Monday, August 25, 2008

Room Mom Lament

In my last post I discussed education and some of the reasons why schools work or fail. If you read that, and my fairly opinionated commentary, you already know that my feeling is that the single greatest determining factor in a child’s scholastic success rests with the parents. That’s not to say that a failing district can be overcome by the parent, but I think failing districts often have an overabundance of parents who are not accountable for their children…

Well, hell, I just re-read that and realized that I’m about to piss a lot of people off. If you have tender hearts or virgin ears, please discontinue reading. Otherwise, buckle up.

I am, once again, a room mom – this year for my middle child’s class. I already know what’s coming, having been ridiculously involved since my oldest started three year old pre-school (she’s in fifth grade this year). I didn’t volunteer for this one, in fact I purposely didn’t sign up. I have three kids in school and wanted to make sure I could make at least one party for each of them. When you’re a room parent, you have to attend the majority of the events for that class… okay, that was long and windy, but the basic thing is – no one else would accept the position, which already tells me I’m going to have a hell of a time finding volunteers. Luckily, the first and third grade have their Christmas parties on different days, so hopefully I can attend that one for youngest.

But enough about how I’m going to balance spending some time in each of my children’s classes – the point is the lack of volunteers. Here’s how this conversation can often go:

Me: Hi, my name is Merry and my child is in your child’s class. We need parents to help with their holiday parties. Do you think you can sign up for one of them?

Parent: Oh, no, I work. Sorry.

AAAAARGGGGGG!!!!! Not for nothing, but what kind of bullshit answer is that? There are a lot of parents who work and still make their children’s school life a priority and quite frankly there are relatively few employers who will hold it against you for taking one afternoon off in a ten month school year to attend your child’s party. If you are the extreme case whose boss will boil you in oil, you are excused from this rant… but for the most part, these same parents who can’t commit to an one hour party in the afternoon are also never in attendance at the evening or weekend events, so in some of those cases I’m thinking they just can’t be bothered – which sucks for their kid.

I get that working and raising children is hard to balance. I even get it if you can’t make the afternoon stuff but try to make the evening events or in some other way volunteer (there are a lot of things you can do from home, just ask the school). And forget the fact that it’s flippin’ annoying to the rest of us who, by the way, also WORK – that line just kills me, I’m sorry. I’m not sitting on the couch eating bon-bons for fuck’s sake – even if I wasn’t writing at home, I’d still have every ounce of time consumed with raising my own kids and taking up the slack at school for the parents that don’t flippin’ bother!

Okay, sorry. You can unplug your virgin ears now. Here’s the thing, for any of you reading that don’t bother with your children’s events – don’t worry about annoying people like me. Hey, who the fuck am I, really? (oops, now you can unplug them) But you should definitely take into account the kind of message you want to send your kid. Do you remember being that age? Do you remember what it felt like when your parents didn’t bother to show up? When you missed a school event because they didn’t think it was a big deal?

Their school world is their whole life. It’s where they learn how to deal with people, how to build relationships, a work ethic, respect, pride in accomplishment, independence… and their parents, for better or worse, hold the reigns to how they feel about themselves for most, if not all, of their lives.

If your parents were ones that didn’t think it mattered – do your kid a favor and show them a little better.

Okay, I’m done. Carry on.


Erica Orloff said...

Well, Merry, I'm going to disagree with you. :-)

While there is certainly that model of parent . . . I don't do the room mom thing. My reasons have to do with the behavior of other parents--the mothers who cluck and gossip instead of REALLY interacting with the kids at the party. Every time I have volunteers, the mothers have been standing in a corner chatting rather than making the party about the children. My kids know I feel this way, and that I can think of ten thousand BETTER things to do with my time--much of them having to do with my kids. I volunteer to tutor . . . not do the party thing. More importantly, my kids go with me to the food bank. They also go with me to various social agencies, and see me in a variety of settings helping the homeless and the poor. I feel like that is the model I want to show them, and whether they have cupcakes with sprinkles doesn't make me a lesser mom. They learn more from hauling a hundred pounds of food for the hungry on a Sunday, like this week, or volunteering at a nursing home, than a Valentine's party.

I know I am perhaps not the type of mom you are venting about--you mean the people who don't make their kids a priority. But I guess I have to say that I get judged by room moms for declining--when they do not walk a mile in my shoes, don't see what I do for my kids and with my kids . . . and don't know where I choose to put my volunteer time. So . . . I "hear ya"--but sometimes us moms who don't volunteer aren't the beasts were painted out to be. ;-) I always send in party items, I always tutor when asked . . . I hold my kids accountable. I know every book they are reading. But I like to think that making sure other mothers' children's bellies are full so they CAN learn is just as important.


