Magazine article Working Mother

School Confidential

Magazine article Working Mother

School Confidential

Article excerpt

Before Laura Dawahare returned to full-time employment, she was a regular fixture at her children's private k-12 school in Lexington, kY. She planned teacher Appreciation week. She sat on committees. more crucially, she sat in the pickup line, waiting with her younger child for a half hour until her twins' upper school let out. that vital time spent talking and listening gave her coveted insider status.

going back to work was like plunging into icy water. no longer around for the daily pickup chat time, Laura missed hearing rumblings about her daughter's teacher, whose job was in jeopardy. eventually, she learned the teacher was let go. "it's not that i disagreed with the school's decision," she says, "but not being involved meant i didn't have the chance to talk to my child while it was going on." She felt way out of the loop. cue: stomach lurch.

in the dark when it comes to school goings-on? it can be a common feeling for working moms (and dads). there can be serious issues like academic snafus, disappointing ones like missing the fourth-grade band concert or gut-wrenching episodes like cliques gone crazy. Sure, all parents are out of the loop some of the time, but for many working moms there can be a perception that they're school-clueless just because they work, says Deborah grayson riegel, a new York city-based communications coach and author of Oy Vey! Isn't a Strategy: 25 Solutions for Personal and Professional Success. "helplessness and frustration are com- mon to all parents, but when a working mother suspects it's her absence that caused her to miss the problem, that helplessness is exacerbated."

here, we focus on four familiar "wait, what happened at school?!" scenarios to find out the what, the why and how to open lines of commu- nication-so it doesn't happen again.

Social Drama

it happened to Deborah riegel. She was on a weeks-long business trip in china, unaware that her 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, was going through major friendship upheaval back home. "their relationship went from besties to bullying really quickly, and she was in a lot of pain about it," says Deborah. the issue escalated to the seeing-the- principal stage, and yet "i didn't know until i came home and heard the whole story," she recounts. nor did her husband at home. Deborah suspects the administrators at Sofie's Jericho, nY, school didn't want to bother her while she was away. but, she says, "i felt terrible to have missed being there for her when she needed me." cliques, bullying, unfriending...tough social problems happen at school. how can you head trauma off at the pass?

Fixing it First, consider how you heard about a social issue. if you got the scoop from another mother (as Deborah did) and you feel yourself being sucked into a familiar spiral of guilt (she knows because she's there to pay attention!) or a defensive attitude (who does she think she is telling me about my kid?), stop yourself. "think of this other mother's information as a gift she's giving you," suggests Alyssa westring, PhD, assistant professor of management at DePaul University in chicago. "now that you know, you have ammunition and can go back and ask your child targeted questions to get to the bottom of the story."

Deborah gained insight from her family's experience: "Don't be so quick to add this episode to your cons-about-being-a-working-mother list. there are many reasons you don't know about your kids' friendships, particularly as your child grows out of the elementary years. there's a big difference between an 8-year-old and her shifting social alliances and a 13-year- old hiding dating drama from you."

that said, when issues between friends disrupt the school day or involve bullying, your school should be involved and should not keep information from you, even if you're perceived as hard to reach. it's up to you set expectations in advance. "with my daughter's situation, i went to them and said, 'because i travel a lot, i feel like i'm maybe missing some nuances, so if you see something, let me know-it's not a bother,'" says Deborah. …

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