Guest Blog: More on Mad Room Moms

Welcome to the Tuesday guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Jennifer Frey, a staff writer for the Washington Post and author of Chamique Holdsclaw: My Story. This blog is Jennifer's postscript to yesterday's article in The Washington Post Style section, Mom to the Max, describing the endless e-mails, backpack memos, potluck charts, field trip sign-up sheets and teacher gift registries required of today's elementary school Room Mothers.

Diary of a Mad Room Mother

Room Parents: Nothing but admiration there. Not sure whether or not I've offended and/or alienated the room moms in my second-grade daughter's class. (But here's the desperate plea: I hope not.) I've nothing but wide-eyed--and, yes, sometimes horrified--reverence for what room parents do. And, no, I'm not signing up for next year. I confess to being the disorganized parent who discovers the next-day mailings in the bottom of the backpack way too late.

I also want to just throw this out there: I consciously tried not to make "Mom to the Max" about stay-at-home vs. work-outside-the-home moms. Because it didn't seem to matter. One of the funniest room moms I talked to works full-time. One of the most detailed and interesting moms I talked to gives almost full-time hours to her school. And the mom we photographed for the piece--the fabulous Margaret Dabney--works 20 hours a week as an accountant.

Great room moms come in all stripes.

But I have to say this: When did it all get so insane? I'm all for honoring our teachers at the end of the year. And the look on my daughter's face after she completed her "book" about "Knights & Castles" made me want to kiss the hand of whatever room mom (or teacher) made it happen. However they made it happen. Joy like that is priceless.

But when I need a second Filofax to keep track of the school's Crazy Hair Day or Sprinkler Day or Sock Day or Whatever Day...you have to conclude the system's gone totally overboard. Whatever happened to letting Papa John's deliver a few pizzas for lunch on the last day of school?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  June 6, 2006; 7:21 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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For the record, it's only insane in major metropolitan areas where, may I say, a certain definition of 'parenting' prevails. (My favorite story involves a friend of mine being ordered to return all the Sculpey to the Michael's becuase it wasn't the 'historically correct' shade of Sculpey for Ancient Civilizations Day. I'm still working on the whole historical correctness angle, given that I'm pretty sure Sculpey wasn't invented in Ancient Greece.)

And the thing that we as parents need to keep asking ourselves, is "who is this ultimately for?" I think a lot of this stuff matters a lot more to the adults involved then it does to the kids. (And if you're a mom who has ever attended a school function dressed yourself as a pilgrim or in a toga, then yes, I'm talking to you.) I'm saying this because my daughter attended an extremely low-key birthday party last week where the inviting family had six kids, including a new baby, and had (horror of horrors) NEGLECTED TO PROVIDE GOODY BAGS! (And no, it wasn't an oversight. They made a conscious decision that the kids didn't need any more junk.) The strange thing was that none of the kids even noticed the lack of goody bags but two of the moms were seriously out of joint.

I wish there was a way to just say no to some of the school insanity -- the endless parade of costumes, the near constant parties (and tizzy induced by all that sugar), and the constant solicitations for money. (We used to refer to Fairfax County as 'public school at private school prices.')

We recently moved away, and this year my kids have done 5 service projects in lieu of the moon bounce and the pony rides. And best of all, all of the 'days' (Colonial Day, Ancient Civilizations Day, Insect Tea Party Day) have been condensed instead into a one-hour presentation in the evening during a PTA meeting -- and it's great! Everyone can come, even the working parents, and the costumes are really low-key and none of the parents dress up. It's all for the kids and it's all good.

BTW, the single best protest I ever saw against the insanity was the following: We received this elaborate flyer (in Fairfax County) about how the kids had to make a "One Hundred Hat" with one hundred tiny objects painstakingly selected and hot-glued onto a hat, so the kid could wear it during the "hundred day hat parade." One smart-ass mom (who clearly had reached her boiling point) took a one dollar bill, stapled it to a baseball cap and said to the kid, "Here. Here's your one hundred hat." Nameless mom, I salute you. Would that we were all so brave.

Posted by: Another Mom | June 6, 2006 7:42 AM

It all got so insane every time parents didn't say NO to this ridiculous excess!!

Posted by: June | June 6, 2006 8:17 AM

Parents have lost the fine art of just saying no. Not to mention the fact that school is for kids, not parents. School is a time for your children to begin to interact with other children and adults independent of mom and dad. They learn to get along with others and solve problems on their own. That becomes very hard to do when mom or dad is at the school nearly as much as the child and when mom and dad feel the need to mediate every interaction with the teacher, school and other students. There is a happy medium in parental involvement but too many parents are hopelessly unable to figure out what there that point lies.

Posted by: llc | June 6, 2006 8:17 AM

I completely agree that it has gotten out of control in the schools. It's not about the kids anymore, it's about certain moms trying to outdo each other. I admit that it's easy to get dragged into...if there is one thing we mom's aren't lacking, it's guilt. For all of the lectures we give our kids about not following the pack or succumbing to peer pressure, you'd think we'd be able to resist the need to "keep up with" or even "out-do" other moms.

We used to joke about the "PTA Nazi" moms at my son's elementary school...the ones who are so superior in their stay-at-homeness. A lot of my friends are stay at home moms, and it's never an issue with them. But you know the ones I'm talking about...they've taken the middle school clique concept and used it to take over the PTA, the kids classroom and every other facet of school. They plan meetings or celebrations in the middle of the day so working parents can't attend, and then gloat about how they are obviously superior parents because they are so "involved" in their children's lives. If you take the time off work to participate in something at school, you are ignored and ostracized by the parents because you aren't one of "them." Most times I just find it amusing, but it does wear thin after a while.

I agree that we need to stop the insanity. Somehow we got through school without constant celebrations, and our parties consisted of a single cupcake and small cup of Hi-C. I think we somehow managed to survive. These crazy, super-duper moms need to realize that their antics are not about the kids, but about them. Whether it's competitiveness, insecurity, guilt or all of the above, it's gotten completely out of control and really needs to stop.

Posted by: Tired Mom | June 6, 2006 8:23 AM

Being a full time working mom, there was one PTA mtg I did go to. At the mtg, one brazen mom actually suggested foregoing Halloween and Valentines Parties in favor of a one-time party for earth day or some such. It was met with stunned silence, but for me. I thought is was a great idea. But all the too-involved moms felt personally bereft at the idea of missing these oh-so-important celebrations. You can imagine what prevailed!

Posted by: babby | June 6, 2006 8:32 AM

I can't remember my parents EVER coming to my school during school hours, except for teacher conferences. They came to my school performances in the evening and that was it. I do the same for my kids. I never go to the school unless they are in a play, music concert, etc. I also never send in any of the "items" asked for unless they are directly tied to a class project for a grade. Our kids are being crippled by all the "hover parents."

Posted by: CW | June 6, 2006 8:36 AM

Gift registries for teachers?! Wow! They're tacky enough in the context of weddings, but for people in a professional position to, essentially, solicit gifts is beyond tacky.

If teachers want to avoid getting 23 "My Favorite Teacher" mugs, the gifts could be things that make the teacher's work easier or provide the teacher w/ resources for special projects in the classroom. Such gifts could be given early in the year as a show of support for the teacher, which would mean that the gift would also benefit the children of the parents doing the giving.

An end-of-year gift for the teacher could then be something simple such as gift certificates for something that the teacher would like. Could be a gift card to Barnes and Noble, movie tickets, a contribution to the teacher's favorite kid-related charity, or some combination of these things. If most parents contribute, the amount could be substantial. This approach also has the advantage of allowing for variations in the size of contributions that reflect parents' income w/o making kids feel bad that their gifts are not as glamorous as those given by other kids.

Posted by: THS | June 6, 2006 8:40 AM

Love this post! When DID it become all so insane? I'm guessing near around the same time when tweens started getting used to having iPods, cellphones, and all the newest gadgets. Can't put my finger on the exact time, but I would appreciate some more of the smart-aleck stories like the mom stapling the dollar bill to her kid's "hundred hat." I loved that story! Amen to her!

Posted by: Blrrrgh | June 6, 2006 8:42 AM

OK, what I'm more interested in than the SAHM vs WOHM differences--do DADS ever do this stuff? Or care? I seriously doubt it. My husband is plenty involved but I can't picture him making a scrapbook or helping glue a hundred things to a hat. Not that he should! I guess men don't feel the need to outdo each other in this arena? Luckily, I have no problem saying "no" to people who create complicated ideas and tasks and want my help to execute. Sorry, if it's your idea, you figure out how to make it work. I won't be guilted into doing more than I want just because you have time on your hands and, apparently, something to prove.

Posted by: workingmom | June 6, 2006 8:50 AM

This is hilarious and I could not agree more with everyone on this.

We just got the end of the year PTA Newsletter - thanking everyone on every committee through out the year - it is the same 5 people on every committee! I laughed so hard - it was ridiculous.

Our Teacher Appreciation week is crazy - every day has a gift or theme. Do these teachers even WANT the 25 paper flowers, recipes, hand-made hats, photo montages and swirly-dos? I can imagine they get pretty sick of it as well. We don't even participate anymore - I have my daughter write a note at the end of the year thanking the teacher with a small gift. we say "No" frequently to the nonsense and explain to our kids that it doesn't really mean anything - and guess what? They accept it! Now if the parents would do the same.

My husband and I both volunteer in the classroom but we rarely help out the PTA - all of the positions are filled by the same 5 parents each time.

Posted by: cmac | June 6, 2006 8:50 AM

And SAHMs wonder why they have such a bad rep. What is that saying, one bad apple... No wonder why SAHMs feel like they don't get respect or people look down on them. Some women are clearly not comfortable with their decision to stay at home and become crazy women at PTA meetings, the park, etc. This blog posting is a great example of it. My neighbor is like this and I think it is just sad.

I think if women could be happier with their choices they would not try to "one up" each other and this craziness would end. Until then, we may need to hire someone just to keep the school events straight!

Posted by: Really | June 6, 2006 8:56 AM

This was a great posting; same goes for the summer camp one. I'm more interested in these kinds of "balance" topics than the ridiculous (and no-win) one of working moms vs. SAHM. When I had my son, I was afraid of the teen years but after reading yesterday's article on the room mom, I'm more afraid of the elementary years! A teacher registry? That's a joke, right? When did it all get so complicated and ridiculous? My kids will hate me b/c I'll be the parent that ignores all this stuff and has simple bday parties at the park with a cake and some balloons. I am heartened to see so many comments agreeing that it's time to stop the insanity! My son is only 2 so maybe by the time he starts school things will be normal...

Posted by: pjck | June 6, 2006 8:58 AM

It definitely has changed quite a bit from when I was a kid. My mom (who was a SAHM) used to help chaperone field trips, but she did that because she wanted to get to know my teachers better. My son's starting school this fall and I hope I'll get to help out some in the same way, but I know with my job, I won't be able to do the elaborate things like building scale models of monuments out of waffles or whatever else is the norm these days. :)

A lot of moms are sounding off today; what's the situation with room dads? Do you find it's easier to say no to craft insanity and over-large parties?

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | June 6, 2006 8:58 AM

Parents do all of this for their memories and to live vicariously through their kids. You actually think your 7-year old will come home from college one day and wonder where her 2nd grade scrapbook went? Do you think they'll go to a job interview and say they are so detail oriented that they can name all of the birthday parties they went to that forgot to give out goodie bags? Sunday best day? Please. The happiest days of kids' lives are the days when they pick out their own outfits, usually making them resemple a sugar-addled midget clown. I bet there was once a time where cake was served to kids and wine to the parents and both sides were happy.

Posted by: not one of them | June 6, 2006 9:01 AM

When my son was in the second grade, the room mom come up to me at a friend's party and said she had seen me in my son's classroom and she thought, "How wonderful...another involved mother." The implication was that, if she didn't see me in the classroom, I wasn't involved. When I noted that I work full-time and happened to have that day off, her demeanor completely changed and she quickly cut that conversation short. She never sent any information home about things they were doing in the classroom, it was kept strictly between the stay-at-home moms who volunteered at the school.

