Mom’s Not Always There. And That’s Okay.

Small housekeeping note: Y’all might be accustomed to my post-writing pace of, what, a couple times a month? But brace yourself for the month of June. Better yet, tell all your mom friends to subscribe before June 1 (the subscribe button is right up at the top right, next to the blog header!), because I’ve joined the WordCount blog’s 2013 Blogathon, which means that, along with many, many other bloggers in a range of subjects, I’ll be putting up a new post EVERY DAY in June! You can click on the WordCount Blogathon icon over there on the right if you want more information. And if you feel like sending me a “you can do it!” message, or even better, an idea you’d love to see me write about, or a photo that makes you smile (I’ll be doing some “Wordless” posts), please feel free!

But back to the present, when it’s still May and I’m still a couple-times-a-month blogger.

Yesterday, I read a piece on Jezebel, by Lindy West, called “Rich Parents Now Outsourcing Absolutely Everything,” in which she discusses (totally snarkily and for absolute fun; or anyway, I enjoyed it!) a piece in the New York Post about how some parents who send their kids to expensive Manhattan private-schools don’t show up to events and volunteer opportunities at their kids’ schools, instead sending hired help and oh my God, what have we all come to!

Yep, we’re going there. Except we’re not, really; we’re taking a side road. And here’s why: The Jezebel piece is funny, and the comments take the rich parents apart, defend the nannies, point out some truths (such as: sometimes the parents aren’t there because they’re working, so let’s keep the skewering focused on the very small subset of very rich and spoiled parents who are home and available and still send the nice nanny to the bake sale or the safety patrol volunteer op because, well, that’s what super-rich parents have always done and will always do — didn’t y’all watch Downton Abbey?), and then everyone moved on to the next slice of snark. I don’t want to jump in that pool, because small subsets of super-rich parents have no bearing on my life, or yours, I’d wager.

But parents who can’t, or don’t want to, do everything that it’s possible to do these days at our kids’ schools do have a bearing on my life. And, I’d wager, yours.

So. Are you there for everything your child is involved in? Should you be?

Last weekend, I took my son James to a birthday party, and was happy to run into my friend Heidi there, who’d dropped off her son, Ben. I’ve known Heidi (and James has known Ben, or Benji-Ben as we call him in my house still) since the boys were infants in daycare. While I’d just started working at home when James was born, Heidi was, and still is, working full-time outside the house. Not only that, she commutes (an hour-plus each way to the city by train). Not only that, but she’s now a single mom. And not only that, but occasionally she travels.

James (left) and his buddy Ben, when they were in daycare together, guilt-free.

James (left) and his buddy Ben, when they were in daycare together, guilt-free.

Heidi told me, over coffee, that she can’t really do everything (no kidding! see above!),but that she makes a point to do some things — we got on the subject because she had just been a chaperone on our sons’ recent class trip to a museum/planetarium. I could have gone on that trip, and elected not to, having been to that museum with my older son and because, well, I just didn’t want to. But what’s funny is that on that day, I asked James about the trip and he said, “Ben’s mom was there. I wish you had gone.”

And I surprised myself by thinking, “well, of course you wish I had gone!” It’s true, right? Most of the time, at least until they’re teens and probably secretly even then, they always want us there, but the fact is that they don’t shrivel up and die if we do not come. They don’t bear lifelong scars if we just tell them, “Not this time, honey.” Without apology or excuse, either; it is what it is.

I understand exactly how fortunate I am that, as a self-employed person, I can shut my laptop and zip up to school for the Cultural Day fest, and then zip back and start back up with work, and make it up later if I have to. But there still will be times I can’t be there, and there definitely will be times I won’t want to. I will want to attend as many band concerts as I possibly can, for example. But volunteering for Field Day? Um, no thanks, not my thing. Even if my kid comes home and says, “so and so’s mom was there…”, in that way that you think is designed to make you feel guilty, but I don’t think that’s what they mean to do. That is, unless you clue them in by acting guilty, in which case, they’ll ramp it up the next time. All they’re really saying is, “it would have been nice.” And yes, it would have. so would have being picked up by limousine to go to Field Day,  but that didn’t happen, either, did it?

It will not hurt my child to know that his mother may (a) be working and can’t come; or (b) has no interest in Field Day! Has other interests aside from him. I’d even go so far as to say that it is better for him to have a mother whose perfect attendance at school functions is not a given. I’d go slightly further (because I like to do that!) to say that if I had something else I really had to do — an important work opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime event of my own — I would even feel okay missing something like a concert or a play, presuming someone else could be there, like, you know, their father.

Heidi, my friend, relies on aftercare services, a very supportive family, and the excellent relationship she has with her ex-husband to keep herself and her two sons’ lives humming, and — I certainly believe — she has a smart, head-on-straight attitude about it all, because if she’s guilty about anything, I don’t see it. And that’s good, because she has not one thing to feel guilty about. She told me that given her work schedule and the commute, if she’s putting Ben and his little brother Joe to bed herself three nights a week, that’s a lot.

Will Ben and Joe count the times she’s not there, or cherish the times she is? Will it be a terrible thing to be gotten over, or just the way it is in a loving, functioning home?

What do you think?