Losing my community

When Thalia started preschool, I worked mostly from home. It allowed me to drop her off sometimes, pick her up sometimes, and through that process, connect with the other moms (and the occasional dad) of the class. We traded notes about our kids’ tantrum phases while they ran around on the front lawn together, or gossiped about which mom was hosting which extravagant 3 year-old birthday party.

While I was never the stay-at-home parent who could run the fundraiser and bake nutritious, gluten-free whole wheat organic brownies for the class and host the Halloween pumpkin decorating party, I was there. At least long enough to say, “good job on the brownies! Don’t ever ask me to make them.”

With Sage, it’s a different story. Because I am a full-time working parent.

I take her to early drop-off, and I’ve yet to pick her up. I don’t know the parents. I wouldn’t recognize her classmates on the street. At night she tells me about her day, describing children I have never heard before. I feel oddly, uncomfortably detached from her world in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.

It seems unfair somehow that she even has a world without me at all. She’s three.

I feel like That Mom, the one who works. You know, the one with the medium-length brown hair? And the black boots? Oh, you might know her if you saw her. Maybe around the neighborhood.

Tomorrow night is her class potluck. I’m picturing myself in a room of strangers who already have connections, awkwardly injecting myself into the conversation with shallow banter over cheese cubes. They plan after-school playdates and weekend lunches, and I hand out my sitter’s number, assuring them that she’d love to get Sage together with your daughter, any time at all! 

I love what I do. I can’t imagine not working. But there are times the balance just seems off.


53 thoughts on “Losing my community”

  1. Me too. I had to ask my Mom to go to an afterschool meeting today because it's from 4-4:30. Really?! Really?! Who schedules meetings for parents from 4-4:30?! Some of us do have to work, ya know . . . especially those of us who are single moms trying to hold it all together – without coming un-glued ourselves.

    Yep, and planning my 4 y.o.'s birthday party . . . can't wait to meet his friends . . . since he's usually the last one there when I pick him up. And, oh yeah, my Mom has to drop him off everyday. She knows more about their school lives than I do.

    I can feel the glue coming undone . . . but I know I'm an awesome Mom because everyday my boys tell me they love me and hug me when they see me.

  2. I can answer “who schedules after school meetings.”

    Our PTO who listened to “have them in the evening so working parents (male AND female) can attend” and did so only to have no one – or the same SAHM/WFH parents show up anyway.

    So we moved them back to after school at the request of those who ACTUALLY ATTEND only to have the same parents who didn't come at night previously complain AGAIN.

    Look at it this way – you probably dodged a bullet. I've done Board service and honestly, who really NEEDS to make 14 dozen cupcakes for the bake sale?

    Run away! Run away!

    Even as a WFH (Work From Home) mom with a very blessedly fluid schedule I found that some preschool class parent groups clicked and some didn't. I'm STILL Friends (close) with some of my daughter's preschool class parents (she's now 11) My son's class? Not so much. Nice people. We nod. We wave. We have a dim recollection that our children may have created macaroni art together but really, it goes no deeper.

  3. I am a stay-at-home mom and I STILL feel that way. There seems to never be enough time, enough energy. I was sitting at an evening theater group meeting at my daughter's school last night thinking how out of it I felt seeing some of the moms volunteering for the costume or makeup committee or the wrap-up party committee or to help sell refreshments at intermission.

    I will be going back to work full time soon after being home for years and still feel as if it were not enough…

    We all need to be softer on ourselves.

  4. I feel the same way about my son's preschool. We were at a fire station open house and ran into a classmate of my child with his parents. They've been in the same class for two years and I dont have a clue what the parents names are!

    One solution we found, at least in terms of knowing who the classmates are, was to ask the director to print pictures for us of each child in the class. We stuck the pictures in a scrapbook and each night flip through the pictures, identifying names of students and talking about what my child did with them that day. That's really helped us on the kid front at least. Still struggling on the parent front.

  5. How about a practical suggestion? My daughter's (first grade) class did this and I REALLY like it – the class contact sheet has each child's PHOTO along with the names of each parent and all their respective phone numbers. Really helps.

    Now if they'd only have added the addresses too, for those of us who arrange playdates without knowing the family for 3 generations… (And for that matter if they'd gotten our home phone number right that would have been nice too – is a bit of Q/C too much to ask?)

    I'm working out of the house this month for the first time in many years and already feel so disconnected, especially with my son coming home to an empty house each afternoon. I didn't value my cushy work at home position nearly enough when I had it…

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  6. Listen, I'm a work-from-home mom and I still never fit in. Here are my mantras: there is no such thing as balance, just getting through day to day. Also: If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, which I use to get me through situations where I might otherwise feel guilty. I do what I do for me (working) and everything else falls into place.