I loved the story about the same 5 parents on all the PTA committees! I guess that happens everywhere!

Posted by: Tired Mom | June 6, 2006 9:02 AM

My mom was a good volunteer mom at my school back in the 80's. She helped out the kids, had some fun herself and never hovered around too much. I remember one mom in my grade was the "top mom". She was in charge of everything and always had her nose in stuff from 1st grade through to our high school graduation party. She ruled with an iron fist so none of the other parents seemed to like her and I don't think her son really appreciated what she did either. Most of all, she never seemed to be having fun and kids notice that.

There was one room Mom that we all loved. I don't remember her name; just that she was Joey's mom. I remember one Christmas party in 4th grade she helped us all make Christmas tree ornaments. Nothing fancy, just craft paper, scissors, different scrap fabric pieces and glue. I was so proud of that ornament I made. Every year I have hung it on my family's Christmas tree and now at the tree in my husband and I's house and I always remember her.

Posted by: D's mom | June 6, 2006 9:03 AM

I'm a SAHM and I am not a PTA maniac. Please don't lump us all into the same group. And I like the theme of this blog today, if you don't want to participate in the craziness, just say no!!!

Posted by: experienced mom | June 6, 2006 9:04 AM

We have DEFINITELY gone overboard. I am the room parent....with a very demanding full time job in the corporate world. It's my fourth year doing this. I have to say that in the beginning, I tried to keep up with the other room parents, guilted into going overboard. By my fourth year, I am done! I realized that getting a few hours of sleep every night just so I could do everything that the stay at home mom does along with doing everything my job entails was too much. This year, I decided that enough was enough. Have I caught hell for it? Of course. Do I care? NO!

I keep all of my correspondence to a minimum. Email has been a life saver for me. I send out brief to the point messages, with two reminders - one a week before and the other the day before. Parents have actually thanked me for that! Some of you may say that even that is going too far. Consider this - I could care less about pajama day or crazy hair day... but I have been there in the morning when my child wakes up frantically saying, "Mom - you HAVE to do something to my hair! All the kids will laugh at me if I don't have crazy hair." UGH. Whose idea was this again? I figure that by sending a note out a week and then a night before, perhaps I can save a mom or two from that morning breakdown. This doesn't mean that I am completely out of it. I still send in treats. I still coordinate class parties. I just don't go overboard. I see no reason to come to school dressed up as the Cat in the Hat during Dr. Seuss week!

I blame the "corporate moms" turned "stay at home moms". You know who I am talking about... the busy professional woman who has finally decided to stay at home with her kids. Her new job is school volunteer. In theory, this is great. Schools can always use more help. The problem is, these type A women come in and try to implement more ideas to "make things better." (It's a whole other topic - but perhaps the overachieving moms have something to do with the over scheduling of our kids! If you look carefully, you will see this craziness is more abundant in areas that are highly professional. And play dates? What is that??? When did we start keeping calendars for our children's social activities?? For the record, I refuse to. I make mine knock on doors  But I digress - I should get back on topic.)

There is only one way to fix it. Those of us that see the craziness need to stand up and say no! We need to stop feeling guilty. We need to realize that school is just that - school. Recess is social hour... a few activities here and there are good.... But when parents have to sit down with the class for hours on multiple days to do an art project, without taking time from class instruction, and then spending personal time to put it all together... just to auction off at a PTA fundraiser .....Enough is Enough!!

Posted by: Frustated Working Room Parent | June 6, 2006 9:06 AM

My parents are the greatest people in the world and find myself frequently recalling this particular story when I find myself contemplating 'what is the right thing to do?' When I was in elementary school Christmas presents to teachers became quiet a production and nearly a half-day was blocked off to open them and ooh and ahh what the teacher got. When my brother and sister and I went home to tell my parents we had to get our teachers presents they were taken aback. And then they came up with the greatest idea in the world. Each year when the Holidays rolled around, they purchased a book that was at our grade's reading level and had the inside cover inscribed with the teacher's name and a message stating that the book was being given to the school's library in their name. Brilliant idea. The principal of the school even made a point to let my parents know that he thought they were doing the best thing by helping the school and recognizing the teacher.

Posted by: once upon a time | June 6, 2006 9:08 AM

Thanks SO MUCH for writing your article and this post. This issue really needs to be aired, early and often. It's such a relief to know I'm not the only one struggling upstream, trying to navigate the endless torrents of papers and events and fundraisers. If I see the word "volunteer" one more time, I'm going to scream.

I want to be involved because I don't like the alternative--but by the end of the school year it's at such a fever pitch I feel drained. I had an awful thought this monring as I dreamed about the blank slate of summer--then I thought about fall and: Sally Foster....ARGH!!! It will begin all over again.

Posted by: Lisa | June 6, 2006 9:10 AM

"My husband and I both volunteer in the classroom but we rarely help out the PTA - all of the positions are filled by the same 5 parents each time."

Well then why don't you run? Why don't you volunteer?

Posted by: LRS | June 6, 2006 9:12 AM

I just want to add that not all stay at home moms are like this -- I am just commenting on the ones that don't seem to be comfortable with their decision to stay home. I felt like I was critisizing everyone that stayed at home after I reread my post, apologies to anyone I offended! If I could, I would stay at home... I can't tell you how much it kills me to know that I can't be there when my child gets home in the afternoon. I would probably be a little more involved than I am right now... but my involvement wouldn't include creating more work for everyone else!

Also, in rgards to the "dad" volunteers... I am a single mom... and my significant other acctually does help in the classroom - but only when I ask him to. Things like chaperoning or helping at the end of the year class parties. It's great becuase the children love him!

Posted by: Frustrated Working Room Parent | June 6, 2006 9:15 AM

It amazes me that schools continuously complain that they don't have any time to teach science and social studies due to all the standardized testing.....but they do have time for the endless parade of parties, picnics, and other 'special' days.

Posted by: wls | June 6, 2006 9:18 AM

(Treading lightly here)

My wife is a full-time WOHM and although our son is still in pre-school I can already see a budding problem as the moms seem to be competing with each other to bring the best goodies or do the best 'stuff' for all the various and sundry events and special days declared by the pre-school. Obviously, in pre-school, the kids could care less.

I don't think this is a women's problem, as men are also highly competitive with each other in many arenas. However, I do think that this particular arena of competition seems to be mainly the dominion of women, perhaps b/c us men don't recognize that there are other men in this arena to compete with.

Having said that, when my neighbor builds his kid a treehouse, I will break out the t-square and nail gun and see if I can put him to shame. ;-)

Posted by: Proud Papa | June 6, 2006 9:20 AM

This is to LRS who wrote:

"My husband and I both volunteer in the classroom but we rarely help out the PTA - all of the positions are filled by the same 5 parents each time."

Well then why don't you run? Why don't you volunteer? "

I am not slamming you at all -- but I have a twisted scenerio to tell you. In the past month, I have been the recipient of various "volunteer" activities. I "raised my hand" for two of them (there were several requests, I responded to two of them a few weeks apart) -- only to be told the next day that the position was filled. By who? One of those five parents. So now what? I give up. If the coordinators won't accept new blood - what option to I have? After all, it is volunteer work - fighting over it would be silly.


Posted by: I tried to help out! | June 6, 2006 9:21 AM

Call me crazy, but I think the 'volunteering' has crossed the line. I don't want some other mom teaching my kid to read, or grading their papers. There are only 16 kids in my daughter's first grade class (public school), and the school has instructional assistants and teacher's aides. If moms want to volunteer, then they should do 'behind the scenes' work like making copies, cutting stuff out and helping with bulletin boards. I think they are a distraction in the classroom....especially for their OWN child.

Posted by: wls | June 6, 2006 9:21 AM

This reminds me of a story in the book "Perfect Madness" about a school trip that had to be cancelled because too many parents had volunteered to chaperone and none of them would agree to not go.

Why do so many parents feel they have to have such control over their children's lives? It's like the birthday party thing where everyone tries to outdo each other. Truly, I think it has less to do with the kids and more to do with stroking mom's (or occasionally dad's) ego. Certain parents are using their offspring as pawns in a stupid game where they -- the parents! -- try to lead the clique. It's worse than middle school. We ought to know better.

Posted by: MomNC | June 6, 2006 9:23 AM

Proud Papa:

Your comment about treehouses is very funny. My brother-in-law is in construction management, and you should see his daughter's playhouse. It has stained-glass windows!

Posted by: THS | June 6, 2006 9:23 AM

Proud Papa - I think you hit the nail on the head :)

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 9:24 AM

I am LOVING this post and all the great, hilarious comments.

Another Mom -- thank you for the great stories! Imagine if we could harness all this perfectionist-goody bag-handmade Halloween card craziness into public service projects, or helping other kids and families who truly need help. Turning our gaze outward would help us and our communities far more.

Tired Mom -- thank you for your point about how we moms give in to peer pressure and form cliques and set a bad example for our kids. You are right on.

Centreville Mom -- are there any Room Dads in the world? At my public school the PTA president was a dad (and an outstanding PTA prez) but I've never come across a Room Dad. If you know any please ask them to weigh in!

Posted by: Leslie | June 6, 2006 9:31 AM

Because of a recent move, my son has been part of two public elementary schools this year, in two separate counties -- Prince William and Fairfax. I just thought I'd mention that both PTA presidents were stay at home fathers.

Posted by: geml | June 6, 2006 9:33 AM

..."in the beginning, I tried to keep up with the other room parents, guilted into going overboard."

It's refreshing not to hear the going overboard justified with "but it's for the kids", and displayed for what it is - a competition between parents to show who's "better".

Posted by: Kid Free in Alexandria | June 6, 2006 9:34 AM

I, along with three other moms, volunteered to run my son's end-of-the year party. Initially, I could not figure out why there were seven additional moms (with younger crying siblings) hanging out in the very cramped classroom (it was raining). Suddenly, I realized that they were there to WATCH the party. People have gone crazy! I can only remember my very caring and loving SAHM attending one of my school parties and that was because she provided the cupcakes.

Posted by: JH | June 6, 2006 9:34 AM

This is to: I tried to help out!

I feel like my time is better spent in the classroom - I like to know what is going on in there and help out the teacher - even if it is making copies or stuffing backpacks.

Also, several people have mentioned the mentality of the "same 5 people" - the "Permanent PTA Board" - or the the "super Moms" if you prefer. Sorry - I can't keep up with the Jones's - it is like joining an all girls club and you are a boy. I got over that stuff in High School.

Posted by: cmac | June 6, 2006 9:36 AM

No lie:
I was at my 9-year-old boy's first baseball practice for no more than :30 seconds, when a woman comes up and introduces herself as his room mom, and gosh it was so NICE to FINALLY meet me, she sees him 3 days a week during the day, "you poor thing, that's probably more than you do!" (Emits trill of laughter, lays hand on my arm in gesture of sisterly unity). "So, would you like to sign up for next year? Or is that just something you don't, y'know, (makes quote marks with fingers) do?"
"Y'know, it's funny," I mused, "I did try it a couple of times when he was younger. But it totally interefered with my crack high. Ruined it, in fact. So I did a lot of soul-searching and finally decided 'OK, Laur, at least you tried,' and I forgave myself. And that was it. But I learned my lesson, boy, don't over-extend yourself, because it only hurts the kids in the long run. It's true."
Interestingly, not a word from her since.
Keep this phrase handy. It ususally earns enough stunned silence for you to make a clean getaway.
Unless, of course, you prefer to stay put and watch the facial expressions...

