Guest post: The perfect parent hoax

Laura’s note: Today’s guest post deals with the topic of parents who say they “never” miss a special occasion. I’ll be back tomorrow – thanks!

by Camille Preston

I recently attended an all-day learning event where business leaders shared their wisdom and experience. It wasn’t even 9:15 and the first two speakers had both gloated about how they never miss an important event for their children. While I felt conviction and a deep sense of pride in their statements, both times, I cringed.

Parents Who Claim to Do It All

The first speaker said she never missed a recital, performance, or special cupcake moment. As I stepped back to ponder her words, I noticed my own guilt. In fact, I even repeated her words, “I never missed a…” When I did this, I inserted all the things I had missed only two weeks earlier. I missed my daughter’s second year pediatric appointment (confession: I may be afraid of her doctor myself… so this may not have been a bad thing to miss). I was with my daughter on her birthday, but I chose to speak to a group of philanthropists that evening, and the list goes on.

I decided to cut the first speaker some slack—she was a single mother doing it all and deserved my full attention. When the second speaker spoke about how he never missed a t-ball practice, however, my BS radar was on high alert. First, he spoke about how many games his dad missed. Then, although he was talking about values, he spent his talk trashing his own father and celebrating the different decisions he was making as a parent with a demanding career. There was a level of disingenuousness that I couldn’t overlook.

Now, both speakers have big careers, with high visibility jobs, significant travel demand, and numerous speaking engagements and appearances. I can’t help but doubt that their speaking agents consult the t-ball coach before booking. In addition, it is a privilege to be able to leave work early to get to the t-ball diamond—not everyone has the seniority and flexibility to do this. Do they turn down any engagement that conflicts with their children’s schedules? What do they do when there is a wet season and games get rained out and rescheduled? Do they reschedule their speaking engagements?

This is precisely what I was thinking about when I learned that I had missed another event—the end of year school picnic at our pre-school. What? I was in total disbelief. I had left a meeting early, literally ran 1 mile to my son’s pre-school to be late, sweaty and out of breath for the piñata party that he didn’t want to attend. How is it possible that the very next day, they had another party in the afternoon? Who thinks two days of events back-to-back is a good or necessary thing? Was my kid the only one being picked up by childcare at the picnic?

Being Realistic and Reliable

As I write about this, I am noticing my own privilege. I aspire to live in accordance with a specific set of values and adhere to high standards. Most of the time, I am able to do this due to a simple fact: I have a supportive spouse and a great team that supports my life and work. Sure, I miss a picnic or party from time to time but most of the time, I am able to be present for my children and my clients.

After my face-to-face encounter with the parenting hoax, however, I have decided to start asking myself three questions whenever I’m faced with something that appears to be a potential parenting/work conflict. First, next time someone tells me they never miss their child’s special moments, I’m going to ask, “Is it true?” Given that all of our children’s moments are special, the answer is obvious. Second, I’m going to ask, “Is it kind?” By this, I simply mean, when we prioritize one event over another, whose feelings and needs are being taken into account? Is it really kind to cancel on a client in crisis in order to bring your four-year-old to a birthday party for a kid he barely knows? What is the long-term impact of this decision? Finally, I’m going to ask, “Is it necessary?” Missing your child’s birthday altogether may be unforgivable, but dipping out to give an evening talk, especially if your child is two-years-old and going to fall asleep by dinner, arguably isn’t unforgivable and may be a good use of time.

The reality is that that we all have expectations about what we should do but sometimes, these “should-dos” lack logic and fail to respond to the needs of the people we love most in the world. For working women who are often under tremendous pressure to do it all, bearing this is in mind may be especially essential. After all, it could be the difference between finding the perfect balance between family and work – and burning out.

As CEO of AIM Leadership, Camille has over 20 years of experience working with individuals and teams to identify specific actions they can take to amplify impact. A psychologist by training, she is particularly skilled at recognizing the underlying patterns that inhibit performance, and helping people unlock their capacity for excellence, action, and impact. 

18 thoughts on “Guest post: The perfect parent hoax

  1. I think this is spot on comment/advice. Also as I think Laura has pointed out before, if you have two or more kids, sometimes their special events clash and then you can’t be at both, however hard you try. If, for example, on the same Sunday daughter A has to be taken to languages summer school two hours in one direction and daughter B to important athletics competition two hours in the other as a two parent family we are able to do one each, and miss out on one each respectively, but if single parents it wouldn’t be so easy.

    1. @KatherineB – yep, one kid has a swim meet and another has a wrestling meet, I cannot physically be at both. So either that dad never missing a T-ball practice has no other kids…or he’s lying (or both!)