Ello said...

Hey Merry! I have no problem with your rant whatsoever!

I was roped into being a room parent for the second time one year and it was so much hard work with so little return from the other parents. I hated doing it. Absolutely hated it. But I did the best I could. Then after, I would always hang way back when the room parent sheet came out. I will only sign on if there is absolutely nobody else willing to do it. Thank the LORD we have actually had more volunteers than less. We'll see what happens this year. I'll show up to back to school night and I will do my usual MO and see if there are room parents. I will reluctantly step up to the plate if no one else does, but like you, with 3 kids, I don't want to be a designated room parent with the load of responsibilities that comes with it. I would much rather volunteer to come in and help the teacher out a couple of days during the semester. I would rather be a lunch room volunteer a couple of times during the year. I would rather help out with the fundraising events. I've done my duty as room parent for 2 of my kids. I'm hoping I've done my time on that end!

Mom In Scrubs said...

Wow, that was some rant!! Well-timed and very well-intended. I like that you closed with the focus on the child.

I work outside the home, a LOT, and yet I make time to do several things a year at the kids' school. It just totally makes their whole day to have their parent in the classroom. Hell, the other day I just dropped by to give Plato the backpack he had forgotten, and he talked about that for TWO days. You're right, it's HUGE for them.

Those people who say, "No, I work..."? They're the same ones who will ask another woman, "What do you do?" and when the response is "I'm a stay-at-home mom," they reply, "Oh, you're so lucky you don't have to work." Grrr.

Feel free to strangle those self-obsessed nitwits. You might actually be doing their kids a favor. Sheesh!

Merry Monteleone said...

Oy, Erica, knew I was liable to upset somebody. No, you're not at all the type of parent I was talking about. But I can see what you're saying, and yes, there are always the cliquey volunteer moms who seem to be looking down their nose in judgment at every other mom. And you're right, I don't know what these parents are doing with their kids outside of school and I'm sure at least some of them really are afraid to ask for the time off or would get docked sorely needed pay for that afternoon.

But, just to make it clear, I've never sat around making a list of the moms and judged them by volunteerism. Hell, I'm only ranting about it today because I got suckered back into it this year and really didn't want to be room mom again.

I think it's fantastic that you take your kids to volunteer at shelters and I know from your posts and talking with you in blogland that you are very much in touch with all of your kids lives. No question. I also don't think being a room or party mom is the only way to volunteer at school and I know a lot of moms that do what they can but it doesn't include the daytime stuff for the most part.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Erica, because you're right - perception can be highly skewed. Working moms sometimes think I'm "lucky" to get to stay home. Actually it was a conscious choice, not luck, and I sacrificed a fuck of a lot to do it. It's not a choice I think everyone has to make or one that's right for everyone. In fact, it's got nothing to do with anyone else.

I hate that about motherhood - it makes so many of us play compare and contrast because we're so afraid we're doing something wrong...

okay, that was off on a tangent. But, no you're not the parent I was ranting about. I was mostly thinking of the parents who drop their kids off or send them on the bus. They never come to the assemblies, even when their own child has a part on stage. You never see their kids at the open houses, their parents never walk the halls looking for their children's creations or talking to the other kids parents and teachers who interact with their kids daily. Some of those kids miss the special grade programs, chorus concerts, all of that... I feel bad for those kids.

Zoe Winters said...

Heh, I'd be a room volunteer, but I don't have kids. And that is how it shall be forevermore. So sayeth the Zoe. :P

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Merry:
I think being a stay-at-home mother, being a mother in general, is the MOST IMPORTANT job in the world. Two things come to mind. One, a commencement speech I heard. It was by the CEO of IBM or some other HUGE company. And he said, "If you want my job, know someone else is going to raise your children." He was being really frank, but it was chilling. I can't IMAGINE wanting that. For what? Money? Power?

The other was a friend of mine, who said something along the lines of there are men (and women) who are great breadwinners and powerful, and so on, but if you f*ck up the most important stuff-your marriage or your children--what does it matter?

I think there's a way to balance both. But I walk my own path and leave the judgment for everyone else. I work from home as a f/t writer, which to me is the best of all worlds, but . . . it's really, really HARD to get the mothering thing down right. I would need two clones of me just to MAYBE do it decently all the time with four kids all wanting my attention.