Posted by: lgithens | June 6, 2006 9:47 AM

Unfortunately there are Type A+ people everywhere. In the office, in the PTA, at the schools and on the playing fields you are sure to find your assortment of control freaks. These individuals seem to have the bad habit of promoting themselves by demoting others and /or living vicariously through their kids. I applaud those who reamain and pull back from disengaging entirely since the uber ubers can make the environment so unpleasant.
If the more "On Balanced" stay involved as part of the community then all benefit. When I volunteer I remind myself, one-third may love you, but one-third will hate you, and the remaining 50% (haha)doesnt care - but thinks they would be doing a better job than you if they only had the time. I am not sure which is worse the Drill Sargeant Little League coach or the PTA Nazi. To bad they outshine the organized, effective volunteers that make most communities hum.

Posted by: Father of 3 | June 6, 2006 9:50 AM

My kids are in preschool now, so haven't experienced this madness yet. The article and post make me very afraid.

When I was in elementary school (1980's), the only special day we had was Field Day, where you could get the 8th place ribbon, and top the day off with a Dixie Cup sundae eaten with the included wooden spoon.

I can't see dads getting too much into the party and crafts, but we do have our venues for vicarious competitiveness. I recall some Cub Scout pinewood derby cars that appear to have benefitted from some time in the wind tunnel.

Posted by: Preschool Dad | June 6, 2006 9:51 AM

I don't routinely volunteer at my children's school, nor am I a room mother. I don't feel bad about this, either. I have 3 kids and a full-time job. Whatever time I have left over is spent specifically on my children, not on assisting with overly complicated craft projects or themed parties the crazy Moms at school dream up.

Here's one way I found to participate in my children's school life in a meaningful way: Once a week, I have lunch with my children at their school. It makes my children feel special to have me there and it's the perfect way to observe class dynamics (who is popular, who is ostracized, who doesn't have lunch money, who is mean). This provides many "teachable moments" for me with my children, and helps me understand their school lives better.

I've never seen any of the PTA Moms at the lunch table.

Posted by: A Different Approach | June 6, 2006 9:51 AM

These Hover Parents are REALLY doing their kids a disservice. In the workplace I am looking at recent college grads, some of whom are the product of hover parents. You can tell them right off. They may have book smarts, but they are insecure, unsure, and have no self motivation. Now its my job as their boss to teach them how to work on their own--or get fired.

Parents are not SUPPOSED to be in the classroom on a regular and recurring basis! School is where the kids begin to grow their wings to fly off and become productive adults. The Kindergarten teacher at my friend's kids school "expects" a parent volunteer to be in the classroom daily--one in the AM and one in the PM. This is with 20 kids, the teacher, and an instructional aide. WHAT?! Why can't the teacher teach these children (in a wealthy part of Fairfax County mind you, where kids have all the advantages of preschool etc) without a parent full time? These kids will NEVER get their wings with the hover parents always there. Please help your children and LET THEM LEARN TO FLY!

Posted by: Frustrated | June 6, 2006 10:01 AM

This is to cmac:

I do help out in the office and in the classroom since I got shot down on the "PTA" level. I do what I can when I can... I just thought it was funny/sad that the dominant few don't want necomers in their circle. Sometimes I wonder if they do it for the recognition. Who knows!

Posted by: I tried to help out! | June 6, 2006 10:03 AM

"We used to joke about the "PTA Nazi" moms at my son's elementary school...the ones who are so superior in their stay-at-homeness. A lot of my friends are stay at home moms, and it's never an issue with them. But you know the ones I'm talking about...they've taken the middle school clique concept and used it to take over the PTA, the kids classroom and every other facet of school. They plan meetings or celebrations in the middle of the day so working parents can't attend, and then gloat about how they are obviously superior parents because they are so "involved" in their children's lives. If you take the time off work to participate in something at school, you are ignored and ostracized by the parents because you aren't one of "them." Most times I just find it amusing, but it does wear thin after a while. "


AMEN TO THAT!!!!!

Posted by: JS | June 6, 2006 10:04 AM

There is the kernel of a really good story here for The Post, if it desires to tackle it. We're all looking at the trees; what about the forest? How DID it get this way?
Get the perspective of the school administrators and the teachers on this issue, compare different school systems across the metro area (income, demographics, etc.). How about parental involvement in middle school and high school? How about the whole notion of "extended adolescence" figuring into this phenomenon?

I'm a working dad who helped out quite a bit during our son's cooperative preschool years, in the classroom and out. My wife volunteers at our son's elementary school, making copies and coloring owl-shaped cutouts. The teacher REALLY does not want parents in the classroom, and who can blame her?
School is a place for kids to learn, in an environment with other students and the teacher. Parents get in the way of that experience. We hear all the time "its all about the kids." Well, is it or not?
Give your child their space; school is school. Thus endeth my screed...

Posted by: archdad | June 6, 2006 10:07 AM

sometimes the teachers are driving the madness, or at least feeding into it!

Posted by: experienced mom | June 6, 2006 10:08 AM

To frustrated:

I couldn't agree with you more. And I love the term Hover Parents! My daughter is in fifth grade and there is a particular hover parent that I would like to slap back into reality - if she was ever there! Her daughter is SO insecure...to the point where other children are careful around her because they know she will run to her mom to fix everything! It's sad really. These Hover parents are enabling a dependant generation....

Posted by: Frustrated too! | June 6, 2006 10:11 AM

I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, and solved this with regard to the school involvement by taking a deep breath and turning a lot of it over my husband. For special snacks, class projects, etc., he glances at the directions, does his best with what we have, and sends the kids off with a big daddy hug. If he comes in late to the second grade poetry reading, or takes a kid with an only so-so costume to the Halloween shindig, he's fine -- he's not "making a point" about the mommy wars or "steeling himself" to deal with the craziness, he just doesn't notice!

There's a lesson there for me.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 10:12 AM

When I taught in secondary schools, the thing I appreciated most was parents coming and doing copies for us. The machines were always breaking, and knowing that the xeroxing would magically appear in my box made a huge difference in my life.

Parents who want to help take some of the administrative stuff off teacher's shoulders are a godsend, but they do not need to hang out in a classroom unless they're part of teh school system. No more than I would want some random mother sitting in my office all day now.

-l.

Posted by: ljb | June 6, 2006 10:13 AM

Is the male equal of the Room Mom the Sports Dad?

Ok, what exactly IS a Room Mom? Are these mothers in the classroom every day?! Why? Or are they only there for special events, but there seem to be special events 4 days of the week, and a teacher work day (so no classes) on the fifth day?

I don't have kids and didn't want to. One of the reasons, I joke not, was because I don't want to deal with nutty, overboard, "every child must have a goodie bag!" mothers. Yes, I know there are wonderful, sensible, grounded moms out there (plenty on this board are cracking me up) but the whole overparenting thing gives me hives. I couldn't believe it when my best friend HAD to have goodie bags for her daughter's first birthday party. They were on such a tight budget, she had so little time, but she knocked herself out to fill bags with dumb little junk and candy. Who in this day and age wants their kid to have all this d$*% candy anyway?

If you want to help your kids, let them LEARN instead of having all these goofy "special days" in the school.

I love the idea of contributing a library book as a "gift" to a teacher. A contribution toward something everyone can use is great, too. I grew up in a poor area and my dad once gave the money to buy two basketball goals for our gym and another time a trampoline. Ah, the good old days when trampolines didn't have to have 50 layers of padding!

Posted by: MK | June 6, 2006 10:23 AM

How about everyone show some appreciation for the parents who take their time to help out at school, support their kids and the teachers of ALL of our children!

There are too many assumptions, here, on why the parents are doing it. The Taj Mahal out of waffles? Give me a BREAK!!

I attend my son's school concerts and plays, very occasionally volunteer to help with a book sale, when I am not busy at work, but I do appreciate the parents who give more time. Instead of berating them, why don't you just say "thank you".

When you belittle their choices, don't get upset by someone doing the same about yours.

Posted by: not a SAHM, but involved | June 6, 2006 10:24 AM

I'm definitely not slamming SAHM's in general...we each make the decision we think is best for our family. Having one child (who's 12), I know it's more financially viable for me to work than for my friend who has 3 children (12, 7, & 5). Daycare alone would eat up most of her salary. She is a SAHM because that's best for her family right now...it does make either of us "better" than the other.

As usual, I think this is about those people on the extreme ends...the SAHMs who feel superior and depend on outdoing everyone else in the school. And they rebel against the WOHMs who feel superior because they have a "career." Most of us are probably in the middle, just trying to find the "balance" that is talked about here and raise kids who are decent human beings.

But I think what the comments today have shown is that all of us in the middle allow the people on the extremes to make our life not only more difficult, but also miserable some times. We respond differently, whether it is through disassociation, or anger, or competition, or sarcasm (I loved the story about the crack high!!). But maybe we need to find a way to take back control, because these people are not only affecting us, they are also affecting our kids.

Posted by: Tired Mom | June 6, 2006 10:29 AM

How wonderful would it be if some of these over-the-top parents would spend a portion of their time and energy volunteering in schools other than the ones where their own kids attend -- particularly schools with some demonstrated need for community involvement? Maybe it would result in less elaborate theme days or parties in one school and the creation of some needed basic support in another. Just a thought.

Posted by: SJA | June 6, 2006 10:31 AM

When I was in second grade, my mom was taking a cake-decorating class. For my class Christmas party, she stayed up all night painstakingly decorating 25 cupcakes to look like Santa, complete with beard and hat. Of course, the sugar just cranked us up to shockingly high RPMs; we ate the cupcakes in about five seconds and proceeded to more or less riot in the classroom.

"Well, crap, that was a waste," my mom thought to herself. She never did it again. Instead, she ran for school committee and served for over twelve years. For her, it was a much more substantive way of contributing to me and my sister's education than making more cupcakes.

Posted by: Lizzie | June 6, 2006 10:32 AM

"These Hover Parents are REALLY doing their kids a disservice. In the workplace I am looking at recent college grads, some of whom are the product of hover parents. You can tell them right off. They may have book smarts, but they are insecure, unsure, and have no self motivation."

Wow, I never thought of this before, but I am the product of a Hover Mom. Mom was a great volunteer, but I guess she was a Room Mom ahead of the curve. She spent too much time at my school. I hated how she would turn up and lead some "activity" with our classroom -- she sometimes showed up unexpectedly and it bugged me that I never knew when she would be there, in "my space". I never knew how to voice my objection and she didn't listen the couple of times that I did speak up. The result? Exactly what Frustrated describes: I am still insecure and lack self-motivation. Other kids made fun of me because my mom was always around. Most of them had SAHMs who stayed at home! They attended school events and PTA and that was enough.

Please, if you are spending hours in the classroom each week, step back and let your kids have some space at school. It's fine to do a few things to help out behind the scenes, such as making copies. But stop showing up all the time. Your children will NOT thank you for it later on.

Posted by: 666 | June 6, 2006 10:35 AM

wow this discussion is quite depressing.

what i see is too many overachiever moms in affluent communities that have decided to stay home with their kids and naturally need an outlet for their abilties esp now that the kids are schoolaged and away for most of the day. These energies which used to be channeled into their jobs, their own schooling, etc. but now that they don't have that anymore they find their new outlet which becomes overinvolvement in their children's school (and lives) to the detriment of their kids. Tt kinda makes sense actually....

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 10:36 AM

I'm like a few others here. You all are scaring me to death. My daughter starts Kindergarten in the fall. At preschool they have had a few of these "special days" which at age 4 seem totally appropriate and they only happened about once a month. Luckily she will be going to the same school but after that it will be public school. I am glad for this conversation though and will give me some ideas about what real people think and do and not just the few planners. Although I work I will try to have a few days to volunteer for stuff just because my SAHM NEVER went to anything for school including parent/teacher conferences and I would hang on other moms/aunts/grandmothers of my classmates when they were there then my classmates would make fun of me when their moms would leave and say horrible mean things about not me not having anyone. My mother definitely didn't hover but I still graduated from college like some today without much self esteem or initiative. I guess I had the other extreme in parents.

Posted by: Dlyn | June 6, 2006 10:36 AM

"How wonderful would it be if some of these over-the-top parents would spend a portion of their time and energy volunteering in schools other than the ones where their own kids attend -- particularly schools with some demonstrated need for community involvement? Maybe it would result in less elaborate theme days or parties in one school and the creation of some needed basic support in another. Just a thought."