  2. Some really great points here. I especially like the point about figuring out whose feelings and needs need to be taken into account when prioritizing and what the relative impact is.

    1. So true – there are always direct and indirect consequences of actions. The more kids, the more commitments, the more variables! Curious how you weight competing demands?

  3. I would also point out how important it is to communicate with your children. I missed my seven-year old’s baseball game the other night. It was my first day back to work from maternity leave, after giving birth to twins back in May. He was a little disappointed that I wasn’t there, but we talked about how I had just got home, had to feed the babies,
    was going to be late anyways, etc. I gave him my full attention afterwards so that he could tell me about what happened at the game. Then, he seemed happy enough to just go through the highlights with me.

    1. I agree with this. I recently missed the camp show (10 am on a Wednesday). I am a physician and I cannot cancel patients for every performance, but someone attends and I always tell my kids I can’t be there but dad or baby sitter will video it and I cannot wait to watch the video with them and hear all about it. I try to pick and choose a few big events for each of them and plan in advance to schedule the time off to attend. The kids always know which events I will and will not attend and how excited I am to discussed the event later.

  4. I can’t agree more with this post. Camille’s point about how practically everything our kids do is special is spot on. We need to prioritize, and sometimes a child’s event really isn’t as important as what we need to do at work. We’ll know if an event is a priority by communicating with our children, and if priorities conflict, that conversation with children is a learning moment for them as well. They are the most important people in our lives, but one of the main reasons we work is so that we can sustain our families and so that the kids can do those activities they so enjoy doing.

    1. YES!!! Power to the conversation…. I am also struck hat this is a way to teach them about the realities of life: you will have to make choices. Rarely will it be easy!

  5. Really, when speaking professionally, isn’t the point to remain professional? Why would one mention one’s children’s events? I am confused. Thes are private worlds, to remain apart, for the most part, so to speak. And to this day, any parent who says either of the words “always” or “never” in relation to their behavior regarding their children, undermines that adult’s credibility, in my view. Children are special beings, and are inescapably unfulfillable, in their demands and needs. This is their nature. My newborn speaks, and I go! Best to you all.

  6. I have 3 children. I can’t possibly be at that many places at once. Events get missed and everyone is ok with it. What I cannot stand is the mom guilt about school committees. I’m the PTA mom who donates money or items. I usually cannot arrange to take off work to work these events or have time (or inclination) to bake 10 dozen homemade treats for a bake sale. The comments about lack of participation and “the check writing moms” has just about got me thinking maybe I won’t be sending a check this year.
    I wish we could officially quit the guilt.

    1. Whoa, people make snarky comments about the working parents even though you’re actually participating? Is it a public school? That is ridiculous. I would absolutely speak up (to the principal or staff or PTA president if they’re not one of the annoying ones) about it. I have asked my husband to attend the PTA meetings at the kids’ new school because I’m getting a strong vibe that it’s always the moms doing the work, and I kind of want to take a stand against that 🙂

  7. Above and beyond the points others mention, I remain mystified that we have (it seems) embraced the idea that one needs an audience (here of parents for their kids, but really — whatever). If I do nothing else for my kid, I want to teach him always to wear a seatbelt. But beyond that, I’d like him to believe that things are worth doing and worth doing well whether or not anyone is watching, and that this goes every bit as much for soccer games (e.g.) as for acts of kindness/responsibility. So — yes, I get to many games and am glad I can. But I also miss some (and plan to miss more as he gets older) and consider that part of good parenting.

    1. This is so great! I was also wondering why a parent would *need* to attend a T-ball practice? Games, I understand, but practice? Unless that speaker was actually one of the coaches – that would make more sense.

      1. Same here, we have three sons and a fourth on the way, I’m not ever going to practice sessions of all their hobbies of all four of them later on (eldest is 4 years old). Here in the Netherlands that is most common fortunately and kids generally don’t do many hobbies outside 35 hours per week of preschool (from 3-4 years) here until they are 5 or 6.

  8. I love this. In fact this year I did do the unforgivable and missed a birthday with a early start and late finish that could not be avoided. But as my boy was turning four and really did not know when his birthday was we just made it the day later.

  9. I want my kids to know that it’s not possible to do everything and that they will need to make choices. It’s called prioritization. Sometimes it will be tough, but in the end every person has to figure out what will make him- or herself happiest. I’m the mom who has never attended the parent visitation on the last day of the week-long summer day camp (so that I can work) but who does hang out with the kids during the two-week family summer vacation.

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