    Community happens when you least expect it, by the way — I felt miserable as the non-connected mom in my son's preschool class, but I have community now that they're a bit older.

  7. Yes, I think everyone feels this way. Disconnected from the little world that your kids are creating at preschool or regular school, even if you are there ALL the time. Do use the potlucks, birthdays, and weekend community days to connect, becuase you may need these SAHM/Ds help and friendship in the future. If you are distant, chances are you'll be nabbed as the stand-offish working mom who can't be bothered with those SAHM/Ds baking cookies all day long. (Yeah, right.)

    I was working full-time with my second kid and felt much more disconnected, but you know what? She is great at making friends and at asking other adults for help, much more than #1. You need “the village” to take care of all of you.

  8. The other side of the coin for this SAHM is when I go to the preschool events and feel totally intimidated by all the working moms and their career attire and life outside motherhood. I know, I KNOW, that I need to keep my eyes on my own damned plate and not assume I know ANYTHING about them but it's hard not to think that one of the points of being home was to NOT be left out of the preschool community and YET. Here I am.

  9. It's the balance thing that gets to me. Ideally, I would work 20-30 hrs per week. Enough to get me out of the house and interacting in a job I like, but still have plenty of time to be involved with my children's activities. Right now, my only daughter is 1.5 yrs old, and I hope I can achieve a greater balance in the next couple of years.

  10. Today was an unusually rough day @ my house – I put my almost 3 yr old daughter (tomorrow is the big day) on a school bus to a program through the Board of Education for kids with sensory disabilities.

    I am at work, my mind is pretty much blank, I haven't stopped crying and all I want to do is call and make sure she is ok.

    Working does show her that Mommy is responsible and Daddy is too but it gives them goals and aspirations also. So I wasn't there to see her VERY first step, when I did see her walk it was the first time for me and it was just as important.

  11. I think you need to remember that it is all just “shallow banter over cheese cubes.” Otherwise it is competitiveness disguised as back-handed compliments.

    Even when I was a SAHM, I wasn't part of the clique. But yeah, at least I could show up to the school's Halloween parade or a field trip or two. Tomorrow I will be struggling to make it to a 3:10 meeting with P's teachers when I work an hour away.

  12. For every woman in the room who might think of you as “that mom” there is another who looks at your black boots longingly and yearns for a life beyond the world of young children, one where she dresses up, puts that college degree to use and earns a paycheck.

  13. I feel half in, half out. I work two days a week. At my kids' daycare/school, I sort-of know the parents. At work, I feel sort-of connected to what's going on. I love my arrangement and feel very lucky that I have a part-time gig right now. But it is definitely weird having one foot in one world and one in the other – and not being all-in anywhere.

    When I worked full time I felt horrible that my daughter was always one of the first at school and one of the last – if not THE last – to be picked up. I think it comes down to this: I need to get over it and be happy with what I've got b/c I can always find something to worry and feel guilty about. But that's just crazy me. 🙂

  14. Yes. I love working and can't imagine not having my full-time career. But I do envy all the stay-at-home moms I know in town who get together a few times a week. Yes, it would be incredibly challenging to be home with kids all day, but I do think they're lucky that they get to see their friends during the weekdays. If there's no one at my work who I'm friends with (which is frequently true – they are mostly 20 years older and male) then I don't have the luxury of having friends, at least not friends I see in person. This is also a problem since we moved after having kids, so our friends from pre-kid days aren't around anymore. Yes, they're still my friends, but it would be nice to have 'in town' friends instead of just cell phone friends.

  15. My husband and I both work fulltime. We're pretty lucky in that my husband and I were able to tweak our schedules so that we drop off and pick up at the “peak” times. He drops off at about 8:30 and I pick up between 4:45 and 5. Even so, we only met other parents at special events- the yearly ice cream social and Halloween parade. And at birthday parties. Then there were a couple of casual beach outings someone organized, and a mom's lunch. It took a few years, but now we know the other parents.

    The thing is, my girls have been in day care since they were 5 months old. So we had longer to do it. And even so, my older daughter (who is 3.5 yo) has a whole world that I only sort of know.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I understand how you're feeling. It is hard, but it will probably get better. And as much as it hurts us sometimes, I don't see any signs at all that it is hurting our kids. Quite the opposite, really.

  16. 1) You're great.

    2) Thalia gets to have a separate life. And that's sooooo good for her.

    3) Idea: Working moms' playgroup? You can't be the only one, right?