This a GREAT thought, SJA. There are lots of schools in which parents could serve as tutors---sometimes even to other parents who may lack literacy skills or who, because they are not native speakers of English, may need help in dealing with the school system on behalf of their child.

Might also be good to get kids involved in some of these activities rather than "crazy hair day" or "pin 100 things to your hat" day. Of course, it'd be important to make sure that such activities didn't just give the PTA Nazis another venue in which to demonstrate their prowess.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 10:39 AM

These stories are so over the top - I guess things have changed in the last 25 year! I went to elementary school in Washington State and all of the stay home moms were supportive of my working mother with a 50 mile commute. My mom had me trained to volunteer to bring the paper products for class parties and field day as they are readily transportable in a 7 year olds backpack. Mom saved up vacation days to do field trips and to me that was more important than seeing her in my class. (Although I think we saw our room mother at most twice a month).

Posted by: Product of a Working Mom | June 6, 2006 10:41 AM

"I attend my son's school concerts and plays, very occasionally volunteer to help with a book sale, when I am not busy at work, but I do appreciate the parents who give more time. Instead of berating them, why don't you just say "thank you"."

I appreciate the parents that help out -- I criticize the one that make more work. One year, a parent made a cake for the book fair kickoff -- in the shape of a book. It must have taken HOURS to put together. What do the kids remember? They got cake and ice cream. I don't think this post is about all volunteers, just those that really take it to an extreeme. The ones that say they are doing it for the kids, but really, I think it makes them feel important; therfore becoming not about the children, but about the adult. Do the children really need detailed costumes for their first grade play? Do you think they will look back at the quilt the room parent put together in kindergarden to be auctioned off and say wow that is cool? Will they even still be friends with those kids? Like a poster before, I remember field day. It was the best two days of school! Do a memory quilt or a memory book in high school - those are the memories we all go back to. I don't remember a grade school yearbook. Do you? Yet, like many other parents, I have bought one every year for my child because flyer came home -- not questioning why we needed one. Those books are stored somewhere in the attic. But you know what - my high school yearbook is on my bookshelf.

Raising children has somehow become a competition - and it is no longer about the kids. It is about us and our self sense of worth.

I applaud those the do take time to help - but don't take it to the extreme. In the end, it doesn't help the children.

Posted by: NoVa Volunteer mom | June 6, 2006 10:45 AM

I just wanted to mention that my son's daycare has many events in the middle of the day. I am a working mom, which is why I pay these people to watch my child during the day. I feel aweful when I can't attend, but can't help thinking it's wrong for them to put me in that position. If I do take a day off, I rather decide what activities to spend the time on than to have my son's daycare dictate how we spend our precious time together.

Posted by: momofone | June 6, 2006 10:48 AM

There are some great comments here about "stopping the insanity". Lizzie, SJA, and Tired Mom are right on track. There are many ways to be an involved parent and contribute to helping the schools without going overboard or getting competitive. I think there are plenty of moms and dads who don't want to go along with the silliness -- so why not band together and hijack the PTA and ban the Room Parents? Or at least cut down Room Parenting to 2 hours per week per parent? Talk to the teachers and find out what they really want. Some probably go along with all the "special days" and silly activities because it's what the few vocal parents demand. Others maybe like it because they don't have to make the kids settle down to lessons, but they shouldn't be teaching if that's the case.

Yes, parents can be too uninvolved also. Some parents send their kids off to school and find excuses not to go to any events. They barely read the notes sent home and accept "yes, I did all my homework" at face value, despite notes from the teacher saying homework isn't being turned in. So there's definitely a middle ground. My mom was indeed (I'm just realizing this) a high-achieving woman who thought she shouldn't work after having her kids, so she put all her wonderful energy and creativity into our school lives and her other volunteer activities. I was greatly relieved when she turned her attention to community and church rather than being at my school so much. And the funny thing is, I have never wanted to be like her -- although she is beloved in our community -- because I saw it as so much "running around" and just using up nervous energy.

Posted by: 666 | June 6, 2006 10:50 AM

"How wonderful would it be if some of these over-the-top parents would spend a portion of their time and energy volunteering in schools other than the ones where their own kids attend -- particularly schools with some demonstrated need for community involvement? "

Screw that. If I'm going to spend my time/money/energy, it is for the benefit of MY children. You want socialism, go live someplace else. Geez!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 10:51 AM

FYI, the more commonly used term is "helicopter parent" -- because they hover.

Posted by: Actually | June 6, 2006 10:54 AM

FYI, the more commonly used term is "helicopter parent" -- because they hover.

Posted by: Actually | June 6, 2006 10:55 AM

Two comments...

First, hover parents (aka 'helicopter parents') are showing up on college campuses and job interviews. I kid you not! Some of these parents talk to their kids daily, sometimes several times, and don't think twice about contacting a professor regarding a bad grade. VERY SCARY!!!

Second, the overachieving room mothers don't disappear after elementary school. Looking around our daughter's high school, Robinson in Fairfax, there are a dozen or so mothers seemingly without much else to do than "get involved". I agree with an earlier poster that it might be nice to see them devote their energies to a school that actually NEEDS THE HELP.

The major end-of-year activity for seniors at many FCPS high schools is the All Night Grad Party (ANGP) which provides a safe, fun and substance-free event after graduation. The three co-chairs for the class of 2006 ANGP are the uber-mothers who seem to do a good job of doing...well, not a lot except defering the real work to the 100+ committee chairs and their assistants. They look great sitting at the head table during meetings and really make outsiders stop and say "wow, how do you do it?". Oh, and if you really want to bring your experience in logistics and planning to event, be prepared to go through a vetting process that rivals getting a security clearance. We have a daugther in the class of 2010 (starting as a freshman NEXT YEAR) and was told that the main jobs for her ANGP are ALREADY FILLED and I should have asked about this a year ago.

Posted by: David Fisher (WAHD) | June 6, 2006 10:56 AM

Argh! Pet peeve here. My daughter just turned 5, and I'm already amazed by the pressure. Goody bags in particular annoy the bejeebers out of me -- are our kids so sensitive that they can't understand the concept that for one day a year, it gets to be all about someone else? But, alas, I caved to the pressure -- I now make goody bags (with little toys instead of candy). But I REFUSE to throw a big birthday party -- we just trundle a few friends and relative down to the local tire park and throw some burgers on the grill.

And the schools? Teacher appreciation day is now teacher appreciation week, with a different event for every day. I absolutely adore my daughter's teachers (I know my daughter, so I know what they put up with) -- but a week? What ever happened to just a nice card and gift? I suspect that most of them would prefer a heartfelt card, written by my daughter herself, and a nice gift certificate for a massage or facial (definitely well-earned), over the various "events" that the school schedules.

It seems like every week there's a new school event or project. I do try to do my share, because I don't think it's fair to presume that other people have more time for this than I do -- I know the teachers get stuck with what the parents don't do, and they already work hard enough. So we'll chaperone one field trip a year, bring food for one or two parties a year, attend the 2 concerts a year, etc.

But I also don't try to do it all, or always be there. Frankly, I don't think that would do my daughter any good -- she is normally hugely independent, but I've noticed that when we're there, she's always focused on us, and doesn't really enjoy getting in there and participating with her friends like she usually does. Even if I had the time and desire to do every activity, I would make myself stay away from some, so that she can enjoy those things without the constant filter of a parent. This is her world, and I want her to know we are very interested in it, but without taking it over and turning it into just another place where mommy and daddy rule.

I also think that if I did things all the time, my daughter would take it for granted (and be disappointed if I couldn't do something), whereas doing things once in a while makes it a real treat for her. I remember when I was a kid, my mom was never there for field trips, classroom projects, etc. -- she had to work during the day. But one day in maybe 4th grade, she showed up early, completely unannounced, took me out of school, and wouldn't tell me where. We went to the farm where her friend kept a horse -- and she showed me the mare's new foal, not more than 2 days old. That is still one of my most precious memories -- my mom NEVER had time during the day, NEVER took me out of school, so it made me feel incredibly special when she did.

Finally, loved the post about the dads. I think dads can be just as competitive, but in their own ways (Little League coach, anyone?). Now I understand my husband's fixation with playsets -- we must be the only family in the neighborhood that doesn't have one! But, of course, since he's a woodworker, we can't just go and buy one -- he's envisioning a multi-level thing, built around and onto our tree, with decks, climbing walls, playhouses, etc. I know better than to get between a man and his dream, so I told him fine -- as long as it has a tire swing. :-)

Posted by: Laura | June 6, 2006 10:57 AM

We had birthday parties at home for our kids when they were young -- a couple of games, homemade treats, etc. (I will confess to minimalist goodie bags... usually a coloring book or the like.) One would have thought we were scarring them for life by the comments some parents made!

But it rubbed off...when the kids turned 13, both wanted their Bar Mitzvah parties at home. We cleaned & cooked and invited folks for an open house. The kids played touch football and frisbee, hung out on the computers, played video games, watched movies and ate us out of house and home. My sons' friends still talk about the parties at our house.

To the extent I need to feel "connected" to my kids' schools, I help out doing clerical stuff one morning a week. I get the inside scoop on what's happening, and my kids aren't embarrassed by a Hover Mom.

My mantra in regard to school parties and PTA stuff is if it feels like it's "too much," then it probably is. This is the kids' childhood, not mine!

Posted by: Derwood Mom | June 6, 2006 11:03 AM

My youngest just graduated, but I still remember when she finished elementary school - I was asked to coordinate the food for the end of the year ceremony. I solicited contributions, picked up the special cake that someone had ordered, got to school, commandeered some tables and put out the muffins, drinks, etc. The kids devoured everything in about 2 minutes and everyone seemed happy. I then overheard the 2 most active hover parents gossiping about what a bad job I had done because I didn't have tablecloths, flowers, etc. After that (I lived with these women through later school years) I was only allowed to do clean up. Another mom was in charge of food set up for the middle school graduation and we had flowers, matching tablecloths, balloons, all color coordinated . . . Fortunately, my kid turned out fine in spite of my apparent hideous catering skills. We still joke about how I should follow her to college and deliver theme cookies to her dorm, etc.

Posted by: MoCo mom | June 6, 2006 11:05 AM

"Screw that. If I'm going to spend my time/money/energy, it is for the benefit of MY children. You want socialism, go live someplace else. Geez!!!"

Such generosity of spirit! What does altruism have to do w/ socialism? I can see why you didn't sign a name to this---or even use a pseudonym.

Posted by: THS | June 6, 2006 11:07 AM

The parents I always enjoyed the most were the "relaxed parents". My friends had all sorts of parents, but the best were the ones who let us be ourselves, gave us room to hang out with just enough supervision, supplied typical kid treats, and maybe sometimes took us to special events or planned "theme" parties. All the fuss some parents made just made everyone nervous. What 3rd grader cares if there are matching tablecloths?

Posted by: Lori | June 6, 2006 11:12 AM

"Screw that. If I'm going to spend my time/money/energy, it is for the benefit of MY children. You want socialism, go live someplace else. Geez!!!"

America-- where selfishness is a cherished value.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 11:14 AM

Parental involvement in school is great but there are places where it belongs and some where it doesn't. When I was in school (80's) my mother was a SAHM and she volunteered at school. Parents' big roles at my school were to come in at lunch to be lunchroom monitors and recess monitors. I think my mom came in about once a month for this. This gave the teachers a break in the middle of the day so they could have their lunch in peace and maybe have some time to grade papers or prep for class. Parents were also a big help for special events like the class play, field trips, and the Little Olympics. I can remember maybe 3 or 4 of these type events in a year. Not two or three a week!
Parents were almost never in the classroom. The classroom was for learning and quite frankly having parents there trying to one-up the next mother or do their kids projects for them doesn't help anyone. Parents should help behind the scenes (decorate the classroom, make copies, or provide the occasional snack). They don't belong in the classroom on a daily basis.

