The Guilt

I was crying as I raced to school on Friday afternoon.

I had received a text message from the school office the day before, inviting me to come and see Tom receive an award in assembly.

I was angry. Not with the school for giving me the opportunity to share Tom’s proud moment, but with myself for not being able to just drop everything and go.

This is rubbish I thought, looking at the clock on the church and seeing that I was over half an hour late I’m not going to be there for him.

I never felt any guilt about being a working parent when Tom was small. His nursery was open until six and I had three days a week to work and the rest to spend with him.

Suddenly, when your child starts school, you’re expected to have a load more time on your hands. Last week, I missed Harvest Festival because I couldn’t afford an hour out of my working day and the week before that, I missed a parents’ meeting with Tom’s new teacher because it was in the afternoon. In summer, Sports Day clashed with an important meeting but luckily my Mum was off work and able to go and cheer Tom on.

The wind was blowing against me as I hobbled across the road, wishing I had gone upstairs and found my flat shoes instead of throwing on the high heeled boots that were strewn in the hallway.

I know this must be why some parents stay at home. I don’t want to get into a working mum versus stay at home mum debate here, it’s all about what works best for you. I need to make money as I’m the only breadwinner and I love my job. If it wasn’t for work, I think I would get bored on the other two hundred and odd days a year that Tom is at school but not winning awards, singing or running races.

I thought about turning back. Surely not going to the assembly at all would be better than walking in having missed the crucial moment?

It had been a busy day in work. I work from home but I can’t just get up from my desk when I feel like it. Surely I am not the only one who struggles to get to these things. I certainly couldn’t have taken time off at less than twenty four hours notice if I was working in a shop or an office or a school or a hospital.

This is why people stay at home I thought, pressing the buzzer on the school door.

“I think I’ve missed it,” I said to the receptionist.

“You might not have done…”

I walked into the hall as quietly as I could, but parents and children still turned and stared. I slipped into a chair on the back row as the headteacher started reading out house points and the older kids said “Yesssss!” when they heard their scores (remember that?)

After that, it was awards time. I had made it. Tom was presented with a Headteacher’s Award for “being the kind of child about whom people only ever have positive things to say.”

He stood at the front, smiling, certificate in hand. And I cried. Again.

At home time, Tom came bounding out of his classroom, award in hand.

“Mum! I won a tushstificate!”

“I know.”

“How do you know?”

“I was there, watching in the assembly.”

“Oh, were yer? I didn’t even notice.”

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “The Guilt

  1. Currently I am redundant. When I worked I worked 4 days it’s a lot with a small child but nursery and childminders hours suit. Always left on time. Never apologised for it. Even thought sometimes could see people thought I should. Am intending to work again am dreading fitting in school hours work & demands of school. Personally, think the flexibility should be with business. It should be ok to priorise children. Am probably going to be a long time waiting for that. Glad you made it!

    • Emily

      I am very lucky in that my job is comparatively felxible, but I can’t just up and leave at short notice, especially when there’s a lot of work to do. I didn’t have any idea how tricky it would be until Tom started full time school-based nursery at 3. I wanted to put him back in private nursery but he was ready for the classroom environment. Good luck with your next opportunity – everything always finds a way of working out in the end.

  2. You are completely correct in the sense that nursery is the easy bit. The difficult bit is school, and particular primary school. The problem of assemblies is trival compared to the problem of school holidays. Our school year here in Scotland is 33 weeks. So that makes 19 weeks where they’re not at school, and bearing in mind that most parents only get 4-5 weeks holiday that leaves over 3 months of the kids not being at school when you’re at work.

    This is compounded by the fact that the children get a voice. When you leave them at nursery, if they don’t want to go one day or other, you leave them with a slightly heavy heart, but you know that in 10 minutes they would have forgotten about it and be merrily finger painting.

    But when they’re 8 or 9 or 10, they develop opinions, have voices in which to make them heard, and can carry a grudge for weeks. So if, like me, you don’t have grandparents on had for holiday babysitting, and the kids don’t like the local after school care club, it all turns into a bit of a nightmare.

    I’m in my fifith year of this now, and am just about starting to get it sorted. But then, I work from home, and allow for the fact that school holidays need planning like a miliary operation (hubby is just starting to cotton onto the benefits of this). My sister is a single parent, and works part time. I know that at least twice a week she asks herself why she bothers with grief of it all and doesn’t just stay at home on benefits until the kids are older.

    Its a tough old world, and unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer for this one.

    • Emily

      Good point, Sandra. Even with our 39 week long term in England, school holiday childcare is impossible. I am lucky to have an amazing friend and my mum, both of whom are teachers and can help out. Mum lives 50 miles away though and they both need their time off! No wonder that people are tempted not to work. Without my job, I would get pretty much everything paid for (but I would also probably go insane.) Thanks for the heads up on 8, 9 and 10 year olds – I’ve got all that to come! I hope things improve for you soon.

  3. A very touching post for all of us I reckon. I was a working mum with my eldest who is now nearly 17 … I missed everything – I was a single mum working in London who had no choice. Now, I’m able to attend most things with my 7 year old and Im so thankful. Yeah, they probably don’t notice half the time but, if its any consolation, my eldest loves me just as much as my youngest 🙂

    • Emily

      Well done! (I hope that doesn’t sound patronising..) And lovely to hear that you have two with that age gap – and that you still get love when they’re 17 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

  4. Totally relate to this post. I need to work to feel forfilled and to be a better mother. It’s a constant balancing act but it’s possible… and wonderful to know if we miss the odd thing, it’s OK. I think we need to give ourselves a break. The guilt needs to stop.

    • Emily

      Definitely – we’re not the only ones. And being able to write about it and have a whinge on good old Twitter doesn’t half make it feel better!

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