    4) Rock those boots.

  17. Honestly: I do not think there is any such thing as work/life balance. I think parents may feel it more keenly because we want to be part of our children's lives, but I hesitate to say non-parents/childfree people have it.

    I would love to work part time, and I say that all the time; I would like the U.S. to have REAL family friendly corporate spaces/policies (they simply do not exist). But then @JD's comment makes me realize that even part time work isn't a pancea — you can still feel disconnected and out of balance.

    I think we do need to be easier on ourselves, and we need to do what comes naturally. I am a shy, introverted person, so regardless of my work status (which is full time right now) I still would be having trouble with small talk over the cheese cubes. I am a big fan of letting myself off the hook. Just check in with your kids. They will let you know what they need from you in terms of relationships with other parents.

    And: *hugs*. Look at all these comments. We are not alone!

  18. I know that feeling.

    On the other hand, if you do perfect the “gluten-free whole wheat” brownies, you will be a bazillionaire.

  19. oh, I hear ya. I work part-time, but still, there is a lot I'm not there for.

    It is hard, being in both worlds, and not completely being in either one.

  20. I know that feeling, and it sucks. My son's first year of school was like that.

    Now I work from home but still feel kine of like a flake because I don't do volunteering or class parties or much after school stuff.

    Sometimes I wonder if anyone truly feels comfortable.

  21. I know. I am the same way. I work full-time. My oldest son is in senior kindergarten, and the odd day I get to take him to school or pick him up, otherwise, it's my parents or inlaws or grandparents. And I feel bad. Other moms are there for pick-up everyday, but not me. But I love my job, I love to work. I couldn't be a stay at home mom. Not yet. Maybe when my kids are older, who knows. I love being in an office, working. But it's always so tough, thinking about the things I may be missing out on.

  22. It's funny that I feel this way, too, even though I'm the stay at home Mom- my school-aged kids are my oldest, and for many of the other parents their kids in class are their “youngest”. So, they have time to give and volunteer and do so many things I can't because I still have two little ones at home.

    I feel insecure because I *think* they look down on me as younger or less mature, even though that's ridiculous, I still feel it. And I also feel like I am “not pulling my weight” when it comes to field trips and signing up to help with events or popcorn day or whatever it is I am not participating in.

    And then someday my younger two will be in school and I'll maybe? finally have time to do all those things. I just hope I remember to love on the moms that will be just like I am now.


  23. I am a SAHM and let me assure you, I am gunning for no noble position anytime soon. Baking is not my forte and I gave up trying years ago. Unlss you count creme brulee. Ahem.

    My kids attend school a few hours a week and I feel pretty disconnected from those parents. I chit chat in the hall before pick-up, but have yet to make a connection with any other parent besides the Indian mother and that was only because we had the obvious “sub-continental Asian” thing going on.

    Don't be so hard on yourself, Liz. Besides! I don't remember my parents feeling the need to connect with other parents. Ever. I think this is a newfangled bit of pressure put upon us these days. As if we need it!

  24. Personally, your status as a working mom would make me want to seek you out. Also, the boots.

    Ref Cagey's comment regarding parental connections – mine certainly didn't care to make connections with other parents either. And that was okay – it allowed me to figure out who *I* wanted to befriend vice who would be convenient for my parents.

  25. Thanks so much everyone, for sharing your own stories and challenges. It means so much.

    Interestingly, I feel more connected to Thalia's class because I do drop her off in the morning. Maybe that's why I'm feeling guilty that I haven't yet had any opportunities to connect in Sage's world. It's not for lack of interest either. There seem to be some cool parents in there!

  26. I totally feel your pain. I was at home when my now 6yo daughter started preschool. Dropping her off and picking her up were highlights of my day.

    By the time my son began preschool, I was working full-time. Barely ever took him. Can't even remember picking him up. It broke my heart.

    Working is very much a part of who I am. But, as you said, the balance often isn't quite right.

  27. My mom worked and while that might have made her feel on the outs with the other moms I never noticed any of that – and that's what's most important, right?

  28. Thanks for so beautifully articulating what this “balance” feels like so many days. Your words – the funny ones, the serious ones, the happy and bittersweet ones – are great medicine for days when the balance is good and days when the balance is a mess. Thank you, thank you!

  29. Just reading your comments here is healing (you have such great readers). I think we all feel out of balance somehow…it's just a matter of the form it takes. I imagine many of the moms who spend lots of time at school and bake the brownies feel disconnected to the wider world of work, isolated from their full complement of talents. I know I've felt on both sides of the coin at times.