We also didn't dress up for every event we studied. Maybe for Halloween and a school colors day but that was about it (We had more dress-up theme days in high school but at least by then we were old enough to find the costumes ourselves). When we did "dress-up" it was usually by donning the construction paper pilgrim hats and feather headdress we made in art class for the Thanksgiving reenactment. Children have wonderful imaginations...they don't need to be in a full costume all the way down the leather moccasin with authentic shell beads in order to pretend to be an Indian. The construction paper headband works just fine.

As for the teacher appreciation presents the school had a strict spending limit for gifts (usually something low like $10) so this didn't turn into a "my gift is better" type competition. And the gift registry is just silly. I could support a classroom supplies or library book wish list but the teacher asking for a lazy-boy for the classroom is just crass.

Posted by: CS | June 6, 2006 11:15 AM

"I attend my son's school concerts and plays, very occasionally volunteer to help with a book sale, when I am not busy at work, but I do appreciate the parents who give more time. Instead of berating them, why don't you just say "thank you"."

My son finished elementary school last year, and one of the mom's took on the big job of planning the "graduation day" activities, including the breakfast, awards ceremony and picnic. Finishing elementary school was a big event, and they warranted a big celebration. I came in the night before to help set up and took the day off of work to help with the activities (and be there to celebrate my son's accomplishments). I had my son write a thank you note to the mother who organized the whole event, because I wanted him to appreciate all the work that was done for them. However, I refuse to feel indebted to the parents who do what they do out of a sense of competition or superiority rather than for the sake of the kids.

Posted by: Tired Mom | June 6, 2006 11:17 AM

I love this set of comments! Try being a stepmom and being compared to an ex who LIVES for this nonsense. Stepdaughter, who is very smart (fascinated with Zeno's Paradox in 4th grade, for example) now literally cannot do her homework without HoverMom attending. Therefore we have lost her from our home because I wasn't "helping" enough (I am, by the way, a former teacher with two children under 2) - and my lack of excitement over School Spirit Day and Pajama Day didn't play well either. Oh, and don't get me started on Fifth Grade "Graduation."

Posted by: jillindenver | June 6, 2006 11:17 AM

"But I think what the comments today have shown is that all of us in the middle allow the people on the extremes to make our life not only more difficult, but also miserable some times."

I think the person who wrote this is right on target, not only with regard to Room Moms (which I don't even remember having when I was in elementary school!), but in most facets of parenting life. I know moms who go berserk about all sorts of things - I guess most of us have some issue that we go to extremes on. Seems like learning to recognize that for what it is would be the best thing we can do for ourselves as parents.

And I LOVE the crack-high comment, I'm going to have to hang on to that...

Posted by: Megan | June 6, 2006 11:18 AM

If "crack high" is too strong, a more subtle and just as enjoyable comment to make would be "yeah, but that would kill my buzz". Example: "I'd love to have brought flowers and matching tablecloths, but shopping would have killed my buzz."

I cannot WAIT to say this.

Posted by: MK | June 6, 2006 11:23 AM

"America-- where selfishness is a cherished value."

Oh, I see. So if you use your time/money/energy for your own kids, you are selfish. If you use your time/money/energy for other kids (different school so your kids can't benefit), you are altruistic.

Similarly, I should use my time/money/energy to work on my neighbor's yard because if I did that to my own yard, I would be selfish?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 11:23 AM

On the birthday party topic, Slate had a great article a while back about doing book exchanges for birthday parties. The idea is that every child brings a new, wrapped book to the party in lieu of a gift. At the end of the party, each child takes one of the wrapped books home. I think when the child of the author got old enough to realize he was not getting as many presents as his friends, they starting asking some of the child's closest friends to bring presents for the child instead, and provided the extra books themselves. My son's not old enough for any of this yet, but it seemed like a good alternative to the goody bags and tons of crazy presents, at least for as long as you can hold out against the peer pressure and insanity.

Posted by: Megan | June 6, 2006 11:26 AM

"Similarly, I should use my time/money/energy to work on my neighbor's yard because if I did that to my own yard, I would be selfish?"

Posted by: | June 6, 2006 11:23 AM

No, but refusing to volunteer at community park because it doesn't exclusively benefit YOUR family would be, and that seemed to be the idea of the original post.

Posted by: Megan | June 6, 2006 11:27 AM

My one year as a room parent was my daughter's first grade year; the elementary school had an unusual composition of kids from highly affluent single family residential and kids from subsidized low income apartments. The school/PTA leadership made an "equality" policy about parties; there were only 2, "winter holiday" (before Christmas) and Valentine's. Each kid contributed $2, and the parties had to be financed out of that. So all the first grade classes had to have the same refreshments, same craft, same game. That way whether the room mother was affluent or not did not affect the class; everyone had the same experience. This may seem a bit extreme, but it did stop the madness, and the parents who had extra time could volunteer for tutoring, which was a need.
Also, district wide, the communication method in elementary schools was a "Tuesday envelope". Every Tuesday each child brought home a large manilla envelope that contained all the communications from the teacher, PTA, Scouts, whatever. There was a place for the parent to sign & return. Since it was always the same day, and the parent knows to look for it, the possibility of lost communication was much reduced.

I'm really kind of amazed at all the reports about extra parties, costumes, etc. The educational focus that I hear about is "Time on task" so it would seem surprising that the educational leaders (principals) would be allowing so many distractions.

Posted by: Lindy | June 6, 2006 11:28 AM

Lindy - the Tuesday envelope is a stroke of genius. It probably especially helps families who have more than one kid keep track of everything. Hope it's ok if I suggest this in our area!

Posted by: That's a great idea! | June 6, 2006 11:29 AM

Megan, the original post said

"How wonderful would it be if some of these over-the-top parents would spend a portion of their time and energy volunteering in schools other than the ones where their own kids attend -- particularly schools with some demonstrated need for community involvement?"

This isn't the neighborhood park. This is something that WILL NEVER benefit your kids. It is a school your kids do NOT attend.

I never said only do things that exclusively help your family. Just things that benefit your family.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 11:34 AM

"Similarly, I should use my time/money/energy to work on my neighbor's yard because if I did that to my own yard, I would be selfish?"

A better comparison would be:
Your neighbors cannot afford a lawnmower so, when you finish your lawn, you continue over there and trim up there 1/5 an acre every once in awhile to help them out.

If you don't understand the analogy:
say, your children's school has lots of parent volunteers and is doing very well academically, versus another school that has low parental involvement and the children/teachers really need help.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 11:37 AM

one thing to remember is that often there are dictates from administration to hold these various celebrations to show the school is "community oriented". Teachers don't necessarily want to have these parties either! It takes time away from instruction and the rest of the day is completely wasted after 26 fourth-graders gorge themselves on cupcakes, soda, candy, etc.....

Posted by: AWB | June 6, 2006 11:39 AM

"there are dictates from administration to hold these various celebrations to show the school is "community oriented". "

I just read an article about how elementary kids are hard pressed to even get recess but they have time for these functions on a regular basis. It's better to give them sugar to fatten them up instead of running around outside for 15 minutes?

I can see why homeschooling is such an attractive option.

Posted by: Dlyn | June 6, 2006 11:43 AM

Socialism has to do with the government helping people. What anonymous was talking about was people helping other people-- which is altruism.

It's not the same as mowing someone else's lawn. It's helping kids with fewer resources than your own. I mean, who can compare D.C. schools and Fairfax county schools and say that the kids have an equal chance of succeeding?

Not everyone wants to help other people when it doesn't help themselves. But don't tell those who want to help other people to "go live someplace else."

Posted by: Ms L | June 6, 2006 11:44 AM

Thank goodness this guy is willing to give some of his time that doesn't directly benefit his own family:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/05/AR2006060501025.html

On today's front page.

Posted by: SLR | June 6, 2006 11:44 AM

"I never said only do things that exclusively help your family. Just things that benefit your family."

Well, that is slightly less extreme, but I still think it's a sad limitation on the concept of volunteering. Does working at a soup kitchen help your family? Probably not directly but it's an important community service. My feeling is that my family and I have an obligation to help the broader community, and not just in ways that directly affect my family. I think there are other people like me who would see helping out at a different school that really needs it in the same way - it helps the community overall. Saying that "If I'm going to spend my time/money/energy, it is for the benefit of MY children" to me is selfish in that it recognizes no need to help people other than your family.

Posted by: Megan | June 6, 2006 11:45 AM

"If you don't understand the analogy:
say, your children's school has lots of parent volunteers and is doing very well academically, versus another school that has low parental involvement and the children/teachers really need help."

Kudos to Megan. I think this is what the original poster had in mind. The idea is not shorting your own family but, instead of getting involved in some of the absurdities mentioned here, doing something for someone who needs the help. There's hardly a shortage of opportunities.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 11:56 AM

You could also take the position that benefiting your community benefits your family. These children you could read to or tutor in math could end up the doctors taking care of you. They could become ministers, or engineers, or international weapons inspectors. Their chances are significantly higher when their schooling gets outside support that their parents often can't provide.

Posted by: SPC | June 6, 2006 12:04 PM

Wait...some of you are not only hosting parties, you're handing out stuff in little bags afterwards?

Posted by: lgithens | June 6, 2006 12:07 PM

Unlike us, teachers who might read this blog occasionally are probably working, but if there are teachers online, I'd be interested in hearing their perspective on this issue.

Not too long ago, TIME had a cover article about the idea that some of these "helicopter parents" drive teachers nuts. The thrust of the article was that teachers have a harder time managing parents than they do managing kids. Best example: Three moms who came to school at lunchtime to watch their sons, who were seniors, eat their "last lunch" at school. Aaaaargh!

Posted by: THS | June 6, 2006 12:08 PM

"How wonderful would it be if some of these over-the-top parents would spend a portion of their time and energy volunteering in schools other than the ones where their own kids attend -- particularly schools with some demonstrated need for community involvement?"

And by volunteering in underserved schools and communities you'd be helping your kids see out of the bubble of their affluent little suburban community. Teaching them that there's a whole world out there...

Posted by: mary | June 6, 2006 12:13 PM

It seems we are focusing on people who try to run everthing, but there is the other side too. There are also a lot of parents who use all these events and sports as free babysitting while they go off to do whatever they want. The SAHM and youth coaches get to take care of the others kids.

Posted by: vaMan | June 6, 2006 12:30 PM

David Fisher (wahd)
why do parents need to help plan highschool post gratuation parties? Isn't that what your student committees are for. What does the student counsil run on if it isn't for the coolest prom ever.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 12:31 PM

"It seems we are focusing on people who try to run everthing, but there is the other side too. There are also a lot of parents who use all these events and sports as free babysitting while they go off to do whatever they want. The SAHM and youth coaches get to take care of the others kids."

You are correct about that. My husband and I have been coaching/managing soccer for years and our biggest pet peeve is people who are late to pick their kids up. We ALWAYS end practice on time, as we know how crazy school nights are. But there is nothing worse than standing around on a soccer field waiting for some parent to show up. I can't go home and get my family fed until they bother to show up.

There's definitely the other side of the spectrum as well.

Posted by: Tired Mom | June 6, 2006 12:42 PM

I work full time but help out with the occassional field trip etc...Can't stand PTA meetings for the reasons everyone else has expressed. At our first elementary school, a list of volunteer positions would be circulated every year at the beginning of the year. For two years, I volunteered for the garden/landscape committee and and one or two other things, but, SURPRISE, I never got a call or e-mail to actually volunteer. I stopped responding after that & don't bother at our Fairfax County School elementary school either.
I'll do things that that our elementary & middle school teachers might specifically request. Love the give the teacher a book, never thought of that. At our school it is "customary" to give the teachers a Christmas gift as well. Can you imagine!

Posted by: viennamom | June 6, 2006 12:43 PM

In 5th grade, the Cub Scouts become Webelos, and the Dads take over from the den mother who leads the younger boys.

