One of the fun things about parenting is the many ‘first evers’ that come your way. There’s the birth, of course, and the first steps. And the less cute but still quite endearing moments (first poo in the bath is one that immediately springs to mind). This week, I had what felt like quite a momentous ‘first ever’, when me and my wife made our debut appearance at a school parents’ evening.
Working full-time has led to a funny old mix of emotions about my little boy starting school. I’ve only been able to drop him off once, and that was all a bit of a rush (not helped by the fact that neither of us knew where we were going, with the result that someone from Year 5 had to lead us pityingly to my son’s classroom). I’ve never collected him at the end of the day, I don’t know much about the children he’s building friendships with and, for the first time, I’m seeing him embrace a whole part of life that has very little to do with me. Not being there to do the walk to or from school is frustrating at times; when you add in the fact that the playground is still very much the preserve of mums, you can end up feeling that, as a dad, the whole school thing isn’t something you can easily get involved with. And yet, there’s so much about the parents’ evening experience that felt encouraging.
As we sat there, hearing our boy’s lovely teacher chat about the six hours a day she spends with him, it was an unexpectedly moving moment. This lady seemed to know our little lad really well: she’d already worked out some of his personality traits, she could tell us what other children in the class thought of him, and she really gave us a real boost when it came to thinking about how we parent him. She also said something that really challenged me. Reflecting on the kind of role models the very youngest children see before them at school, she commented, “There are hardly ever any men. Reception teachers are all women. It’s the mums that volunteer in the classroom. These children would really benefit from some male role models here, too.”
So, although work is busy, the Blackberry is permanently flashing away and there’s always another email to answer, I want to make sure I don’t forget to have a meaningful input into this hugely important area of my son’s life. Yes, lots of us dads are busy – but so are most mums, irrespective of whether they also work full-time. There are all sorts of options: taking one day off each term to volunteer at our local school, joining the governing body, even becoming the class rep for the school’s Friends’ Association. Or, at the most basic level, simply making sure we regularly ask our children plenty of engaging questions about what they get up to at school. All this stuff would hopefully have a beneficial effect on the kids – but to be honest, I reckon we’d rather enjoy it, too.