Laura Kreutzer reflects on what it means to her — as a mother — not to be available for her children:
There is another woman in my 6-year-old daughter’s life.
She writes messages on bumblebee note paper. She has a puppet friend named Millie, who helps my daughter learn the alphabet.
Over the past nine months, she probably has been the single most influential person in Neva’s life outside of her own family. And although I am embarrassed to admit it, I met her for the first time at a parent-teacher conference in early May, roughly a month before the end of the school year.
As a former overachieving nerd girl of the ’80s, it didn’t feel good. In a society that still seems to embrace an image of motherhood that is more June Cleaver and less Murphy Brown, it’s hard to resist the feeling that you’re coming up short if you don’t sacrifice your career at the altar of parenthood….
It all hit home one weekend this spring when I took Neva to a birthday party for one of her classmates. A group of moms stood together chatting about school activities that I didn’t even realize I had missed, and teachers and administrators that I had never met. Suddenly, I felt like I was back in high school. Only this time, instead of failing on the social scene, I was failing at something much bigger and more important. I was getting a D-minus in the mom department.
In my head, I knew it wasn’t entirely true. Unlike my mother, my work involves a demanding travel schedule, and the deadline schedule required by my job can be brutal at times.
Besides, my husband, Clay, is a stay-at-home parent, and is more involved. He volunteers in Neva’s classroom once or twice a month and is one of the few fathers who does so.
Clay says that I worry too much and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. “You’re doing something important for the family,” he told me one day when I asked him if he thought it was strange that I hadn’t met Neva’s teacher….
I realize she’s probably right. It isn’t really that important to Neva that I am involved at all in her school life, especially when she has such inspiring teachers and an actively involved father. I am an integral part of her life in many other ways that are equally, if not more, important, and it’s more of my own hangup that leaves me feeling guilty.
Still, my heart doesn’t rationalize so easily. And if I’m totally honest with myself, I also realize that there were times when I just failed to prioritize.
So next year, I am going to try my best to do a better job planning. I realize I will never be the one leading an internal coup at the PTA. I will probably not be the first call on the emergency-alert phone tree.
However, I am going to try to arrange my schedule so I can try to show up at least a bit more for important school events. I’m also determined that I’m going to meet my daughter’s teacher when school starts, and not when it ends.
And even if I still end up with a less-than-perfect attendance record, I’m going to try to leave the guilt behind.