The Dads got together, and rather than choosing a den leader, decided that they would all lead by committee, delegating each meeting/activity to two dads to run. At these meetings, the dads made a concerted effort NOT to focus attention on their own sons, but rather to focus on other boys and the group as a whole.

I'll admit that I felt a bit jealous at the time. However, we moved that year, and I joined a different Webelos den, where there were 2 dad-leaders. These dads focused their attentions on their own sons, to the detriment of others. Camping trips felt like you were just there along for the ride.

Altruism works.

Posted by: Preschool Dad | June 6, 2006 12:43 PM

I am also hearing reports from college campuses about the new "Tea Cup" generation of kids coming to college after being raised by Helicopter Parents. "Tea Cup" because they are so fragile they shatter easily and cannot be put back together. Any one out there have college-aged kids who are seeing this phenomenon?

Posted by: Leslie | June 6, 2006 12:44 PM

I remember mom (who was a cake decorator and caterer at different points in my childhood) making cupcakes for class on my birthday - simple, frosted with some sprinkles. No one complained - they were delicious. She also brought them to school at our lunch time, cleaned up herself (didn't just dump and run) and asked the teacher in advance, just in case it was a problem.

I also remember the moms who showed up, unannounced, in the middle of reading (or naptime!) with three armloads of stuff, an elaborate cake that had to be cut and served out, tons of balloons. They stopped class for half a day with that - and often left 'leftovers' for the teacher to handle.

These are probably the same moms (I know "Brittany's mom" and "Jessica's mom" were two major culprits) that made everything else a huge production. They were the same ones that made my (barely middle class) parents shell out big bucks for silk screened custom class t-shirts (I liked the ones that another class made themselves with markers and white shirts) that were worn once, on playday.

My stepdaughter's school does it more sensibly. They have two parties a year - only for the kids that behave (no referrals, above a C in all their classes). The PTA asks for a little extra when you sign up at the beginning of the year, and they provide pizza and sodas for the kids, after school, in the gym. No elaborate decorations. The son of one of the teachers (who is a musician) brings in some equipment and plays CDs for the kids on loudspeakers. That's all. Theme days are limited to one week, right before spring break, and the kids are old enough to be able to come up with a plan for 'inside out day' and 'mismatched shoes day'.

If I had to spend half my day worrying about what color I was going to use on my child's elementary school tablecloths for the Valentine's Day party, I'd puke. I didn't spend that much time on the colors for my wedding - and I had 200 people at that!

Posted by: Rebecca | June 6, 2006 12:50 PM

I am a part-time working mom with three children (oldest in a Mclean elementary school), and I can SO relate to what everyone is saying here about those Super Moms and the over-the-top events and activities filling our and our kids' days.

Things were so different when I was young. My dad worked very hard at his job as a university professor and sometimes took on additional consulting jobs with industry to make ends meet. My mom stayed at home with 5 kids doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. and generally was exhausted by the day's end. We didn't have a lot of money, and so scrimped and saved on EVERYTHING. We didn't give our teachers presents (but they still taught me well just the same). My parents never volunteered in our schools, although they did attend a very few after work hours events. My father, however, always helped us with our homework and tutoring for several hours every evening(remember there were 5 of us), and our mother was always there to talk about all the goings on and problems we were having with friends and teachers and questions about "life," usually while she washed the dishes or was cooking endless meals.

And to pick up on another theme in these discussions, when I was growing up, mom just made our favorite dinner, maybe ice cream for dessert to "celebrate" our birthdays, nothing like these incredible bashes parents throw these days. We didn't have "graduation" parties, either. It wasn't the big deal/celebration it is now. It was our JOB to do our best at school, and it was expected that we would at least graduate (if not excel!)

Yet, without all the fuss & "involvement" of parents in schools today, my parents did just fine raising their kids. I am a Harvard-educated lawyer, my brother is doctor, my sister is a Ph.D in civil engineering from Berkely, my other brother has a Ph.D from MIT, and my other sister was an accountant, now a SAHM. We all respect and cherish our parents and the sacrifices they made for our education. I don't think it would have made any difference if they had been more involved at "school" events or parties or in the classroom.

When I compare what my parents did - and did not do - for us, I wonder what we parents nowadays are teaching our children. All these parties and extra-curricular activities for our kids seem to give the wrong message that everything revolves around THEM and that everything is about THEM, their needs, their wants, and that they and their frivolous school events (crazy hair day?) are SO important. Sure our kids are important, but so are other things in life and the other people in their lives and its important that our kids understand that. It's hard to resist all the peer-pressure to do what Johnny or Jane is doing, but I think we should find some balance, for our sake and our children's.


I fear parents today are raising a "ME" generation, who won't know what it's like to have to work hard for something for themselves and who won't even think of working hard to be able to give something to someone else.

Posted by: SNK | June 6, 2006 12:58 PM

So I'm one of the counter culture moms. And my son is currently part-time in daycare. For Valentine's Day, parents were asked to bring in treats for the V-Day party. I brought my son's favorite...roasted cauliflower. I can't tell you how profusely I thanked his teacher for her behavior. After all the kids chose their treats (and NONE, not even my son chose cauliflower), she went around the room and put some on each child's plate. She said, "I want you to try it, you don't have to finish it." One third of the kids actually ate all of their serving and two of the moms asked me for the recipe.

It is possible to change this craziness. We just have to risk being branded "the mom who brought cauliflower instead of cupcakes."

Posted by: Erika | June 6, 2006 1:00 PM

"why do parents need to help plan highschool post gratuation parties? Isn't that what your student committees are for. What does the student counsil run on if it isn't for the coolest prom ever."

Well, the ANGP is provided by concerned parents as alternative to going out and getting drunk on a couple of cases of MGD and some cheap vodka. Tickets are relatively inexpensive and in return you get a 10-hour party with a lot of food, games, time with friends and a chance to walk away with some nice gifts. The total cost for Robinson's ANGP has got to be $30-40K in addition to the 1000s of hours of volunteer time and I don't see many student governments coming up with that kind of scratch in four years of bake sales and car washes.

As a volunteer firefighter and paramedic I have seen way too many young people dead or severly injured after a night of "fun" following graduation. The ANGP is optional, but hopefully it provides a better and more constructive outlet.

Posted by: David Fisher (WAHD) | June 6, 2006 1:05 PM

"The total cost for Robinson's ANGP has got to be $30-40K in addition to the 1000s of hours of volunteer time and I don't see many student governments coming up with that kind of scratch in four years of bake sales and car washes."

Where does that money come from? I wonder if some enterprising or well-connected parents (or MADD members) could get the big beverage (alcohol) companies to kick in that $30,000 to $40,000 for a ANGP. I think it's a good idea to have this sort of party, but again, why don't the young people who care do some of the work of planning it? If enough kids take part in the planning of these events, they might become the "cool" alternative to the MGD kegger that so-and-so's parents are, uh, hosting.

Posted by: 666 | June 6, 2006 1:10 PM

One of the saddest things about all this "specialness" is that when everything is special, nothing is special. Cliché, of course, but the lived reality is sad - kids who are always searching for the Next Thing in hopes of some light moments, some genuine joy...much like their parents, I suppose.

My stepdaughter (whom I really do love) got a prom-style dress and professional hairdo for her 5th grade "continuation" (not to mention the piped-in classical music for filing in to the gym - got to highlight that august dignity inherent in your average 5th-grader)...what will her actual prom be like? Her wedding? I phoned the Kirov, the Cleveland Philharmonic, and a couple of those private space flight companies, but they're unwilling to book so far in advance.

Ach, well - just good to know others have had enough too. Maybe if a few more of us "just say no," we and our kids will be happier!

Posted by: jillindenver | June 6, 2006 1:19 PM

Heavens, yes! Let kids learn to plan and do things on their own. That way they learn teamwork and get a sense of accomplishment. One of my best school memories is building the senior year homecoming float that represented our Physics Club (I know, dorky!). I suggested the colors "black and silver" as a joke, and someone said, "And blue!" and we made a "Dr. Frankenstein's operating table float". Our physics teacher was the only "adult" who got involved (one parent gave us garage space, a few kicked in cash) and our class (maybe 15 people) built the float together. No one's dad made architectural plans. No one's mom designed and sewed the Monster's costume. It may not have been perfect, but we WON the competition and we did it all ourselves.

Posted by: JB | June 6, 2006 1:23 PM

Selfishness? socialism? altruism? greed? happiness? volunteerism? Call it what you want, but knowing you have a healthy family and realizing you're not shortsighted is a 'rub-off' trait. Growing up, my parents made a pretty good point to help if asked, but to stay out of the way of our lives. When my brother and I were in Boy Scouts, my dad made it a point to work with the kids who didn't know their fathers or who had fathers that were never around. My Mom and Dad got involved in our High School after we all graduated. Crazy concept, but it was great for them and for us. Giving back to others is awesome. Not wanting to give back to others because you fail to see the immediate gratitude returned is rather disgusting. Spend a few weeks in a less-than-well-to-do school and you'll see that just having a pizza party for those kids will bring more smiles and joy to their faces than having a kindegarten tea party with real china and hand written invitations and tea sandwhiches with the crust cut off for your child's class. They probably won't even thank you, as they've come to expect this.

Posted by: re: the no name poster | June 6, 2006 1:23 PM

Jill in Denver is right - that is exactly what I've seen with the "Tea Cup" kids (I hadn't heard that term before today). These are kids who start entry level jobs expecting to attend high level meetings instead of running the copier, astonished when they aren't given a car to take to college (much less, a nice one!), and who move back home with their parents so they don't have to have an "entry-level" apartment, either. It has been my experience that these are the saddest kids around because there isn't anything "special" or exciting to look forward to.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 1:23 PM

I want to follow up SNK's comment that distinguishes between ways of being involved with kids, i.e., help w/ homework vs. parties, etc.

I did a little googling (using parental involvement and performance as search terms, and it turns out that there is a considerable literature on this topic.

To the extent that I could extract a general conclusion based on this hasty scanning, it appears that there is a positive effect of parent involvement on student performance. A lot of this research seems to be focused on encouraging low-income parents to be more involved w/ the school; for these parents, encouragement to be involved in their childrens' learning promotes performance.

This info might not be so relevant to people here, but it does suggest that if you want to do something that has long-term value for your kids, it's best to focus on their academic performance. Here are links to some interesting summaries and one statement that makes this point clearly.

The first site is dated 2004; the second is not dated, but the most recent article cited is 2000.

http://www.parent-institute.com/educator/resources/research/research.php

http://www.directionservice.org/cadre/parent_family_involv.cfm

Here's the statement (from the second site): The ways in which parents/families can be involved in their children's education have broadened considerably over the past three decades beyond the traditional "big three"- volunteer, homework helper, and fund-raiser. What parents/families do in the home environment, however, remains significantly more important to student outcomes than what parents/families do in the school setting.

I know that we are not really talking about student performance here, but it's worth noting that that's why kids go to school.

I think some level of involvement in activities is good. I was proud when my parents came to school on Parents Day (but it was one day/year!), and I was proud that they were PTA leaders, and so on. They attended sports events that my brother and sister participated in. Fun was good--they were fun people--and they were probably more involved than many people in our small community. But NOTHING like the examples given here.

Posted by: THS | June 6, 2006 1:30 PM

Pheweeee! I don't know about you guys but was thrilled to leave the clique-y-ness of school behind when I graduated 15 years ago. The idea of re-entering the milieu as a competing parent gives me the giggles. Lot's of comic potential here. I can see this blog rewritten as the script for a Hollywood comedy with Cathryn Zeta Jones as the Ubermom, Sarah J. Parker as the Everymom, Lily Tomlin as the Principal and Rene Zellweger as the poor, beleaguered classroom teacher.

