I’m a week and a half into the new school year, and already I’ve been both a rock star (made it to Back To School Night…on time!) and a flunkie (not sure what happened to that field trip permission form…)
This time of year can be filled with uncertainty for those of us who aren’t sure how much volunteering is enough, how involved we should be with our kids’ extracurriculars, or how much responsibility we should take for homework. And along the way we have learned to believe certain “myths” about what makes a good school-year mom.
I’m here to help. See the following 7 myths – some of which are probably rattling around in your head right now! – debunked:
Myth #1: Good moms join the PTA/PTO.
By this time of year, you’ve likely been exhorted to join the parent-teacher organization at your child’s school. If you’re like me, you’ve felt a twinge of guilt as you deleted the email or tossed the flyer in the recycling bin.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate what parent-teacher organizations accomplish: I do. But the ugly truth is that I’m not big on going to meetings, and I don’t like volunteering my time out of a sense of obligation. I like contributing to the world on my own terms, in ways that feel personally meaningful to me.
At least in my district, the parent-teacher organization is already thriving, filled with moms who’ve been doing it forever and actually enjoy the work. They don’t need me. And I don’t need to join to prove I’m a good mom…to myself, or anyone else.
If you’re in a struggling school district and just don’t want to sign on for your local PTO, ask your child’s teacher if there are other ways you can contribute. Chances are good there are opportunities for you to use your unique skills and talents to help the school your own way. (There may also be ways you can assist the PTO or PTA on an individual, as-needed basis, without attending regular meetings or signing on for the whole year.)
Myth #2: Good moms volunteer in the classroom.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: showing up regularly in the classroom is not always possible for working moms, even when they work from home. Over the past decade in my life as a WAHM, nearly every precious hour of child care I’ve secured needed to be funneled back into putting food on the table. I tried to volunteer at school with a toddler underfoot exactly once, and then swore I’d never do THAT again.
I generally show up in my kids’ classrooms once or twice a year. I prefer reading to the kids or doing something concrete, but I sometimes “work” the holiday parties, too. Unfortunately practically every other parent also shows up to those parties, it’s crazy crowded and I just stand there awkwardly without having much to do because the go-getter parents already have it covered. (The kids really want me at those parties, for some unexplainable reason as they don’t interact with me in any way when I’m there.)
Now that Clara is older, I’m looking forward to being more of a presence in her class…maybe. There’s also a reason I didn’t become an elementary-school teacher, and it has something to do with being surrounded by large groups of small children. And while schools need help, there are plenty of worthy and important organizations and causes that could also benefit from my limited time.
The fact is that some people enjoy classroom volunteering; others don’t. It’s not a moral failing if a) you don’t enjoy it and b) you choose not to – or simply can’t right now.
Myth #3: Good moms chaperone field trips.
See Myth #2. Particularly the part about being surrounded by large groups of small children.
Myth #4: Good moms attend every game, practice and rehearsal.
Since when did “parental involvement” turn into “parents must be involved in every single aspect of their kids’ extracurriculars”? When I was a kid I managed my own sports and activity schedule, and just told my parents when and where to show up for games and performances. (And not every one, either.) Nowadays the pressure is on to not only manage the calendar and work the concession stand, but also make it to every away game and even attend practices and rehearsals.
The way I see it, my kids are entitled to their own space and should be able to learn how to kick a ball or deliver a line on stage without two sets of authority figures watching their every move. And I’m entitled to have some time for my own pursuits on evenings and weekends, too.
Myth #5: Good moms never drop the kids off in their pajamas. Or while not wearing a bra.
Oh, yes, they do. But it can be a little embarrassing to be seen driving around town in bunny slippers nonetheless.
Here’s my little trick: if you’re dropping your kids off at school and you’re worried you’ll be seen in an awkward state of undress, drop them off a block or so away, in a low-traffic area, instead of doing the drop-off line. I know at our school there are traffic guards at every major crossing near the school, and walking a block or two or three, even in the cold or drizzle, is not going to hurt your kid.
That’s my trick for those days that I drive my boys to school in slippers, with my hair sticking up all over the place. Which, honestly, is rare…not because I am usually showered and put together early, but because I usually make them walk. Take THAT!
Myth #6: Good moms pack perfectly nutritious, interesting lunches.
We’ve heard a lot about the low nutritional quality of school lunches lately, and packing my kids’ lunches (most of the time) is one way I’m trying to do a little bit better. But if you go by Pinterest, it’s not enough to simply toss a banana, sandwich and a bag of crackers in your child’s lunchbox: you’re supposed to come up with interesting combinations, cut everything into artistic shapes and turn each lunch into a feast for the senses.
Enough. If packing creative, clever lunches is your thing, then that’s wonderful! But if it’s not, your child will do just fine with a sandwich, apple, and a cheese stick. Even if you pack that same combo every day. The entire time she’s in school. Promise.
Myth #7: Good moms never forget to sign the reading log.
Even organized moms drop the ball sometimes. And once that ball has been dropped it can be really hard to stop it from rolling away. Which is how I once wound up not signing the reading log for two weeks.
We have a lot going on, and if our kids’ teachers are compassionate human beings with some life experience, they’ll understand that we aren’t perfect…but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about our kids, or that we don’t have books in our homes, or that we are candidates for a call to child protective services.
When I flake as a mom – because yes, it will happen – I try to keep from beating myself up. Instead, I let the teacher know we’ve had a rough couple of weeks, apologize to my kids for anything I’ve screwed up, and then get back on the horse.
I think it can be a great learning experience for kids to see their parents drop the ball. It’s an opportunity for them to figure out ways to take responsibility for their own school work, and to brainstorm strategies for keeping everyone on track together.