Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Working Parents' Conflict: Paycheck vs. School Performance

It's a tough call: work assignments versus family commitments. Sometimes in the race to earn a living, I forget to live or forget why I live. That's how I felt yesterday as I raced off to my daughter's school for an Open House visit and a school performance.

The Scenario: I faced pressing work deadlines. But on the other side of the balance sheet, I was pulled by my 10-year-old daughter's pressing need for my presence at a special mother-daughter event at her school. Is it possible to do everything I need for work, while still being a hands-on parent?

The Options:

A Laptop Solution: Someone suggested that I show up in the classroom with my laptop. I could sit in the back of the room with my computer. In that pose, I could periodically smile and nod, while typing away at a work assignment.

  • Pros: I could multi-task. My body and smiles would be in the classroom, while my mind surfed the Internet and typed. Win-Win Scenario?

  • Cons: Who am I kidding? I wouldn't really be working. I wouldn't really be in the classroom or with my daughter. Other people are good at multi-tasking, I'm not.

  • The Reality: I left my laptop at home to avoid multi-tasking temptation. That was a smart move, because during the Open House portion of the day, every parent was instructed to sit next to their child (No hiding in the back of the classroom!) My typing fingers and wandering mind would have been discovered.

Plan Ahead: When I calmly reviewed my work calendar, I realized that while I faced a calendar full of deadlines, only one story was really due at the end of that business day. (The rest are due today and later this week.) I organized my thoughts and did as much research as I could before the presentation/Open House.

  • Pros: Planning ahead is a good strategy regardless of the occasion. I have a regular calendar of work commitments and deadlines. Advance planning will help smooth out my work schedule in any situation. And I have to admit that I knew about the event for a week and I could have done more to ease the time crunch.

  • Cons: Who am I kidding? When it comes to professional duties, advance planning can not take the place of real-time, face-time. In many situations, advance planning only creates the illusion of control.

  • Reality: I completed as much as I could before and after the event. I submitted the required article on time, but my other assignments (due later this week) lagged.

Consider Long-Term Values: When my kids are grown up, I will remember their school performances, but I won't remember the titles of all the articles I've written. That's true. I'll also remember how happy my kids were to see me in the audience. The right decision should be a no-brainer: Go to the school event.

  • Pros: Full participation in the lives of my children is a priceless activity. They are the reason that I work so hard in the first place.

  • Cons: Who am I kidding? Be real. Paychecks underwrite priceless moments. Groceries, dentist visits and soccer fees require money. Being responsible requires difficult choices, including staying at the keyboard to hammer out an assignment on deadline.

  • Reality: Balancing home and work commitments is really a case-by-case decision. There's really no one-size-fits-all answer. Face it: Sometimes I'll have to miss an important school event in order to earn money for my family. But on other occasions, I'll have to pull back on professional commitments in order to provide my kids with emotional support. And sometimes, I just need to relax and have a good time with my family.


  1. Can the work assignment be delayed, rescheduled or delegated?

  2. Is there another family member who can go to the school event in my place?

  3. How important is this event to my child?

  4. Will my kid be one of the few students without a mother or parent in the audience?

  5. If I can't make alternative work arrangements, does the child understand why? Do they realize how much I care?


Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach: How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in June of 2008 by DPL Press

1 comment:

Father Sez said...

This is a dilemma, we as working parents will be facing time and time again.

Giving up almost once in a life time experiences for some of the so called pressing work commitments, which are so quickly forgotten.

You have your priorities right, Duchess.