So I hear you on uninvolved parents. I just know I've been the one judged . . . and I have WANTED to say, "But you don't know all that I do volunteering in the community"--but then I feel like I am feeding into that compare and contrast beast. So I simply say "no, not this time, thanks."


Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Ello!

I'm with you - I purposely kept my name out of the room mom lists, but here I am. AND my kids just switched to this school last year, but the mothers that be already seem to know I can be coaxed into this stuff... or maybe I'm just fresh blood.

I actually like doing the classroom stuff because it's the best way to see who my kids are hanging out with and the dynamics of the class and I'd rather do that than the pta stuff. The kids don't even realize you're working with their school with the pta stuff, and those parents can be really cliquey... but, like I said, it's harder to get to do stuff with all of their classes if you're room mom, because you have to be in that one class for every event.

Hi Mom in Scrubs,

I know a lot of working moms who still do an awful lot with and for their kids. And yeah, the what do you do question can get a little touchy, because it smacks of judgment.

The other thing is, there's a relatively small window on your kids actually wanting you there. My oldest is in fifth grade and while she likes me to see her school and attend afterschool stuff, she doesn't ask me to be in the classroom anymore - she doesn't balk about it yet, but it's coming.... I can feel it.

Hey Zoe,

Good for you! I think having kids is a big decision and I have a lot of respect for women who know it's not a role they want and they don't let people tell them they 'have' to to be happy or some such crap...

One of my best friends decided the same thing. She likes spending time with nephews and nieces, but she doesn't want to be a mom, she says she's too selfish, but really I don't think it's selfishness it's knowing what she needs and wants in her life and following the path.

Anonymous said...

Merry - I've been reading your posts, and I agree some and disagree some and mostly say - you go, girl - but I'm uber-busy right now and can't comment as I'd like. But I wanted to show moral support!!

The Anti-Wife said...

Having a dog is great. I'm never asked to volunteer for Belle!

Mary Witzl said...

I've got a friend who would love your rant. She's volunteered for room mother every year and works full-time.

In Japan, I did everything in my power to weasel out of being room mother. This is because in Japan, no matter how much you do it is not enough. PTA involvement is mandatory. Everyone is assigned some sort of task every semester: washing the classroom curtains, weeding the schoolyard (seriously), serving on the school bazaar or sports day committee -- and so on ad nauseam. You can do the bare minimum in Japan and still end up doing about 10 times more than the most involved mom in America would do.

Like Erica, I volunteer for lots of things that I consider useful and worthwhile, but I hated being pushed into the kind of make-work volunteering that the Japanese school system seemed to expect of mothers (fathers got roped into a few things too, but this was mainly women's work). You'll be happy to know that very few excuses were accepted. I know a woman with a full-time job, one parent with Alzheimer's and a baby on the way. She got 'volunteered' and ended up serving as PTA officer. Bah, humbug.

Here in the U.K., I've volunteered for the school book festival, on field trips, etc. I've baked cookies for the PTA and accompanied kids to swim meets. And everyone thinks I'm just swell, but in Japan, it would not even be a drop in the bucket.

Zoe Winters said...

hehehe, I hate that "selfish" line. I've yet to hear one truly truly selfless reason for bringing a child into the world. There is nothing wrong with having them or not having them, but it really makes me cringe when some people assume someone is a better person for having them and selfish for not having them.

9 times out of 10 the reasons someone had children are at least somewhat selfish (though they may not be the only reasons. And I guess I could come up with a selfless reason or two for having a kid, maybe. I just never hear those reasons when people tell me why they had kids.)

And there are also selfless reasons for not having kids. i.e. I can't give a kid what that kid needs because it's not part of my life plan, so it would be horrible of me to have a kid. And also I wouldn't personally wish to bring a child into the world as screwed up as it is.

Though I do obviously also have selfish reasons (just like all people making any major life decision, lol. We ALL selfishly follow our own wants and needs. It doesn't mean we step on others to get there.) i.e. not having kids saves a LOT of money and time. And I don't want the weird stuff that pregnancy does to one's body.

If I ever changed my mind about kids, I would definitely adopt. Too many unwanted children out there that need good homes.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Aerin,

Thank you for the support... I've been a bit ranty lately - maybe there's something in the water.

