By Regan McMahon
Back to school means back to sports for millions of American families. And for working mothers, that can mean added stress figuring out how to meet the demands of kids’ sports schedules and an inflexible workplace.
Moms are often the ones who manage the family schedule, and they may have to set up a web of carpools, baby sitters and relatives to pick up and drop off for weekday practices – and cross fingers each afternoon that it’s all going off without a hitch. The logistical challenges rival that of an air traffic controller and just keeping all the uniforms and equipment organized feels like a full-time job.
If you have more than one athletic child, there are more crisscrossing strands in the web. Weekends may be filled with games or tournaments that require more driving, with spouses and siblings splitting up – the mom at one kid’s game, the dad and younger sister at the other one’s halfway across town or the state.
For divorced parents with shared custody, there’s the added complication of making sure the clean uniform is at the house where the kid is on game day, not to mention the updated schedule, so that parent knows when and where the game is.
Single parents with multiple children in sports seem like absolute miracle workers: They either have a steel-grade support network or a cloning lab in the basement. How else can they get to all those places on time?
As a working mother of two athletic kids, I have often felt overwhelmed, even though I have an involved husband who for the past few years has worked at home and carried the heaviest chauffeuring load while I’m stuck in an office building a commuter train ride away.
When we both worked in an office, our kids were in daycare till 6 p.m. every day. I envied the stay-at-home moms and flexible schedule (usually executive) dads who could pick their kids up at 3, and after a relaxing snack at home get them to a 3:30 or 4 p.m. practice on a nearby field.
When my husband became one of those guys who could volunteer to be the assistant coach because he called the shots on his own afternoon schedule, it was wonderful for him and the kids, but I felt as if I was missing out while I focused on my computer screen instead of green grass and foul lines.
Family-friendly bosses are rarer than we’d like. And gender is no guarantee. My most family-friendly boss was male, and my least was a childless female. In any case, family needs are in the eye of the beholder. Many colleagues do not see attending your kid’s game as a burning necessity. Visiting your ailing mother in the hospital, maybe, but attending a Little League game when there are 12 left in the season? What’s the big deal?
Well, to a parent – and maybe to her kid – it is a big deal. If he hits a home run and you miss it, you miss it. No instant replay. But to a non-parent, seeing you sneak out at early for a pint-sized sporting event can seem like an unfair privilege and provoke resentment.
You can’t legislate understanding. So I’m not sure there’s anything to be done about the problem I’m describing. I just want to acknowledge something that doesn’t often get talked about: that in the struggle to balance work and family, mothers who work outside the home have an added element clogging their brains and tugging at their heartstrings when their kids are in sports.
Regan McMahon is the author of Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy over Youth Sports  and the Deputy Book Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle.