School participation - the working mother's guide

Having decided that it is impossible to do everything, the key skill the working mother (in fact any mother) needs to develop is the ability to determine which things are most important.

They already do this at work.  With infinite opportunities and limited resources, strategic choice is everything.

What is urgent?
What is important?
What is both urgent and important?
And, just as importantly, what is neither and must be forgotten immediately?

And so it is when it comes to school activities.

It is the art of both illusion and effective resource deployment.

What we are looking at is getting bang for your buck - high visibility, high child satisfaction with minimal time allocation. There are some key questions to ask about each potential activity:

Q:  Will my child know?
Q:  Will my child care?
Q:  Does it directly affect my child?

If the answer to any is ‘no', the activity or event is immediately downgraded to non-essential, with the final decision based on the answer to this question:

Q:  Will I enjoy it?

Now, I know you're thinking this is a trick question. It isn't. Keep your mind open to the possibility that you may be able to do something in the name of being ‘a good mother doing good things with my child's school' and actually, wait for it, enjoy doing them as well.

Coffee with some other mums? Well it is getting to know your child's school community, isn't it - ensuring you haven't missed the details of the excursion because the notice was made into a paper airplane and despatched over the school fence. It has absolutely nothing to do with enjoying a nice coffee and a gossip or finding the best place for a leg wax.

Mothering is best played as a team sport.

Take it in turns to get to class plays early, with the advance party securing front or close-tofront row seats. All team members then arrive just before class enters to see respective loved ones' delight that not only is Mum there, she is not craning her neck at the back.

However, if time is stretched, it is helpful to remember that you don't have to be at the whole thing to have ‘been there'.While sports day is all afternoon, a sack race tends to be about three minutes - the trick is knowing which three minutes. Be seen, be keen and disappear.

Extracted from "Love in a lunchbox" by Susannah Mac