End-of-year school stuff drives some parents batty

By Jocelyn Noveck

It’s tough to juggle work and family with so many events going on.

NEW YORK — My son’s baseball teacher scheduled an end-of-year, mother-son game the other day, and it was a blast. The 5-year-old boys “won” (wink wink), but not before us moms got to hit a few grounders and run the bases in Central Park in the middle of a work day.

Yup, that was the only problem — the middle-of-the-work-day part. Just like my daughter’s ballet recital the day before that, and her upcoming xylophone concert, tap performance, field day and poetry publishing party.

Don’t get me wrong, all these events are great. Life is short, and who wants to miss a chance to celebrate with our kids?

But as thousands of working parents across the country know, this can be the cruelest season of the year, logistically speaking, when dozens of these end-of-school-year events collide with work obligations, over and over again.

It’s not just a matter of having an understanding employer, although that certainly helps. Even for those in the most flexible workplaces, a series of three-hour absences can sabotage a week. Yet with vacation time so tight in this country — as opposed to say, Europe (hello, August on the beach!) — what employee has enough to squander an entire day of it on a baseball game?

And even if you’re lucky enough to have your own company, it doesn’t mean kid crunch time is a piece of cake. Ask Liz Lange, founder and creative director of Liz Lange Maternity, what she’s been doing lately, and you’ll get an earful.

“I was at school this morning for my daughter’s book fair,” she tapped out on her Blackberry the other day, “on a class trip with her all day tomorrow, and over the next two weeks will have my son’s book fair, my son’s end-of-year party, my daughter’s end-of-year party, my son’s poetry reading, lower school graduation and I am sure there are a few other school events that I am forgetting,” she says.

While Lange seems good-naturedly stressed, some parents experience a much more serious form of it, says Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist in Boston who works with schools and parents.

“People have been in my office this week in tears,” says Steiner-Adair. “There’s just way too much stuff. They’re saying, ’I can’t handle it all. And I can’t handle being seen as a bad parent if I don’t show up.’”

Working mothers bear the brunt, Steiner-Adair says, because in most cases they’re the ones suffering the consequences of taking time from their jobs, not their husbands. But stay-at-home mothers have also been in tears, she says: “They too are having a tough time juggling all the command performances.”

Has the situation gotten worse over the years? Steiner-Adair thinks so. “It’s this crazy culture we have now of anxious parenting,” she says. “This nervous generation of parents is signing kids up for way too much stuff. And so we have too many rehearsals. Too many games, too many practices, too many cookies. Too much celebrating!”

And all this can impact kids negatively, she says, by tiring them out and depriving them of the “chilling-out time” they need to cope with these transitions in their lives.

Still, she feels that the workplace culture needs to do a much better job of acknowledging the needs of parents. “If we want our employees to feel fully focused at work, we have to recognize that the job of parenting is especially demanding at this time of year,” she says, noting that a few female-owned businesses treat mid-May to mid-June just as they would the end of August.

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