At the end of last May, a meteor came crashing down from the sky with a laser-focused target—my Google Calendar. I was as shocked by it's arrival as I had been each of the 6 years my kids have been attending school. Why do I continue to be caught off guard EACH year by the flurry of end of school events? The endless picnics, parties, dance recitals, yoga performances (What? Ok—it's Brooklyn), last field trips and random days off (I'm sorry—Clerical Day?). For working parents who are constantly battling the image of their kid being the only one "without a grownup" at these events—it's enough to make you want to give up altogether. And beyond the made-up (but realistic and dramatic) image brewing in your head, there are the actual tears. The tears that are part of the meltdown your child has when she finds out you can't make it to her recorder recital scheduled for TOMORROW that you learned about TODAY and you are leading a talk that's been on the calendar for a month. Those tears, followed by your tears because this whole thing is just not going well.
After dealing with the fallout of the meteor—yet again—I vowed to make it my last year of walking into the fire unprepared. Here are the steps I took to restore sanity when it seemed like the odds were not in my favor.
1. Get organized!
This year, I put a planning date on the calendar with my husband about six weeks before the meteor hit. We walked through all of the dates where we would need extra childcare coverage by tapping family and additional sitters, as well as scheduling a day or two off work for each of us. All end of year activities that we knew about (which were not many at this point) went on the Google Calendar. The planning gave us the feeling that we were in control—and that we could coordinate our work obligations AND give our girls a fun end of year experience.
2. Build in buffer
You know that guy with whom you've been trying to meet, but you've rescheduled 3 times already? Don't schedule that meeting right now. Don't schedule that lunch or that coffee or those drinks. Don't make this the time you're going to take your business to the next level or take on that senior level presentation. You're not doing those things right now. You're creating buffer in your schedule so when last minute things come up—as they might—you have more flexibility to work from home or to cancel meetings that will be lower stakes. If you don't have the kind of role, job or business you can tone down in this way—you can reach out to more flexible family members or friends who may be able to be on standby during this time and/or commit to be your child's grownup at one or two of the events.
3. Be proactive with teachers
You're going to need to be "that parent"—the one that emails the teachers to find out what the end of school events will be IN ADVANCE. Explain to them why you're asking. Appeal to them by saying you're trying to get more organized around year-end events so as a working parent—there can be fewer tears and less guilt!
4. Get the kids' buy-in
Once you have a handle on the 80% of events that are planned, call a family meeting. Explain to your kids that it's VERY important to you to go to some of these events and that because you work—you won't be able to attend them all. Work together to choose which events are the most important to each child and do your best to attend those. Explain that there may be some events that come up last minute and you probably won't be able to make it to those. If you've lined up flexible family members on standby for last-minute events, you can choose to either mention that or play it by ear as those opportunities present themselves.
5. Give yourself a break
Remember, no plan is perfect and Google Calendar can't protect you from the meteor. You're doing your best to orchestrate a plan where you continue to make your kids feel heard—and at the same time—do your job, run your business—save the world (or keep trying!). If the river of tears is unavoidable, remember—the guilt is a choice. You're not going to get it all right and that's part of being human. In the face of the tears, remind yourself that you're doing your best, you're learning and you're getting it right a lot of the time—which in the end is what you want your kids to learn for themselves. Who better to teach them than you?
This is a work in progress. Learn from your experience this year and opportunities to optimize could be right around the corner. Back to school meteor prep, anyone?