One of my dear friends has a big-time job, and she works a lot of hours, certainly well over 40 a week and probably more like 50 or 60. Her two children are both under the age of five, and she clearly has a lot to juggle. But, to my amazement she tried to be a class mom, and was very upset when she realized she just couldn't fit the responsibility into her schedule.
I feel for her sadness, but I can't relate. I have never for a moment wanted to be class mom. In fact, I am here to confess: I don't want to volunteer at my kid's school...at all really.
Let me get the caveats out of the way: I am so grateful to the parents who do volunteer. They make our schools better places for our children. And, I am enormously appreciative of the teachers and administrators who work so hard to make my child's school a happy, fun place to learn.
But, one of the many reasons I love summer is that when school is out at the end of this month I will no longer receive emails asking me to operate a stand at the spring festival, take tickets for movie night, help monitor lunch and recess, work in the garden, or help out at the library. Even more demanding, because of discipline issues in my daughter's class, the parents are banding together to make sure one of us in the classroom to help out as much as possible. I'm doing my part, but, truthfully, I'm frustrated that I have to.
I'm frustrated that our schools aren't funded enough to hire people to supervise recess, work in the library, and assist the teachers. I'm dismayed that school ends at 2:40 every day, which means that working parents need to find (and usually pay for) childcare for at least three hours every day. And, I'm sad that our school is almost constantly fundraising.
Schools ask a lot of parents, and, personally, I think it's too much. In addition to the volunteering, school schedules seem actively hostile to working parents. The dismissal time seems to belong to an earlier era when most moms were around to pick up their kids after school. And my daughter has two half-days and one full day off in her last three weeks of school. (What?!?) I am so grateful that my husband and I are able to either juggle our schedules or pay for extra child-care those days. But, what about parents whose jobs don't allow that flexibility?
I know the reasons that schools need parental support are complicated: lack of funding, state and federal requirements, teachers' rights, and lack of funding (did I mention that already?). But, as a mom, I just can't do it all: take care of my family, work, take care of myself, and volunteer.
Wouldn't it be good for my daughter if I was more involved in her school, though? In fact, a 2014 study found little correlation between a parent's involvement at school and their children's academic progress. (The study's authors also note that helping kids with their homework—or even simply reviewing their homework—does no good. That's my kind of study!)
Unlike my friend, I don't feel guilt or sadness about the fact that I'm not able to be at my daughter's school more. School is her domain; work is mine. In the evenings and on the weekends we come together as a family, both enriched by our independent daily lives. I am hopeful that one day schools will have the resources to operate well without so much parental involvement. Then we can do our jobs while they do theirs.
Jenna is the food editor at Parents and the author of Real Baby Food and Smoothie-licious. She will send her daughter to day camp this summer where in exchange for hundreds of dollars a week no one will ask her to volunteer. In this case, she would rather volunteer.
What Parents Don't Need to Do (When it comes to school)
Image: Woman volunteering in classroom via Shutterstock