Hi AW,

LOL... You're right, my dog never guilts me into volunteering. Your latest post on your sister made me cry when I read it - seriously, I think I must be hormonal because Erica's keep doing it too - I'll be back to comment, just wanted you to know I've read it and it touched me.

Hi Mary,

How is the packing going? I just can't wait to find out where you guys land and what it's like there. Having never lived anywhere but here, your life is utterly amazing to me... then again, it would be pretty amazing even if I was well-traveled.

I would've sunk in Japan. The mothers would have openly gaped at how inferior I am - okay, probably not, from everything I know about the culture, they're very kind and too polite to say it, but they'd be thinking it.

Truthfully, I'm neck deep in it most times and I'm horribly disorganized with my personal life - don't ask me why, I'm exceedingly organized with writing and professionally.

What I think, though, is when you're guilted into it or do it out of a sense of obligation, it becomes way more work because there's little joy in it. I've volunteered for a lot of things that I loved doing. But like ello mentioned in her comment, it becomes horrible with no help when it wasn't a job you wanted in the first place.

(By the way, the UK version sounds more up my alley, too).

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Zoe,

I should probably point out, the friend that referred to herself as selfish was saying it in a kind of tongue and cheek way.

And don't forget the most basic reason to have children - would you like to know how I decided to have children? I had sex. I got pregnant. Decision made.

I didn't plan any of my kids - I plan relatively few things in my life actually. Obviously, I wasn't actively trying not to get pregnant either, I just kind of went with, "I'll take whatever God gives me."

It's funny, too, because I've had people comment on how rare it is to see people have three close together like I did (I had my three within a five year span)... it's rare because most people plan these things. I prefer it that way and I'm a believer in providence - things happen for a reason.

I probably would've had five by now, though, if my husband hadn't gotten a vasectomy after number three.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hi Erica,

I think being judged is unavoidable, and I'm really sorry if I came across like I was judging you - though you've made me rethink my verbalizing of these kind of irks because it's easy to feel judged even when the person didn't mean you specifically it comes out that way.

It comes out that way because so many people are judgmental - and women are especially hard on each other for some odd reason.

I love this comment: I think being a stay-at-home mother, being a mother in general, is the MOST IMPORTANT job in the world.

But I'm going to disagree with you slightly - I think being a parent is the most important job ever - I don't think it's only among the stay at home moms, and some stay at home moms give up so much of themselves that they actually wind up giving a bad example to their children, especially their daughters.

I think to be a good parent you have to live your most authentic life, to not settle, to let them see you work hard and find joy with them and in the world.

It's great for the moms who are truly happy doing for their families all of the time, but I think a lot of us get sucked into doing everything and then feeling run down, which makes it harder to enjoy the time with our kids... I know I've done this, and I can't be the only one.

So, I don't think the act of staying home makes a great mom, it's whatever way you find to live your life and raise your children that works for you.

Merry Monteleone said...

Oy, I just noticed you said, "... being a mother in general" - so i didn't disagree with you, I just rambled cuz I'm tired :-)

Thanks for stopping back in.

Zoe Winters said...

hehehe Merry, sorry. The "selfish" thing got me on a side rant lol. I probably could have figured out that she was being tongue in cheek but I was too far on the "steam coming out of my ears, I will get you with my firey breath" train. :P

You must be a fertile myrtle!

I have a hormonal imbalance, so even if I wasn't taking precautions not to get pregnant, it would probably be difficult for me to conceive.

I'm probably one of few people unbelievably thrilled that I might not be able to even have kids.

Precie said...

Merry--I say Rant Away! Modern parenting involves difficult choices, a lot of sacrifice, and almost constant second-guessing. Or maybe that's just me. Hang in there! I hope the other parents are deeply involved in their kids' lives...just not in ways that you see. I hope.

silken said...

just wanted to pop in to give you some "moral support"! Good luck w/ room mom!

your last article is very interesting, thought provoking. I have nothing really to add to all the comments there, just wanted to let you know I dropped by....

Erica Orloff said...

Hi Merry:
LOL! I see you later saw what I meant. What I was saying basically is I hate when people don't "value" a SAHM . . . when it's such an important job. And that ALL parents have a very important job. And we each have to walk the path our own way, hopefully with lots of love.

