Dear Suzanne and Amanda:
My daughter Tess is starting her first day of kindergarten next week. She’s an only child and I’m viewing the day as a momentous one for all of us (Tess, her dad and me).
Her dad, my husband Frank, works quite a bit. He leaves early in the morning and isn’t home until late at night. He’s home on weekends, but he misses a lot of what’s going on in Tess’ world. I do my best to keep him updated.
I think it’s important for Frank to be around on the first day of school, if not for the whole day, at the very least to put Tess on the bus with me. Frank usually leaves for his office around 6 a.m., the bus is scheduled to come at 7:45 a.m. Frank says he wants to watch his daughter get on the bus for the first time but simply doesn’t have the time.
This is turning into a big issue for me. Now that Tess is starting school, I can no longer keep her up until her dad gets home from work. I know she isn’t going to see him a lot and it upsets me. I don’t see the big deal in Frank going into work a few hours late. How can I convince him that this is very important and he needs to stay home?
– Disappointed Mom
Suzanne: Feeling like you have to be in two places at one time is never easy, but in this case I suspect your husband might have a little more leeway than he’s admitting. It doesn’t sound like he is fearing for his job if he delays his start time by two hours. From what you say, he just can’t “make” the time. And in that case, I would say that there’s still more wiggle room in your argument discussion.
I know from my own experience that unless you are arriving late or leaving the office early every day, a morning appointment here and there is not scrutinized. And I’ve made it a point to be at every first day of school and other important parent activity in my children’s schools whenever possible. Same goes for my husband — who is in the minority among his peers in his status as a dad. (He’s someone who spent years wringing his hands over the prospect that he would probably have to miss his son’s first day of kindergarten because he would be in the classroom welcoming his own students to school. When the time came, he was working in a different field and was right there with us. He still talks about that day.)
But there was one year when an early meeting on my part coincided with the arrival of my son’s bus on his first day of second grade. My husband was still planning to see him off (and take pictures) but I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out a way to be there. It wouldn’t have been career-ending for me to skip that one meeting — except that I was on the agenda to make a presentation (talk about adding insult to injury since public speaking is not my favorite early morning activity). Then I got bumped. Then I got rescheduled for another topic. Ugggghhhhh! Turns out I did have to miss the first day of school fanfare and yet we all survived.
My frustration stemmed from the fact that there’s so much more to that first day of school than just walking your child safely to the corner and nodding your head at the bus driver. Pride. Excitement. A mental reminder of just how quickly you are moving through the years and why that drive to the college dorms is looming in the not-so-distant future. The first days of school are numbered.
So even though you don’t want to push to the point of resentment, it would be worth bringing up subject again with your husband in a less direct way. Ask him about his office culture and how he feels about what lies ahead when the first day of school gives way to chorus concerts, science fairs, field day and career day. Get a feel for how other people in his office handle family commitments, doctors’ appointments, etc.
And suggest that if there’s the least bit of flexibility in his day, he might want to save those precious slots for times like these because while he’s doing his job for the benefit of your family, his bonus comes in the form of working in some face-to-face family time wherever possible since that’s the stuff memories are made of.
Amanda: I’m trying to remember back to my first day of school. I think I wore a pink or a red dress with flowers on it. That’s about it. I’m sure it was a huge day and I’m sure my parents were proud, but some 30-odd years later, I’m scratching my head over the details.
Having said that, I do remember both of my school-age children’s first days of school very clearly, so I understand your concerns. The first day of school (especially the first first day of school) is an important one, especially to parents. I do my best to make sure that day goes as smoothly as possible. For you, that means having your husband there and I get that.
The thing is, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to presume that Frank can take off without any repercussion. It’s his job, I think it needs to be his call. I do think another conversation is in order. Try to be calm as you explain why it means so much to you that he is there for your daughter’s big day. If after your talk he still can’t make it, understand that given the choice, he’d probably rather be with you and your daughter. So do your best to make him part of the day. Suggest he write a note to put in Tess’ lunchbox and take plenty of pictures for him to view (you can even text him a couple on your cell phone). Maybe the three of you can have a celebratory meeting over ice cream over the weekend where Tess can share with both of you all the special moments of the day.
No matter what happens, good luck!
O.K, your turn. What would you tell Disappointed Mom? Is she asking too much of her husband? Should he take a few hours off of work to put Tess on the bus?
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