Posted by: Friend | June 6, 2006 1:30 PM

A frightening view of school life today! My child is pre-school and I already dread these scenarios. They evenhave these nutty events at daycare, where the kids are clueless about what's going on and I end up with a sugar-hyped kid for the rest of the day. I think it's bizarre. Birthday parties at our house mean inviting both sets of grandparents and maybe a 'special' friend -- absolutely no way I'm doing goody bags! The other parents may think I'm a freak, but during the day I'm interviewing the results of *their* handiwork -- and passing them over for jobs because they cannot function on their own. One guy even brought his mom to the interview -- seriously! That 'freak' label gets turned around with a vengeance later in life -- something to think about.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 2:03 PM

If ever a mom needed hobbies:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/06/04/AR2006060400872.html

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 2:04 PM

As a high school teacher, I do not find parents in my room, unless there's a conference. I do appreciate the mothers who do come in and do some photocopying for us, but I still do most of mine myself since I keep long and late hours (6 am - 6pm somedays).

I have never heard of a teacher registry, but I usually don't get any gifts from parents, (I guess since it's high school and kids have at least 7 teachers), except for an occasional thank you card or starbucks card - which are very appreciated!!

Some parents are overly involved in their child's life even in high school and I would echo that post about the college parents as well. I have a friend who is a professor at a small university in ohio who routinely gets parent phone calls that sound a lot like mine about grades mostly.

Just thoughts from the other side of the desk.... :)

Posted by: chem tchr | June 6, 2006 2:07 PM

"This isn't the neighborhood park. This is something that WILL NEVER benefit your kids. It is a school your kids do NOT attend. I never said only do things that exclusively help your family. Just things that benefit your family."

Maybe it's time you considered broadening your concept of "benefiting your family." Perhaps your family might benefit from less poverty and poverty-induced societal ills. One way to "benefit your family" is to cloister yourselves in a wealthy, gated community with affluent schools and roll up the windows and lock the doors of your SUV when you drive through less-affluent neighborhoods. But another way to "benefit your family" is to work toward greater equity and opportunity in society, so that fewer neighborhoods seem scary and off-limits. Moreover, you family benefits when, through your example, you promote selflessness and compassion. "Benefits" encompass more than just material goods, it encompasses character traits. What do you think you're teaching your children when you have to ask "what's in it for me?" before you offer to help?

Posted by: no-more-gated-communities | June 6, 2006 2:08 PM

I'm stuck on the other end. I'm a sahm who can't actually help out during the day with my daughter even occasionally, because she's got younger siblings that aren't in school yet. Saying that, I do try to attend the few things she does have during the year, like her in-class play, but only on things where she is doing something. I don't show up for parties or other things. I think it's silly. I also hate them. My daughter eats relatively healthy at home, with the occasional junk food, but whenever she comes back from these little 'parties' sporting the third lollipop of the day after cakes, candy and sugary drinks, her moods swing erratically and she usually ends up crying over some crazy thing, or crashing too early to do homework, or not crashing at all... argh...

I focus on her homework. I focus on supporting her interests. Luckily, we don't live in Fairfax County anymore. None of us, myself, my husband or my daughter could handle that school system and I don't CARE if it's great, super etc etc, it was driving us insane, and this was before third grade! Now, she has I think two events where parents' are welcome, though they do have room parents, they generally are there to help out in an academic sense *they help the kids who need extra attention in math or reading* and while still, there are a few too many parties for my taste, it's nothing like the 'full time job' it is back East, and I hope it never gets like that!

Posted by: Observer | June 6, 2006 2:19 PM

"One way to "benefit your family" is to cloister yourselves in a wealthy, gated community with affluent schools and roll up the windows and lock the doors of your SUV when you drive through less-affluent neighborhoods. "

Yup. I'm considered a "have". Since there are "have nots", I guess it's time to go self-flagellate

"What do you think you're teaching your children when you have to ask "what's in it for me?" before you offer to help?"

I have finite resources. Sue me for using them for me and my family FIRST. If I have anything left over, it goes to help others but (oh how the flaming will begin) me first.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 2:20 PM

"Yup. I'm considered a "have". Since there are "have nots", I guess it's time to go self-flagellate"

Nobody is asking you to "self-flagellate" because you are a have. Recognizing that one is part of a community and that one has an obligation to help better that community is not the equivalent of self-flagellation or self-denial; it is simply a way of giving something back to the world around you.

Posted by: Megan | June 6, 2006 2:29 PM

Let's ignore the troll. He clearly wants himself and his family to be left alone on their isolated island.

I wish these overactive, overinvolved parents would concern themselves with something truly worth their enormous efforts, such as getting the junk food and sugar snacks out of the schools. Why oh why are kids given all these "treats"? Aren't we supposed to be teaching them good nutrition? If parents want their kids to eat lots of sugar, they can have it at home. I truly do not appreciate other parents giving my kids sugar-filled junk during the school day. And it's fine that some school districts are getting regular sodas out of the schools and keeping only "diet" drinks, but ALL sodas are bad for you. Maybe the senior business club could open a juice bar!

Posted by: Mother Maybelle | June 6, 2006 2:30 PM

My boss is a working mother, type A personality, and completely over-involved in her daughters' lives. Right before a meeting one day, she had a long conversation with her daughter's teacher about a make up test and some missed homework. Basically, she was negotiating a schedule for her daughter to make up this work. By the way, the daughter was a senior in high school.

When I was in high school, I had to work all that stuff out myself. If I missed a test or did not do my homework, I had to work something out with the teacher or accept the consequences in grades. My mother would have never intervened, and I doubt my teachers would have allowed parents to negotiate in that way. It taught me some valuable life lessons that my boss' daughter will not learn until later in life.

Posted by: overinvolvement | June 6, 2006 2:37 PM


I think the person who did the 'my family first' postings well, honestly, represents most of Americans, even most of the people posting here.

It's not that the idea of volunteering is bad, or that people need to start volunteering in our community and helping the underpriveleged is bad, those are good things. And I hope to one day be able to volunteer in the community, in the schools etc etc, but I barely have enough to take care of my family.

We moved an hour away from my husband's work to live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, not gated, not affluent, boringly middle-class. Not even the middle-class that has hardwood floors and granite counter tops, nope, I'm talking split-level middle-class with ikea laminate flooring and vinyl kitchen tiles. We do what we can for our family, to give them a safe place to live and a decent school system. T

That doesn't leave a lot of money or time to give back. We help our friends when we can, and when the kids are older, we hope to be more involved, but right now, we're trying to get by and get to a point where we actually HAVE extras.

We think we are lucky to have what we have, and would love to give back, but right now, we don't have the time nor the means, because whatever time and means we have are spent taking care of our family. It's not selfish, it's just that the first priority has to be your own family. When you have extra time or means, that's when you can give back.

I think that's what the original poster meant.

Posted by: Observer | June 6, 2006 2:41 PM

wis -- you're right on target. There's never enough time to play with science in elementary school, but plenty of time carved out each week for three months to do some dopey play during which only 3 or 4 students get to perform (including the son of a SAHM who is really interested in theater and muart). And the schools wonder why there are behavior problems with bored 10year old boys...

Posted by: CA mom | June 6, 2006 2:54 PM

What do the kids think about all this parental involvement at the schools? My mother was a room mother way back in the 70s, when that meant sending some cookies for a Halloween/Christmas/Valentines party. She also tutored kids at the school who would be termed "at risk" today. I used to dread the Thursdays she tutored because I might--horrors!--run into her in the hall, and how embarassing would that be? I think I would have melted into the floor if she every actually showed up in my classroom! But the tutoring did let me know that she cared about education in general and my school in particular.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 2:54 PM

"Stay at homes moms" vs. "Working Moms" is the abortion/gun control/religion/politics topic of parenting. Almost a surefire bet to touch off a flame war. Just hope no trolls show up...

Posted by: vienna local | June 6, 2006 2:55 PM

Well, we're talking about Room Moms today. I would have preferred my mom to have been a volunteer in the background rather than being in the classroom with me. I didn't like her being at school so often and got picked on because of it by other kids. It was nice that she volunteered, however, I see her now as the control person that she is.

Posted by: 666 | June 6, 2006 3:01 PM

"It's not selfish, it's just that the first priority has to be your own family. When you have extra time or means, that's when you can give back.

I think that's what the original poster meant. "

What, I wasn't clear like that???

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 3:02 PM

Things are not too different in "rural" New Mexico than in larger more metropolitan areas. First, I think that most, if not all, of the over-involved moms have given up one career to be at home which is now their job. All the needs to achieve, needs for external gratification and needs for some visible reward are directed toward school in lieu of the workplace. I have two jobs - mom and lawyer. I don't need a third, aka room mother extraordinaire. Second, I think the schools also contribute to this phenomenon. We've been in schools that have banned birthday celebrations, Halloween celebrations and any mention of Christmas (yes, public schools). And we've been in schools where everything is celebrated, including the 100th day, arbor day, earth day, and all of the traditional holidays. While I do think the need to be politically correct and ban Halloween costumes and parties is just silly, I also think that going overboard on alternative holidays is equally annoying. Balance people, balance. This seems to be sadly lacking anymore. Our "pitiful" birthday contribution of juice boxes and cupcakes was put to shame by the toddler who brought goodie bags to school for each of the classmates along with individualized balloons and a huge cake. For a child turning FOUR. I'm not sure if it was the result of the parents' need to outdo everyone else or a need to alleviate guilt at having missed some other event, but it clearly was not for the child. I so agree with the comments reminding us that not all of the hoopla is for the kids -- but it does make me wonder what need such overboard involvement fills in the parent.

Posted by: New Mexico Mom | June 6, 2006 3:05 PM

Thank you Erica!

It's great to hear that there is hope-- that even one person can make a difference.

To "I tried to help out", I urge you to arrange a coud d'etat of your PTA. Those Five have to go! I assume you have elections and at the next election run!

IT's CRAZY that you were such out when you attempted to voluteer. Our child will start school this fall and I've attended a few PTA meetings and they are desperate for volunteers! the idea of someone being turned away is impossible to comprehend. The fact is there are major disparaties in our urban schools-- some have parental involvment in the extreme, and some have next to nothing. But with Erica's cauliflower story as our inspiration, I think we can hopefully meet a happy medium at all our schools someday.


Posted by: LRS | June 6, 2006 3:08 PM

I have to say that I, too, am terrified of the PTA moms. I actually attended one birthday party (that was at night at a ceramic place so I had to stay) and they wouldn't even acknowledge my hello because I wasn't in their group. I have volunteered to help out at school events and when I show up, they are visibly annoyed at having to try to find something for me to do since "I'm not familiar with the {enter whatever task it is that I've volunteered to participate in -- book fair, cake walk, etc. -- here}." I DO however, indulge my daughter when it comes to her birthday party. She never wants any sort of present because she always says that she has enough things (this was NOT passed down by me) but she wants to invite about 20 - 30 kids to our house every year and have some sort of entertainment and fun goody bags so I let her plan the whole event and that's essentially the present. We always enjoyed it, but now I'm worried that other parents may think we're the scary competitive spoiling types that we ourselves try to avoid.

Posted by: lmp | June 6, 2006 3:09 PM

Observer - You (and many others who have posted similarly) are right about the original intent of my post. The point was if there are people with enough time on their hands (and energy and inclination) to do the over-the-top things that have been discussed here, perhaps they could redirect some of that energy and time to other schools. It would tone things down to a more reasonable level(and give some kids space from the hovering, ever-present moms) in some schools and be a true benefit to the others, where dedicated and energetic help is truly needed. I'm fascinated by the discussion that has happened on this topic. (And happy to know that there are others bucking the goody bag laden circus-like extravaganzas that now pass as birthday parties for toddlers.)

Posted by: SJA | June 6, 2006 3:13 PM


It's all in the wording.

By the time you said that you didn't mind giving after your family was taken care of, everyone was already mad at you for, and I think I'm quoting you, but I'm not sure the "Screw that... etc etc" comment.