    Parenting is such a process of gains and losses. Every gain entails a loss…but every loss entails a gain. Pretty profound stuff.

    Another thought…when I look back on growing up, my Dad (like most of that generation) left for work before I woke up, and got home in time for dinner. We shared cursory details of my school life, but that was it. He didn't know my friends well, but did attend band reviews, concerts, award ceremonies, etc. in the eves/weekends. I NEVER felt like he wasn't involved. My mom was at home, and even she wasn't that involved by today's standards. But I felt totally supported by my parents.

    I think our kids may see and feel this all very differently than we do. Which does not mean you shouldn't feel the pangs you do. Just that

  30. Liz I love how you always seem to write a post like this when I am struggling to articulate how I'm feeling as a working mom. As I read about the medium length brown hair and black boots – I nodded and sighed all at the same time. That's me.

    However, unlike you, I get day care pick up as opposed to drop off. And, I cringe when ever I have to do drop off. I run into a different sub-set of working parents – the ones that are able to pick their kids up by 3:30 or 4 – as opposed to me and a few others that struggle to get there by the 5:30 deadline. And, then there are kids there that I don't know their names and I feel bad. I'm suddenly “that mom”. Yuck! Nothing like sending the anxiety level through the roof before 7:30 in the morning.

    But, no matter how frustrating – it is just what it has always been for my family. My daughter has spent more time in the care of someone else since she was six weeks old than she has with me or her father. It's a fact of life – and truthfully, I wouldn't trade how things have played out for anything. We have a schedule and a balance in our lives that works for us. And, that is what it is all about, right? Finding what works best for your own family?

  31. …just that they feel as loved and cared for as they are.

  32. Mom-101: for what it's worth, I first came to your blog through your Grass: Greener post, and I have linked and emailed and reread it to myself a hundred times since then. There is no true, all-the-time balance to be found, from what I can tell. And that's okay, because it's the same for every mom I have ever asked.

    While my Professional Self and my Mommy Self usually get along beautifully (just like my children), there are days when they fight about who gets to sit in the front seat (just like my children). Most of the time I can't resolve that fight that day (just like with my children). And so someone wins, fair or not (just like with my children). And lo and behold, the next day they are best buddies again (you get the picture).

    I love what you share here.

  33. I can appreciate this. When my oldest first started school I worked across the street. I was there every morning and afternoon for pick up and drop off.

    And I made every performance. I knew all of the parents and his friends. It was great. But by the time my youngest started things had changed and I worked elsewhere.

    It felt strange to not know everyone the way that I had before.

  34. Right there with you 100%. We're lucky in that my husband stays at home, however I come home from working full time and am desperate to hear about my 3year olds' day. I feel horribly detached from what happens with her playmates, her park district class…I have to look to her daddy for confirmation that I'm understanding anything she's saying. It's sad sometimes. I know what I do is important and don't question it, I just miss being her world and knowing her world.

  35. I remember how strange it felt a few years ago when I had a nearly full-time sitter who took Owen to a toddler tumbling class. I went for the end-of-session picnic and realized that my child had been spending time regularly with a bunch of women who had no idea who I was. When I walked in, Melanie, my sitter, had to introduce me as Owen's mom. It was so strange and unsettling, and weird to realize that those women would all have been my friends if I'd been the at-home mom, but in reality, I'd probably never see any of them again. And so strange to really realize that Owen had this whole other life going on that I wasn't at all a part of.

    I loved our sitter, I know she took great care of Owen, and I know he did just fine that year even though I wasn't with him all the time. But that didn't make moments like that easier to take.

  36. And I wanted to chime in that, like Steph, I'm now the mostly-at-home mom who STILL doesn't know a lot of the other moms or participate in a lot of the schoolyard banter…mostly because I have kids of a variety of ages so it's hard for me to figure out where I fit in, and because I'm so busy I rarely have time to attend playgroups, and…okay, let's face it, also because I'm kind of picky about who I'll hang out with and tend to gravitate toward women who seem like interesting people–which aren't always the same women who happen to have kids in my kids' classes, yk?

  37. The worst thing for me–special events planned in the middle of the day or even at 4pm. It seemed as thought my daughter's pre-school had them every month. I finally had to say something to the head of the school–“the child is here because I work and most women do–we do not need extra guilt thrown on top of the already thick layer that is there due to tossing the child into day-care.”

  38. My kids are grown (25, 22, 20), but I always worked full time — so they were in daycare most of their pre-school lives. My husband usually did most of the dropping off and picking up, but I did just enough that I felt like I knew most of my kids' classmates and eventually met their parents. We didn't do many play dates back then, because our kids had friends who lived in the neighborhood to play with, but there were occasional daycare center parties and birthday parties that gave us another opportunity to connect with the parents.

