Would You Skip Your Child's School Play For A Great Career Opportunity?

26/11/2014 16:36 | Updated 22 May 2015

Would you skip your child's school play for a great career opportunity?Alamy

It's not every day that I get invited on a glamorous all-expenses paid trip to an exotic location.

My heart leapt as I scanned the email. It was the kind of invitation I only ever dream about as a freelance writer who juggles her career (think pot luck rather than portfolio) around her kids, working from a messy corner of the kitchen.

The itinerary made me gasp. I would spend the best part of a week exploring the region's stunning landscape, and sampling its wild game and traditional cuisine. There would be mountains galore and all manner of exotic treats lined up for me - a floatation session on a lake, a traditional troll ceremony (don't ask me what that is) and a fire show, plus the icing on the cake: a lesson in how to lasso a reindeer. I'd sleep in a secluded rural cottage, and enjoy several days free from the tyranny of the school run, the laundry mountain, and the nightly homework meltdown.

What did I say by reply? Thanks but no thanks. Why? Because that free trip-of-a-lifetime came at too high a price to pay.

I'd had to have told my six-year-old son that I wouldn't be there to witness him playing the starring role of A Mouse in his school Christmas Nativity play.

Stay with me now. A Mouse is not just a bit part, you know. Let's just say my son has been rehearsing a lot of cute gags about the Baby Cheeses, and if he's anything like as entertaining on the night as he is whilst practicing his lines, well it'll certainly be a night to remember.

But am I insane to give up such an amazing career opportunity for my son's five seconds of fame? It's a no-brainer to me. I literally couldn't bring myself to prioritise work - no matter how glamorous the assignment - over my kid.

And even if I dragged myself away under the justification that work is what puts food on the table which is what keeps my kids alive, I'd still never be able to forgive myself for missing his moment in the spotlight.

Most of my friends think I did the right thing. "Forget the press trip," commented my friend Eve when she heard about my dilemma. "I want to see this Nativity!"

And when I admitted to my friend Colette, a mother of three, that I felt like weeping when I discovered that my lesson in how to lasso a reindeer would clash with my son's theatrical stardom, she offered me a sage word of wisdom.

"The flotation thingy will still be there next year. Your son being a mouse in the school Nativity will not. That's so much more important, and even if he doesn't remember it, you'll probably never forget it. Lasso the reindeer some other time. This year it's all about the mice."

Mum of one Sonja agrees unequivocally. "I turned down an invitation to my aunt's wedding in the South of France in September," she recalls, somewhat wistfully. "It was my last chance of the year to soak up the sun for a few days, not to mention the doubtless drinking, eating and merriment that would have gone with that."

But it fell on the same day as her daughter Annabelle's 6th birthday, so for Sonja the trip was completely out of the question. "I wouldn't have missed her birthday for the world," she says.

In contrast, mum of two, Jill, thinks I'm nuts. "It must be true love," she says of my act of self-sacrifice. "I'm not sure I would've made the same choice."

And get this: the only dad whose opinion I garnered on the matter is a father of five. I was certain a family guy would tell me I'd done the right thing in turning down the press trip, but no. He reckons my kid would soon get over my no-show at the Nativity. "Get out there and lasso a reindeer," he told me, making me wonder if I'd made the wrong decision after all.

So in the end I decided to settle this argument with some professional advice. Naomi Richards is a children's life coach and author of The Parent's Toolkit (Vermillion, £12.99). Happily, she reckons this is one parenting decision that I won't regret.

"It's a tough call when you're forced to choose between your children and a big moment of opportunity in your career," Naomi says with some authority, having very recently turned down potentially lucrative TV gigs for similar reasons. "It can really test us as a parent and highlights where our priorities truly lie."

"But some things are no brainers and this is one of those. I'm a big believer in timing, and trusting your guts. If the timing isn't right for this trip then let it go. Memories really matter for families. Children remember whether we're there for these kind of occasions in their childhood. And if you haven't got memories, what have you got?"

She's right of course. What use is being able to lasso a reindeer in the long run anyway? It might be a handy skill to have up my sleeve for those particularly-fraught school runs, but there's every chance I could sacrifice the Nativity and then find that the trip doesn't come to much after all. And Naomi kindly reassures me that there will probably be another trip when the time is right and it doesn't cost me quite so much.

Maybe I've just kissed goodbye to an exciting new chapter in my career, but one thing's for sure - I won't give that trip or the reindeers a second thought when I'm finally sitting in a hushed school hall, clutching my tissues and watching the lights come up on my very own little Christmas mouse.

Have you ever had to make a choice between career and your child's big moment?

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