Working parents

Work catch-22

In a few weeks, there’s a second-hand book sale at my daughter’s school. I like that idea, but we can’t go; my wife and I both have to work.

Some thoughts on being a working parent.

Helping out

The above book market is just one example of a larger problem. The school regularly asks parents to help out with activities, or prepare our children for certain activities. On top of helping with homework and getting our children to and from the school on time. Which isn’t a bad thing, in theory: I want to be involved with my daughter’s life, including her life at school.

It’s also much more efficient and cheap to have a couple of parents help for certain activities than it is to hire people for it. Catering a Christmas breakfast for a few dozen children is very expensive, but if parents help, it suddenly costs next to nothing. Meaning that a lot of activities would not happen if they had to be organized from school budgets.

The problem

Unfortunately, I also have a job. My wife has one too. We are no longer in the sixties, where one parent is always at home.

When you both work, juggling all the days your child is home is tricky. Children have a lot of days off a year. Not just the regular holidays, but the afternoons the school decides to close early a day before the holidays. And the extra days off because the teachers also need to study. And then there’s the fact that schools start later and close earlier than a regular work day. That’s the situation here in the Netherlands, anyway.

Still, we have it relatively easy. My wife and I both work only four days a week, and my wife teaches herself, meaning we have the school holidays already covered. Even if I do spend a lot of time each week on my side projects (like this blog). We also have only one child. If you both want work five days and have multiple children, you are f*cked.

There are day cares, of course. And we use one. But that’s not cheap, and they’re becoming increasingly understaffed. As the Dutch population ages, and the pandemic rages, the entire labor market has gone down the tubes.

So, if I get a message ‘in two weeks there’s a second-hand book market in school’, I read something different. I read ‘could you take more time off amid your already complicated schedule to spend an hour doing stuff at school to make our job easier?’ And I feel guilty that I can’t make it. It’s worse when I take other time off to spend by myself. I really need some alone-time now and then, or I’ll go mad, but these days I feel guilty about that.

Catch-22

I understand the school’s position too. Their budgets have been on the chopping block year after year, and they have personnel shortages too. On top of that, parents are demanding. And they can’t help it that my wife and I both work.

Schools stick to regular working hours. If they organize things outside of regular school hours, they’ll have to ask the teachers to work during those hours. That’s not cheap, and teachers want to have time off too. So, yeah, you logically end up with stuff during school days.

One solution would be to designate one day where stuff like this happens, so parents can work that into their schedules more easily. Unfortunately, that leads to a catch-22. Because this would result in parents having to work and put their children in daycare on the other days. But day cares spread children as evenly around the week as possible, especially with personnel shortages. And employers don’t want all their employees gone at exactly the same day.

I honestly don’t know what else schools can do. Is this more of a problem than it was twenty years ago? Maybe. My parents both worked, and they managed. Of course, there were no labor shortages, and the population was much younger, meaning more money all around, and health care and housing were not as broken as they are now. Something, something, capitalism bad.

So, now what?

For now, I’ve found that this leads to a game of chicken with every request for aid. Basically, whichever parent blinks first gets to do the helping. It’s a kind of silent game that emerged naturally. Parents might not even do it consciously, but some probably do. I often don’t even see the messages asking for help until the end my working day, and then it’s already taken care of.

But, as a result, the same people often do stuff, because they blink first, or check their phones more regularly. Or they either really enjoy this stuff, and/or have the time available because they are actual stay at home parents or it happens to fit with their schedules. However, that’s not really fair. Stay-at-home parents still have to keep a household running, and deserve time for themselves.

And I feel guilty about that. I don’t want to be the stand-off-ish parent who never helps at school. But I have a job — two, with the hours I spend writing each week. And my wife does too. So I try not to feel too guilty, because with Covid, climate change, and the war in Ukraine, my mental health really doesn’t need another hit.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy author/blogger from the Netherlands