I disagree with Zoe that having children is selfish--and I disagree with people who think not having them is selfish. It's a choice. I felt like I had a bottomless well of love. Pure and simple. If I didn't have Crohn's disease and lose so many years of my life to it, I would have 6 or 8 children, not 4. That is the thing that makes me saddest . . . I love being a mother . . . and see my role as helping each of them grow up to have a beautiful life on their own separate from me. If you have never said good-bye to a child having reached adulthood, then it's hard to know how UNSELFISH it is to let them fly. My dream is to adopt/foster parent once Demon Baby starts kindergarten. The well is still full. That's the thing about love. The more you give away . . . it never gets empty. You still have more.

Merry Monteleone said...

Hey Zoe,

No, I can see where the 'selfish' comment would get to you - it boils down to the whole judgment thing. And I honestly think the people that do that all the time are really trying to convince themselves that they're doing everything okay.

Hey Precie,

It's not just you - it's a rough balance, it is. At work you feel guilty for not being with the kids at home you feel guilty for not contributing monetarily... oy. double oy. I'm just to the point where I can start giving my career priority and I feel like I'm starting at square one 12 years later than I should have! That's a balance too, I don't regret any of the time I took to spend with my kids but I can't help being a little resentful of the fact that it was all on me.

I think my feminist side has gone into overdrive lately.

Hi Silken!

How are you doing? How is everything by you? Have the nephews adjusted well to your homeschool and how is your son doing in his school?

Sorry I've been so bad about keeping in touch. Hopefully I'll be back on my game soon - and thank you for the moral support. Weighty issues - which is why I think it's important that we all have choices in education.

Hi Erica,

I think we're pretty much in agreement there. I was actually pretty upset that my third would be my last, but I figured a vasectomy was my husband's choice, the same way what I do with my own body is mine. He only opted for the vasectomy because I adamently refused to have my tubes tied.

I think it's great that you're looking to be a foster parent when demon baby gets a bit older. That might be something I'd like down the road, when my career's in a good place and I know I can afford it - for now I've got my hands full with the ones I have.

ChrisEldin said...

I seem to come to the tail end of your rants, and can't add much to what everyone has already said.

Bravo to all the room moms. I could never do that. I've been an active volunteer in tutoring ESL students, and that's really where my passion is. I know I should do more because I'm a stay at home mom, but I've decided to be selfish with my time this year and try to go after my writing dream.
But I can see all different pov's to this issue...

Carrie Harris said...

Uh oh. My son just started school, and I volunteered to be a room mom. Now I'm afraid. Very afraid. (cue suspense film music)

Oh well. It's just a year. Right?

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Erica, when I use the term "selfish" I use it as I've had it leveled at me. All human beings "selfishly" follow their own wants and needs. The problem comes in when you actively harm other individuals and impede their own pursuit of happiness while following yours.

So I don't REALLY believe people who have children or don't have them are selfish. I agree with you that it's a choice. My point was simply that not having a child is certainly no more "selfish" than having one.

And I only lob that ball at the people who insist on lobbing it at me first.

(don't know if you'll end up seeing this, but hope you do. :) )

jerseygirl89 said...

As a former teacher who turned out to be a lousy room mom, I hear you. When I was teaching sometimes it was actually worse when parents showed up for parties, as they would let their toddlers crawl around my unsafe room, stand in the way of kids passing stuff out and talk loudly when I was giving the kids directions. But most parents of my former students didn't show up. Now I'm happy to volunteer at the kids' preschool, but there's no way in hell I want to be a room mom again. I was terrible at recruiting the other parents and the room mom meetings gave me suicidal thoughts.

WordVixen said...

Actually, I hated school events. I used to bawl my fool head off because my parents DID go, and made me attend/participate too. I still don't understand the point of most of them (the parties during school hours which get you out of class, THAT, I understand/understood).

I'm probably going to be one of those terrible parents that lets their kid skip recitals and things. However, if my kids actually want to be involved? I'll have to tell my boss (if I have one at that point) to shove it, because my kids are more important.

Of course, at this stage, it's all theory. :)

SUV Mama said...

Your posts, as always, are awesome. You have quite a following- yours is the only blog where I have to make sure to spend extra time reading the comments. Thoughtful & insightful- the post AND the comments!

Dawn said...

Meh, sorry, I don't see how not wanting to volunteer for a party is not being involved in your child's education. I'm very involved with my DD's academics, although I don't really need to be as she studies very well on her own and is self-motivated. But sorry, maybe we don't need as many bake sales, pta nights, etc etc etc. It's a bunch of cliquey bs and I have no time for it. And honestly, in the countries where kids are out-performing ours, they don't have (or don't overly emphasize) all of the bake sales, parties, ptas, or school sports.