Four years ago my kids and I moved to a new state, a new school district, and what often felt like an entirely new world. (That’s what we get for being a bunch of yankees in the south.) My solution to the stranger-in-a-strange-land predicament was to dive in head-first: I joined the PTA, I volunteered for committees, I did my best to get involved and be there for my kids.
The result of my gung-ho attitude is that I was a cheerful participant for most of the first year, and felt bitter and burnt out by the end of the second. Our third year brought the change of having the kids in two different schools, so my husband and I each sort of manned one school (albeit at a fairly minimal level, attending meetings and such), and this past year—the fourth one—I did nothing. Nothing. Wait, I lied; I did volunteer in my son’s class for a holiday party, and last week I chaperoned a field trip. But basically: nothing.
I work from home. My schedule is flexible. Theoretically I should be all kinds of involved with the schools because I’m potentially more available than parents with conventional jobs. So what’s the problem?
1) It’s depressing to volunteer and look around and realize that it’s always the same few people. I’ve been to PTA meetings for a school of, say, 800 students and seen three people in attendance. I get that people are busy—heck, I’m busy, too—but I find myself getting irrationally annoyed when I attend school events and most parents have blown them off.
2) There seems to be a swirling vortex of need ready to suck down any parent who volunteers in any capacity. My schedule is flexible but I still work full time. It’s not unusual for me to run into folks at my kids’ schools who don’t seem to understand that I have a job. Jane Doe who has a boss and a cube is never asked to go the extra mile because it’s understood that she has work obligations; while I’m happy to help out, it eventually grates on me when people seem to assume I can always be there/do that/participate because I must not have anything else to do.
3) It often feels like there’s little appreciation of the time a parent can end up putting in just to handle their kids’ extracurriculars which aren’t covered by the school. Do not get me started on how there’s always transportation provided for our sports teams, but our state Science Fair winners were left to get to and from the event on their own. (Ahem.) My kids were involved in tournaments, fairs, and plenty of other activities which necessitated a lot of parental involvement and hours—and often those of us with schedules flexible enough to provide ended up picking up an extra kid or two for others. So we’re doing those things, putting in a lot of time already, but then we’re supposed to do more? Sometimes it feels like too much.
Complaining aside, I’m back on the PTA for next year. I think it’s important, and I’m aware that the world is run by people who show up. Simply put, I feel a responsibility to do what I can. I guess what I’m wondering is how do we get the load a little more evenly distributed when it comes to our kids’ schools?
Think about it—somehow most dads seem to get a pass on this. I see some fathers volunteer at my kids’ schools, but overwhelmingly the volunteer force is composed of mothers. And while I’m grateful for any parent who doesn’t work and has the time to be really involved at school, lots of us work, and we still need to find a way to get things done without the same four people doing everything all the time.
I know that at many private schools, parents are held to an expectation of a certain number of volunteer hours each year. People complain about how inconvenient it is, but… isn’t that more fair? Even if you have a “conventional” job, couldn’t you figure out a way to get a few volunteer hours in if you had to? I’m thinking yes, because the same parents who never show up when there’s work to be done all manage to make it there for the holiday concert and similar sorts of things.
I think I’m mostly just wishing for a world where 1) my work is taken seriously, even though I do it from here in my house and 2) more parents prioritize their kids’ schools, regardless of how super-important they believe themselves and their time to be. Is that too much to ask?