    I've been lucky in that while I've always worked full time, I've had a somewhat flexible schedule. I never had a problem getting away to help now and then in the classroom, to chaperone an activity or to be the “room mom” who organized the parties.

    Yes, your “community” evolves with time as your kids change schools and get involved in different activities. I had work friends, neighborhood friends, and friends whose kids were in classes or activities with mine.

    I'll tell you what's strange — to have your last kid graduate from high school and realize that you don't need have that community of parents to sit with at football games or wrestling matches, no plays to go to, no parent-teacher conferences. You're done with school and all the things that go with it. If your whole identity is wrapped up in your kids, you'll feel lost. But by then, as many have noted, you've gradually gotten more “me” time and have cultivated outside interests and other friendships that don't hinge on the school calendar. 🙂

  39. I can't even figure out how or whether I will be able to send my younger child to preschool at all. My daughter went to a fantastic preschool that we loved, but it was only because I was on mat leave for the exactly right period of time that she was in her preschool year (I'm in Canada so mat leave was the full year). But my poor younger guy, in addition to getting shafted on pretty much everything cool (no swimming lessons, playgroups, etc.), will probably not go to preschool either, because it would mean finding someone willing to pick him up from daycare, drive him to preschool, then pick him up again and drop him back at daycare, 2-3 times per week. Sorry dude, looks like regular old daycare for you. Add it to the long list of things you can blame me for later…

  40. Tell me about it. Try moving from the east coast to the west, without any family or friends to count on, into a neighborhood where the nannies outnumber SAHMs and are at a minimum 15 years younger than I am. Yeah, we have a LOT to talk about on the tot lot…

    Seriously, my son is only 18 months and I'm already trying to find a preschool or some program he can participate in, just so I can talk to someone besides his pediatrician!

    Community can happen anywhere, and you can be excluded from it just as easily.

  41. When Belly was in preschool, I NEVER felt like I was “part” of something. It was only b/c I pushed to have playdates with her 2 favorite friends that I got to know the other moms at all (her preschool had drive up drop off/pick up, so it was just “wave from the minivan” friendships).

    And at the potluck, I'm SURE there will be some other parents looking way more awkward than you (is it possible for you to even look awkward? I'm not sure of this).

    The social issues that come with having children certainly do rival my most scary social moments of middle school.

  42. Liz, you seem to be forgetting that you are kind, thoughtful, intelligent and hilarious, and therefore an excellent person for any parent to have a conversation with at a potluck, whether they know you already or not.

    Just, you know, try to avoid talking about star stickers. You don't want to start a food fight.

  43. “gluten-free whole wheat organic brownies”
    as a Celiac, this made me laugh my ASS off! It reminds me of all the times I've had to talk to the homeroom parent about my Celiac son and baked goods and they'll say “but can he have crackers? (no) can he have cookies (no) can he have cupcakes (hell no… didn't you HEAR me?)” DOH!
    But yours was all in good humor and I LOVE it!

  44. Honestly, I think the 2nd kid gets shafted in this category no matter if you are able to be involved or not. With my 1st I bonded with a bunch of moms in that group – knew all of them (still do) and not just by the names of the kids, I really remembered their names! But with my second, all the moms which had 1st borns in the room became the Alpha moms and I just relegated myself to fitting in on the sidelines. I'm lucky if we ever manage to talk about his friends and who they are.

    We do put some of this on ourselves – GUILTY here. I try to make up for it with cute candy bags at Halloween and Christmas – or whatever random holiday everyone at daycare seems to create giveaways – always with chocolate included for said moms to pilfer so they still like my kid!

  45. That is so difficult but I'm sure there are many more in the same boat, only they're isolated too so no one meets them.
    Trying looking for the other moms that might be in the same boat as you are, they're out there!

  46. What matters is quality time with your daughter, not quality time with the parents of your daughter's classmates, right?

    When I saw the title, I thought this post would be about something completely different — about the loss of community that happens when your kids start elementary school & have homework and karate practice and playdates with new friends, and you never, or hardly ever, get to see your own friends.

    Will you write that one next?

  47. I'm sitting here with the cursor blinking at me trying to come up with the 'right' thing to say after a REALLY hard day with my kiddos.

    I guess I should say that sometimes I really wish I had a job outside of the home to go to. This parenting gig is hard no matter how you slice it.

    But I am sorry that you feel like you're losing that connection and I hope you can find a way to get to know those parents and your daughter's friends, even if just a little. For your sake and hers… :]

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