Published On: Thu, Dec 7th, 2023

Carolyn Hax: Working mom feels self-conscious at kid’s preschool

Carolyn Hax: Working mom feels self-conscious at kid’s preschool
Carolyn Hax: Working mom feels self-conscious at kid’s preschool

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My daughter goes to a co-op preschool. In a class of 12 children, she’s one of only two without a parent (mom) home full time. Thus she missed out on several after-school play dates with her classmates, and I missed out on several opportunities to become friends with the other class moms — which was something I really wanted.

This is a progressive community where it’s hardly unusual for women to work, but I have discovered there are unspoken rules for families of young children, and apparently having a parent home is one of them.

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The class’s other working mom has a very successful, high-paying prestige job. On the rare occasion that I was able to get to a school event and she wasn’t there, people murmured about her success and understood why she couldn’t make it.

I am proud to be able to help support my family, but I’m “just” a desk worker. Quitting my job isn’t an option financially. How do I keep my head up and feel less bad about not being able to take my daughter to stuff at 2 o’clock on a Thursday?

Non-SAHM: I’m not sure what to make of this. I mean, if the moms aren’t welcoming to you because you work for pay instead of power, then I can’t think of anything that would make me want to be friends with them. Ever.

If instead they’re lovely and welcoming but you simply aren’t around for things because you’re at work, then you can invite one or some of them to meet around your work hours, no?

And why does your working preclude your daughter from play dates? Can’t she go home with a favorite friend, and get picked up after you finish work? Establish everyone’s comfort level by making plans on weekends to start.

This whole scenario just has a vibe, and I can’t tell whether it’s a these-other-moms-are-the-worst vibe or a you’re-projecting-so-much-on-these-other-moms-because-you-are-embarrassed-while-having-no-reason-whatsoever-to-be-embarrassed vibe. So I’ll leave it at that and hope it’s the latter, which is way more fixable.

Last thing: These years will be over so fast. You don’t have to make your parent-friends-for-life in your child’s preschool cohort. I get that being a parent of littles can be lonely and isolating (America is awful at this) and you’re feeling some urgency, but relief sometimes is months, not weeks, away. Forever away, if you let shame unjustly hold you back.

· You keep your head up by reminding yourself over and over that you are doing your best at something incredibly difficult that hardly anyone in the history of the world has actually “figured out.” You might feel like you are missing out on some things, but maybe turn that around. There are so many wonderful benefits to being a working parent, although I do think it takes distance from those early years to really grasp it.

· My advice as a seasoned mom is to initiate! Initiate! Initiate! There are other moms who want to connect — I guarantee it. The people who have complained to me about being left out have one thing in common: They wait to be invited.

· I was the SAHM of two co-op kids! I always felt bad because my child didn’t stay in the afternoon care to make friends there, and instead went home with me.

· No question, just profoundly sad this remains all about whether MOM is doing the right thing by working/staying at home. What about DAD? Sigh.

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