Like a lot of parents we know, my husband and I both work. We have jobs that require us to be at our desks at 8:30am and stay there until 5pm.
We also have two school-age children. They are expected to arrive at school at 8:45am and be picked up at 3:15pm.
If you have half a brain, you can see the problem I’m getting at here.
Working families and schools do NOT live in the same universe.
The school schedule was established 100 years ago, in a time when lots of families had a parent at home and/or a farm to work. Before women had the vote, before WWII and Riveter Rosie made a place for women in the working world. Back when kids of all ages were expected to do their farm chores before they went to school, and to be around in the summer time to help bring the crops in. And if mom and dad weren’t at home, grandparents and other extended family members were there to pitch in.
100 years have gone by and the world has changed. Not a little bit, a LOT. We’re having fewer children at an older age, with both sexes putting time and energy into growing careers. Our economy is based on services, manufacturing and trade. Nowadays, arts and entertainment contribute more to the US economy than agriculture. Despite all of this, nothing about the school system has changed.
So I ask, how are modern working parents meant to cope with a 100 year old system?
No really, how the hell are we meant to do this? Because seriously, we can’t. It doesn’t matter how much money I throw at this problem, how hard my husband and I try to clone ourselves, how much leeway we manage to negotiate with work, we still cannot do this. The sad thing is, our children are paying the price.
We’ve talked to a lot of other working parents, coworkers and friends. All of us are singing from the same hymn sheet. There are so many challenges, we don’t have any idea how to fix them.
1. We don’t know our children’s teachers
I drop my kids off at breakfast club and pick them up from after school club. I see my kids’ teachers 2 or 3 times a year on Parent – Teacher night. Out of sheer desperation, last year we worked up an old-school message in a bottle routine so we could try and keep up with what our kids were learning, passing notes back and forth with the teachers and begging info from other parents wherever possible. We got away with this because we’re among the lucky ones – no problems or concerns, no reasons to require extra meetings or phone calls. Our kids learned well and excelled.
2. After school clubs and child care providers are overbooked
The after school club at our current elementary school has places for 42 children. 42 out of the 500 children who attend it during school hours. Sadly, again we’re in the lucky group because we have an actual after school club option. Our previous school only offered one for children up to the age of 8. After that, apparently they’re expected to get themselves home and watch over themselves until we can get there. Nevermind that leaving an 8 year old home alone ISN’T EVEN LEGAL.
3. We don’t know what we don’t know
Notes lost from backpacks, info delivered at the classroom door, lunchtime meetings, last minute cancellations – I cannot begin to tell you how many things we found out about after the fact, simply because no one had figured out a way to communicate with working parents. If only there were some sort of social network or electronic post system available….
4. As long as everything goes perfectly, we’re okay
As long as we earn enough money, our kids are smart, don’t get sick, don’t get bullied, don’t have special learning needs, have great teachers, caring staff, manage to get places at after school clubs and we don’t have to suddenly work overtime or away, everything is fine. When you look at it that way, those of us who are squeaking by, are doing so by the skin of our teeth.
And as bad as all of the above are, by far and away, the worst is number 5.
5. No one seems to care
If the squeaky wheel is the one that gets fixed, those of us with our noses to the grindstones don’t have a hope in hell. No one seems willing to touch this topic with a ten foot pole. Politicians aren’t proposing bills, candidates aren’t even pandering to us working families. The best proposal on the presidential table is a cap on how much child care should cost. Despite a mountain of evidence that longer school days and shorter summer vacations (two things that would drastically aid working families) are highly beneficial to children, still NO ONE IS DOING ANYTHING. Our school system’s way of working remains in the dark ages.
The most frustrating part of all of this is that my husband and I care. We care so much for our girls, and have a serious interest in their growth and education. We have advanced degrees and well-paid roles, and believe that one of the best ways we can provide for our children and give them all of the possibilities in this world is to model the behavior we want them to have. Two adults who studied hard, work hard, earn well and pursue their dreams…so they can invest time, money and energy into helping the next generation succeed.
The sad truth is, no matter how hard we try, how much we do, we will always fail when it comes to school. Because our school systems only support a lifestyle that no longer exists. And if that isn’t a goddamn shame, I don’t know what is.