visits from new teachers, May is already proving to be for me — and many of the working parents around me — total bedlam. Granted, my kids are very little New Yorkers in Manhattan, where the Pre-K crowd tends to be hyper-scheduled and parents’ ambitions translate into a lot more extracurricular activities than there’s sufficient scientific or financial justification for. But for many families I know, it’s the norm, even if it’s far from the way I grew up in California.
All of this, of course, means there will be the inevitable disruptions to my work schedule — which, as the co-founder and CEO of a rapidly growing startup, is already time-intensive, to say the least. Whenever I feel too sorry for myself, I think about how difficult it must be for single parents without support, or for employees with no control or wiggle room in their schedules. Yes, these disruptions that occur at the beginning and end of school years are routine and predictable in the sense that they happen every year, but they do require a minimum amount of job flexibility.
End-of-school and back-to-school are stressful transition periods where schedules shift dramatically for families. Sure, some of my stress is self-inflicted. I’m a parent who chooses to and has the luxury to enroll their children in so many activities. For anyone in the same boat as me, it’s pretty clear to our rational minds that our children will not really suffer (or advance) in any long term, material way if they participate in one less class or after-school sport.
Will it really be the end of the world if a babysitter attends a school orientation (or a parent skips one)? Of course not. But even the most career-focused parents I know aspire to be there when asked by their kids’ teachers, and they also try to do their best to enrich their children’s lives even if it means sacrificing their own weekends and nights — and even jobs.
I’m not one that likes to pretend there aren’t tradeoffs in terms of career and family commitments. While I understand the need some have to preserve the veneer of “having it all," I end up thinking it does a disservice to working parents to pretend there’s no issue at all, particularly for mothers who typically take on the majority of these responsibilities. Moms, whether they work outside the home or not, tend to be the ones to take these teacher meetings and adapt themselves to schedule shifts during these transition periods. Sometimes dads do it too, of course, but we live in a culture where that’s still not usually the norm.
The sacrifice is greater for some of us than for others. For some, there really isn’t even a choice: single parents who can’t afford childcare or risk their jobs just won’t. Their kids won’t be enrolled in extracurricular activities that involve shuttling them around after or before school, and if they somehow do, they certainly won’t be very involved.
For others, the issue is less extreme, but taking time off for too many educational activities means risking the ire of their manager or the negative judgement of colleagues — regardless of whether they make up the lost hours at other times.
Even in my best-of-all-cases working mom scenario, I still feel the strain during these times of the year.
I’m an entrepreneur whose husband is helping out this week (as he often does) with the workload of keeping up with the children’s schedule. We also hire the most dependable, amazing babysitter, without whom none of this could possibly work.
But even for me, during this time of year, job flexibility is just like oxygen. It’s not a luxury even to those that have it. Without it, nothing else works — and it’s a good reminder for anyone fortunate to have good work-life balance that it doesn’t actually take a whole lot to throw it off-balance.
Need more balance in your life? Check out Fairygodboss' Work-Life Balance Guide, which breaks down the flex policies of employers — and find a job at a company where juggling home and work responsibilities isn't an uphill battle.