9 to 5

It's Fine To Skip That School Event In The Middle Of The Workday

The truth is I don’t want to miss work for a classroom party.

I hate mom guilt. I’m strongly against the concept entirely — having it or giving it any of my attention — and I’m always trying to talk other moms out of it too. I prefer to accept that we’re all gonna feel like we drop the ball once in a while, and that’s just life. But there’s one aspect of mom guilt that gets me every time, and it involves school events.

Here’s the problem: I don’t really want to miss work to go to the Easter Egg hunt, the book fair, or the bubble party. I’ve got four kids with a fifth on the way; getting the kids all dressed, happy, and off to school feeling fully supported by their parents is enough work. As a former teacher myself, I get how essential parent involvement at school is, but that doesn’t change how exhausting it is and how much I just don’t want to do it and dread having to. Hence: mom guilt.

The first issue is the timing and the expectations attached to these events. I struggle with middle-of-the-day preschool events, where your child will be the only one without an adult supporting them if you don’t make yourself available from 11-12, smack in the middle of prime working hours. This type of event seems built only for moms with exceptionally flexible schedules. But I don’t want my small son wondering where I am as all the other parents show up. So I go or ask a grandparent to go, because of that dreaded mom guilt.

At least as the kids move into elementary school, the parties tend to happen in the last hour of school, with more of an eye toward how working parents might be able to make it in the late afternoon.

The second problem is harder to solve, because it goes beyond logistics: I like working, and I value my work time. Not MORE than my kids, or instead of my kids, of course, but in addition to my kids. Parenting mid-workday feels like overtime, added onto the time I already spent getting the Valentines ready, helping them cut out each one and sign their names, and building their Valentine’s delivery vessel with all its requirements. As I watch other moms sign up for these party jobs, the guilt trickles in. But it soon comes face to face with my drive to work, to value my career as well, and I struggle with whether to say yes or no.

Worst of all, there are the sweet questions from the kids themselves, like “Mom, are you coming to my school today? ALL the parents will be there.” Each of these conversations carries a serious dilemma. Do I teach them the value of showing up at work and earning for your family? Or do I drop everything and come to their school? The answer, of course, is a balance of both. But those times that I do have to say no are ridden with guilt, despite my best intentions to feel exactly zero. My solution to give myself balance — and make them feel supported — has been to use these opportunities to let involved aunts and grandparents to stop by these parties, and to ensure that both their dad and I occasionally come too.

I also try to avoid those super sappy guilt-trip Instagram posts like the plague, the ones where the momfluencers remind us just how fleeting time is. I’ve seen wall decor with sand in it, showing just how much time has elapsed, urging parents to cherish each moment. I’ve also seen the summer countdown; we only get 18 with our kids, it forewarns, before they are gone forever. It’s too much. The days are long and the years are short, but that doesn’t mean I need to show up at 11am on a Tuesday to decorate cookies every six weeks.

When I think about my own childhood being raised by a working mom, it isn’t the parties during school and work hours I remember. It’s her taking me to work with her sometimes, and seeing the cool stuff she did, sitting at her desk and pretending to type. It’s her making dinner happen even after working all day, and asking me about my life. It’s a project that we worked on together for science class late in the evening, not in place of her 10 am meetings. If she and I survived not attending every party with our relationship intact, my kids will as well. Guilt be gone.

Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice. She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.