Why School Systems Still Feel Like They're Made for Stay-at-Home Moms

Jan 17, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Image: Chris Ladd/Getty Images

By Allie Hofer

Public, private, parochial, charter, alternative... for all the ways schools throughout the country vary in funding, enrollment and academic standards, one factor seems to unite them all: the school day timeframe.

School day start times typically range between 7 and 9 a.m., with the last class ending anywhere from 2 to 4 p.m. No matter what your children’s exact schedules are, students spend an average of seven hours in school from bell to bell. And much to working parents’ frustration, these school hours rarely — if ever — align with the standard office workday. Parents are then left scrambling to figure out how to coordinate their work and their children’s school schedules so every responsibility is fulfilled and everyone’s needs are met. And that can be tough.

More: 10 Working Mom Secrets to Keeping the Chaos at Bay

Here are just five ways office hours and the school day conflict.

1. Extracurriculars begin before working hours end

The timing of school-sponsored extracurriculars depends primarily on the age of the children involved — elementary, middle or high school — and whether the activity is a practice or a more summative event, such as a game or performance.

While performances, especially those of older students, tend to occur later in the evening, practices and events for younger children are most likely to take place shortly after the school day ends. Sure, practices usually don’t require parent involvement, but anything that begins before you can clock out of the office puts parents in a tight spot. Sports games, music concerts, academic competitions and all similar after-school events — again, particularly for elementary and middle-school students who likely can't transport themselves to and fro — are usually scheduled soon after the final bell rings. Unless your job allows for flextime or you can take off early, you probably end up arriving late to your child’s performance or missing out altogether, much to your (and your child's) disappointment.

2. Meetings with teachers or administrators are scheduled during working hours

Less frequent but more major school events that are generally district-wide, such as parent-teacher conferences, tend to be scheduled months in advance and take place in the evening, post-working hours. Meetings called by a teacher or administrator about a specific issue that has arisen with a child, on the other hand, happen more often, and are set during the school day.

Maybe your son’s math teacher asks you to come in during his mid-morning planning period to discuss your son’s slipping grade. Or the principal calls to schedule a 3:30 p.m. meeting regarding your daughter’s recent run of misbehavior. It makes sense these gatherings would occur during or shortly before or after the school day; after all, teachers have many students and families to deal with, and many faculty and staff members are parents themselves who have obligations to their own children outside school hours. However, this leaves parents who work the common nine-to-five schedule stuck with professional commitments pitted against their children’s best interests — and they're pressured to make sacrifices in both areas.

More: 6 Ways to Be an Awesome Parent According to Science

3. Most parent volunteer opportunities happen during school hours

As schools are driven to eliminate or disincentivize aide and paraprofessional positions, faculty and staff often seek parent volunteers to assist with tasks throughout the building. From sorting mail into teachers’ boxes to supervising a rowdy lunch hour to lending a hand with classroom projects, volunteer opportunities abound. And yet...

Though many parents would love to be involved in some way to enhance their child’s experience and the school overall, the bulk of opportunities to do so are available during school hours only. Unfortunately, parents whose jobs conflict with the school day timeframe are left with limited volunteer options or are completely out of the running.

4. Budget cuts in school services force increased parental engagement at home

In addition to the downsizing of lesser-trained positions, many schools have given the ax to specialized programs and their corresponding faculty — including art, music and academic intervention — in order to stay within the limits of decreased budgets. By removing these programs from their curricula, schools pass to parents the onus of providing such opportunities for their students at home (you know, in all their copious parental free time).

We know how rewarding music, art and core subject support are for kids, not to mention how enjoyable. Therefore, you can bet parents and children alike will insist on finding alternative venues for their trumpet tooting, portrait painting and reading reinforcement. Whether through nonschool organizations, private lessons or home learning, parents are now responsible for arranging special activities outside school hours. And sadly — you guessed it — the traditional office work schedule restricts parents' availability to facilitate these pursuits for their children.

5. High premiums are being placed on before- and after-school care programs

With school days starting after office hours begin and/or ending before the workday is done, working parents must find child care options to cover the unaccounted-for time. Many schools have come to meet this demand by offering before- and after-school programs in-house — but at a steep cost.

It certainly seems like the most convenient option would be for children to remain in one location (school) all day, but parents have to decide whether such ease is worth the price. While cheaper care options are often available elsewhere, parents who choose that less expensive route face further complicated schedules as they try to organize multiple drop-off and pickup times and locations along with their own work agendas. Which do you favor: financial peace or mental health?

More: This Working Mom's Self Care Routine Involves Playing Mario Kart — & We Totally Get It

Overall, the message is clear: school and workday schedules simply do not jibe. This may be one of the few ways in which stay-at-home parents actually have it easy.

But before you draft a petition for drastic changes, consider that the school day is not structured arbitrarily or solely to make your life more difficult. There are plenty of reasons schools configure their schedules the way they do, and the reality is parents' work schedules should be more accommodating of that. In order to reconcile these two seemingly incompatible schedules, try reexamining the way you work. See if you can make it work differently — and better — for you, for your kids, for their school schedules and for your family life as a whole.

Here are some tips for reimagining your office hours and starting the search for a more flexible work environment.

Originally published onFairygodboss.

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