How to cope when you miss your child’s event (and why sometimes it’s a good thing)

I have a fab post for you today by working mums’ coach Elinor Wilde. One of the big reasons that mums start up in business is to give us the flexibility to go to events like school sports days. But what happens if, despite your best efforts, you still can’t go? Over to you, Elinor…

Running a business when you have children can mean some pretty tough choices. At the end of recent call, a client of mine dropped into the conversation that she had been really looking forward to going to a friend’s 40th birthday party. It had been in the calendar for months but she wasn’t going because her daughter had just been invited to perform at a dance concert. Now this mum has seen her daughter perform at many concerts, this wasn’t the first and it wasn’t a competition, but she wouldn’t allow herself to miss it even though she admitted she was gutted to be missing the 40th.

When you decide to run your own business you hope you will have more flexibility to be with your children and attend their events more easily than if you were working 9-5, but you will still have conflicting choices to make whether they are to do with business or social arrangements. Obviously you want to attend your kids’ events to support them and share in their pleasure, but here’s the thing – you don’t have to be there EVERY time and feeling guilty about it can be a sign of the perfectionist trap we mums can fall into. Here’s how to cope:

If, like my client, you feel consumed by guilt at the thought of missing a child’s event, consider why.

• Are you worried what other mums will think? Remember you’ve got nothing to prove to them. This is your life and your family.

• Are you mind-reading and making assumptions? Are you scared your child will be upset if you are not there? This is really down to how you handle things. Be factual, don’t over explain or over-dramatise and above all don’t ask for permission! Explain that you already have something organised and can’t go, describe whose mother will be there instead and that you are really looking forward to hearing how much they enjoy themselves. Don’t get drawn into a long conversation about it or over-explain. It’s this that can make your child anxious.

Are you worried what other mums will think? Remember you’ve got nothing to prove to them. This is your life and your family.

Do you think “but I must be there if at all possible and will move heaven and earth to get there”? Keep it in perspective – you don’t have to bear witness to it all and be your child’s shadow. When your children are with friends, relatives, at nursery or school, things happen and you find out afterwards. Your child coped without you there and probably enjoyed telling you all about it.

There can actually be a real benefit of not going to every event. Children need to enjoy doing activities for sheer pleasure not because they get attention from you being there. Hearing how involved your child was in an event from others can give an interesting insight. Children are desperate to please and sometimes do sports and go to clubs because they think you want them to and are scared of disappointing you. Remember, if you are attending a competitive event with your child try to be relaxed and always praise for effort not the outcome. Be careful that you do this consistently when your child is in earshot; otherwise you’re in danger of your child growing up fearing failure and with perfectionist tendencies of their own. But I digress -that’s a whole other topic.

If you find yourself regularly cancelling social engagements but not business ones for your children beware. You are putting yourself way down the priority list. You are important. You need to look after YOU so you can look after your family and your business. It’s a slippery slope to doormat status in your family where everyone knows that good ol’ mum will drop everything and sort us out. If you want your children to grow up to be independent, confident adults who respect themselves and others then show them how and walk your talk: your needs matter.

Children need to enjoy doing activities for sheer pleasure, not because they get attention from you being there

When you do make the decision to cancel and go to your child’s event beware the ‘martyr’ voice with your partner – you know the one “No it’s OK, I’ll cancel and I’ll take them to the swimming gala. You go out with your mates. No it’s ok I don’t mind, honestly (picture big sighs, tuts and gritted teeth)’ – watch out, as this martyr badge of honour is not a good look. If you do decide to cancel then do it with good grace. Martyrdom means your partner gets hacked off and your child can bear the brunt of your resentment and can feel guilty themselves.

If you do miss something important to do with your children try not to catastrophise about it – another perfectionist habit. Focus on getting the most out of the activity you are attending instead and remind yourself of all the concerts, assemblies, parties, performances, music evenings, races and plays you have seen and will continue to enjoy lots of in the future.
Remember you are always doing better than you think.

Elinor Wilde is a psychologist, coach, writer and mum and is the founder of Elinor will help you take life by the horns, make small changes to get more time to do more of the things you want to do and be the mum you want to be. It’s all about doing a little to make a BIG difference. Sign up to get a free copy of ‘Working mums – how to ditch the guilt demon’, and join her on facebook and twitter.

6 Replies to “How to cope when you miss your child’s event (and why sometimes it’s a good thing)”

  1. A great post, thanks. I do try to put this into practice when I can, if I need to. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of being there all the time. It’s a fair point you make to sometimes leave them to it and help them enjoy doing things just for the pleasure of it, rather than to please you.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it Jen. It’s just far too easy to get stuck into routines especially with our thinking. I still twist myself in knots sometimes trying to figure out if my son is genuinely enjoying some things or just trying to please me.

  2. Exactly a year ago today I missed my eldest daughter’s 1st sports day. My youngest was nearly 1 and had been a terrible sleeper – having 10 months of interrupted sleep I’d lined up a treat for myself of a night away (on my own ) at a spa – total peace and relaxation! Then the school sent out the date for sports day a month beforehand and I saw the clash – I had a little dilema but decided, as my husband was going to sports day, my night away would be more beneficial to my family. (Sane, chilled out mum always better). Yes I felt guilty and comments were made (by other mums!) but seriously – my daughter wasn’t bothered as long as dad was there. Did I mention it was also my wedding anniversary? Bad Mummy and Bad Wife! (This year I will be at Sports Day and we are having a meal out for anniversary)

    1. Thanks Alison! I think you hit the nail on the head there when you said that your daughter wasn’t bothered as long as her Dad was there. We can sometimes get so wrapped up in feeling guilty that we forget that the kids aren’t that bothered. 🙂

    2. I hope you ad a great sports day and anniversary Alison. We face these tough decisions the whole time don’t we. My husband and I re-organised our diaries last year to go to a school ‘Sports Personality’ event as my son was giving a speech as captain of the football team and I was really looking forward to it. Hilariously, at the last moment my son turned to us both and said he didn’t want us there as it was really for the pupils only and no others parents were going – gutted! But glad he said what he wanted. We went out for curry instead – happy days.

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