I have just had one of those outer body social moments, when I tried to pass myself off as a proper parent and failed. Is this what men feel like all the time I wonder? I live in a perpetual state of guilt about my lack of participation in school events and for that matter my children's term time lives. As a working mother who not only works very long hours (although from home most Friday's), and spends quantities of my life responding to my blackberry, my children my husband and my mother, my garden and my allotment there is very little time left for the school social agenda. Yet it exists and is a very powerful thing. One of the horrors of being a working mother is that you quickly learn that your inability to be there to organise your children's social lives, affects their relationships, social networks and sometimes even confidence. We have had some fantastic childcare providers but they can't substitute for you on this as stay at home mother's tend to prioritise children whose mothers they can chat to whilst the children play, I suppose you would really. The up shot is I don't know who most of the mothers are and I certainly don't know who their children are, which can be tricky.
But I was at home today, and as I feel perpetually shifty I went to my youngest child's parents (read mother's) coffee morning. Even after having children at this particular primary school for eight years I still only know a handful of people which explains why I cheerfully entered the pub in which we were due to meet and sat down with the wrong group of women. It reminded me of the time I arrived late to speak to a conference, went straight up to the panel on the platform, sat down, only to realise I was at the wrong event and the farmers assembled were probably not waiting to hear me on the subject of social enterprise. Loudly I arrived, quietly I left.
Similarly this morning I coughed my excuses, ordered my tea at the bar, and waited for a familiar face. As our class group gathered I overheard one Mum issue a diatribe on women who have never offered to be a class rep (that would be me, oh and FYI a class rep for those not in the know is a sort of activities co-ordinator) so I gingerly joined the group as they became animated in their deliberations on plans for the School Christmas fair. Schools could not function without the volunteering and dedication of parents who put the effort in and I will try to get home to put together some Christmas wreaths, but it is hard for working Mums to find a way in. At least when I'm in a meeting at the Cabinet Office I can keep up with the acronyms and throw away comments but for so much of this morning I was completely at sea. Is it the guilt that gets in the way or the difficulty in changing gears? I spent hours yesterday writing a piece for The Guardian and a speech I'm giving on Tuesday at the RSA both on public service outsourcing and the opportunities for social enterprise. To date it is my most comprehensive view on the subject and not without its controversies, so that is where my head is at. I suppose where I am getting to on this is if I was a man, that would be fine, I could do my job and not feel I was letting anyone down by not making table centres and festive ornaments in my spare time.
But I am a working mum, so in time honoured fashion I will try to do everything, but I don't think I will ever make it as class rep, I simply don't have the lingo.