Personally, I think that most people are too busy to actually give time outside their own schools, and if they have any extra money, it may be going to education funds for colleges, retirement plans and then some pet charities. I think if American's work weeks dropped from 60-80 hours, to say, 40-60, then there might be more volunteers. Most posters here say they are short on time, and the time they have is for them or their families, so I think while 'Screw it' made a point everyone jumped on, many people will find that they are in similar situations.

I mean, come on. New Orleans hasn't even been rebuilt, and from what I understand, doesn't have much money too, either. If we were truly an altruistic nation, wouldn't we have helped one of our own states a bit more?

Posted by: Observer | June 6, 2006 3:15 PM

You know, this is a one-sided debate. There is a flip side here as well, not to cast dispersions, but there is also some guilt and resentment from working parents that gets heaved at SAHMs that is totally unfounded and undeserved.

I coach my daughter's softball team and there are two SAHMs that volunteered to be the team Moms and help organize things for us. Nothing elaborate. They helped to organize our team's contribution to the league fund raiser and they help to get the girls in their batting order, get helmets on and that kind of thing. These two woman often end up being the "Moms" for things, not because they so desperately want to, but because when volunteers are called for, no one else ponies up. "I have to work" is a common refrain. Fair enough, but it's not fair to resent them when they then step in to do what needs to be done.

Case in point. At our team's last game, they offered to arrange to get a few pizza's delivered to the field and have everyone stay around the field for an hour after the game to let the girls play on the playground and have a brief closing ceremony (basically a few words from the coaches acknowleging the hard work the kids put in).

And for this, they got a few testy, snotty emails from people suggesting that they should be doing something better. Mind you the people who sent these messages have barely even shown up at a game, offered no ideas as to what they think should be appropriate and gave no offer of help.

I do agree that a lot of this stuff is getting over the top, but there is something to be said for being engaged with your kids. That has less to do with fancy cupcakes and involved projects and more to do with spending time and communicating. But to hurl accusation and invective at any general group as a cause of all of your woes is unfair and just plain wrong.

Fair is fair. There are horror stories on both sides of any equation, so be careful where you cast the first stone.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 3:19 PM

Look, it's not about shorting your family to benefit someone else's. It's about balancing what they need with your time and finding positive outlets for the remainder of your time. The article and all these responses are full of examples of excess. Put your children's needs first. Do them a favor and don't be responsible for the 27th hour of class-time partying this week. Defend your kids' education by _not_ insisting that your 5 year old enjoy high tea with her classmates.
Now that you've done that for your family and you've still got time on your hands, there are lots of schools that are not inundated with parents. Maybe one of them could use a little help. Or do you think your seven year old will be cheated by the lack of a day-long "transition ceremony" commemorating his class' progression into the month of June?

Posted by: on balance.... | June 6, 2006 3:22 PM

"It's not selfish, it's just that the first priority has to be your own family. When you have extra time or means, that's when you can give back.

I think that's what the original poster meant. "

What, I wasn't clear like that??? "

Not in the slightest. You wrote: "You want socialism, go live someplace else. Geez!!!" which pretty clearly stated that you thought anyone who thinks they should do something for the community was totally wrong-headed.

Also, with regard to Observers comment, I do think its true that most Americans don't volunteer because they think they can't, not because they don't want to. However, while my volunteerism has been severely lacking in the last few years, I am loathe to say it's because I don't have enough (and I too am in the same middle-class as Observer). What distinguishes the vast majority of people who do volunteer and do charitable works is their attitude, not their resources. I have some close friends who have simply made it more of a priority than I have, or than most Americans have, and I totally admire them for it. Saying that I don't have enough to be able to volunteer or donate does a disservice to those who do make the commitment. I think most of us are doing the best we can, but we have to recognize that the balance we strike is our choice.


Posted by: Megan | June 6, 2006 3:24 PM

to SJA

YES... lol.... so ix nay my last post. I got your original intent. I respected it and agreed heh. Sorry to have word-smithed for you, but I think the intent got lost in the maelstrom you created. Go you.

As for the rest:
I banned crazy parties for my daughter after a chuckee cheese party for 14! (In my defense, I was going on the theory that only half the kids would show up... my friend still laughs at me for that.)

Now, we do stupid games that I did as a kid (musical chairs, freeze frame or whatever) and had a plain cake at the house, and the limit is 6 kids. Nobody complains.

I am part of a mom's club that has activities planned, literally, EVERY DAY, and I only go to one a week or two. I never thought a mom's club could be stressful. HA. It's run by type-A women but since events aren't mandatory, I happily show up for toddler play time and skip out on the myriad of other events. Course, this means I have no mommy friends because i'm not 'in' but then, that's the story of my life, and I have yet to find a club for the 'stay at homers who want to just once a week, drink guilt-free coffee and chat while the children watch the wiggles for two hours' club. But um, television and children are bad, so we do musical play times and drink apple juice... ahhhhh. I'm digressing now. I'll stop.

Posted by: Observer | June 6, 2006 3:25 PM

Very much enjoying this discussion! I have a preschooler, but have certainly seen the buds of this kind of over-zealous parental behavior.

My parents were both teachers - parental involvment to them meant parents showing up on parent-teacher conference day to discuss their child's performance. I think most teachers would put much more value in that than a mom baking cupcakes and giving the entire class a sugar high.

A friend has her son is in one of MoCo's Immersion programs in a public school, he's in kindergarten. The room mother put all the parents on a rotating "snack schedule" for the class - what's ridiculous is that no other kindergarten class in the entire school has the parents bring in snacks for their kids. I couldn't believe that some parent decided that the Immersion students needed a snack - what, because their using more energy by speaking a foreign language?!?! This to me is a perfect example of making everybody's life more difficult.

Posted by: Mom in SS | June 6, 2006 3:33 PM

"Similarly, I should use my time/money/energy to work on my neighbor's yard because if I did that to my own yard, I would be selfish?"

A better comparison would be:
Your neighbors cannot afford a lawnmower so, when you finish your lawn, you continue over there and trim up there 1/5 an acre every once in awhile to help them out.

If you don't understand the analogy:
say, your children's school has lots of parent volunteers and is doing very well academically, versus another school that has low parental involvement and the children/teachers really need help."

because your children are going to be working with or for these children. because these children are also part of your community.

it takes a village.

actually, this is a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate to your children what it means to be a human being. this philantrophy is a very American value. children learn by example.

Posted by: a teacher | June 6, 2006 3:40 PM

Believe it or not in some pre-schools in this area the same type of stuff is going on. I am a working mother. Rather than to leave my child with a barely literate peasant woman from latin america I chose to put him in preschool where he would be with his peers, learn to read, have fun, make friends and so on. He is in this school all day and the school is a very good school. However, I am the ONLY WORKING MOTHER in his pre-school class. I tried to volunteer for things that I find important -- book fair for instance, and we donate (generously) to the annual fund and religiously go to the fundraising events. I know that the school needs these funds and I am happy to give. But the constant barrage of projects and events where he is the only one who does not have a parent representing his family is absurd. So, on one hand my son is in a great program that will prepare him for kindergarden. On the other hand he is getting an inferiority complex and I constantly have to explain to him why mommy works. This is not a post about the value of preschool education and I am 100% sure that he is better off where he is and the wonderful teachers in his class are so much better equiped to give him what he needs than if he stayed home with me. I also feel ostracized by other moms. They are all very nice and polite to me but nobody makes an effort to make plans with us.

Posted by: frustrated in the 'burbs | June 6, 2006 3:43 PM

I think that just everyone appreciates and needs the SAHMs who can be the team mom or room mom spending a couple of hours per week helping out. This is good for everybody and these mothers probably represent 80-90% of those helping out. The ugly side of this, however, comes out when these mothers start spending 10, 20 or more hours per week and it becomes less about helping out and more about 'look at me'. I am sorry, but the handful of parents at our high school who do this know how to work the system. Do their kids ever get in trouble? Frankly, most skate by when there is a problem because the school is afraid to lose their help. At Robinson, mothers like 'Karen' and 'Pat' need to stop looking for happiness through their children. They are the ones creating the Tea Cup generation (great name!) that all of us will have to live with.

Posted by: David Fisher | June 6, 2006 3:50 PM

Like Most things in life, moderation is the key. Every year I pick one thing that is my volunteer thing. In elementary School, I ran the bookfair for several years and made a point of calling lots of people to help for an hour or two. In highschool, I coordinate food for the band during 3rd qtr. of home football games. I know most kids in my kids class and they know me. It is agreat way to have relationships with your kids friends and model that you are committed to their school. Without volunteers there would be no sports leagues, field trips, bookfairs, post proms, concessions at sporting events, school newspapers, gardens, environmental clubs etc. I work fulltime as do most of my fellow volunteers. It is not about ego, guilt or competition. We volunteer because if we didn't, none of the above would happen. You don't have to do a lot but if every parent volunteered 5-6 hours a year for something, there wouldn't be only 5 people running the PTA.

Posted by: MD Mom | June 6, 2006 3:51 PM

One final comment on Tea Cup kids...one of the best things to happen to our son was being diagnosed with a learning disability in 10th grade. While it did not make up for the struggles over the previous 5-7 years or the poor grades, it taught him how to be a self-advocate. IDEA is a great program, but we have taken a largely hands-off approach which has worked. When he needs help or feels that he is not getting the services he is entitled to, someone will hear about it (politely). Yes, the LD is pretty minor, but it has been empowering.

Posted by: David Fisher | June 6, 2006 3:55 PM

To--Frustrated in the burbs:

HANG IN THERE! You are doing the best thing you possibly can for your child. I have a Master's in Education and lots of high school teaching experience. But when I needed to put my career on hiatus for personal reasons, my husband and I chose to go (very slightly) in debt to keep our son in daycare two days a week because I'm not nearly as qualified to teach a preschooler as the teachers there. He benefits incredibly from that experience. So I've been both a working in an office mom and a stay at home mom. And your child has NO reason to feel inferior. I hope you figure out a way to model that for your child, because explaining that you have to work will not make much sense to a kid under 6.

Posted by: Erika | June 6, 2006 3:57 PM

When I was young my parents never came to any of my school activities. We were of modest means, and had only one car so during the day my mom (who watched my little brother) couldn't come. School was not walking distance. Anyways, I always felt kinda sad about it. I especially hated grandparents day because my grandparents didn't live nearby so I never had them attend. Anyways, now I have a three-year-old in daycare and his school has programs during the day and I always feel torn. I mean I'd rather save my PTO time for vacations and when he's sick than for these programs, but I can't help but worry that he might feel alienated. But on the other hand, I think I grew up fine and lead a happy life (and have a great relationship with my parents), so maybe even if I missed my parents during special events, it wasn't a big deal in the long run. The thing I do like, is twice a year the school has a potluck in the evening, everyone just makes a dish and we hang out. (no super mom organizing it, just a sign up sheet posted by the director). Very relaxed and fun.

Posted by: Preschool mom | June 6, 2006 4:08 PM

I am the mother of three lovely daughters, ages 5 and under. Pre-schools definitely differ in their treatment of holidays and celebrations. Of the 2 I have experience with, I prefer the more low-key school celebrations, without goody bags for every occasion. It usually ends up in the trash or recycling anyway, as I try to wade through the clutter. What a waste of money and natural resources.

I also teach biology in a small, private, liberal arts college. I deal with helicopter parents and teacup students frequently. When I meet with freshmen during registration for classes in the fall, I insist that I meet with them individually, so that Mom or Dad doesn't dictate their interests and class schedule. It is their time to FLY! (I would have been mortified if my parents wanted to meet with my professor/advisor.) I also field phone calls from parents re: schedules and grades. There is a national law in place that requires the student to be present for all conversations about grades, since they are considered private information. Yes, the parents may be paying for college, but the student must give permission for me to talk about it openly with said parents. In my opinion, communication must first happen between students and parents, so everyone can know why grades were lower than expected. That being said, I am usually surprised at the number of students (usually young women) who speak to their folks at least once a day.

Posted by: mom of 3 | June 6, 2006 4:09 PM

Great Blog today! I have a seventeen month old who has been a in a federally sponsored daycare for a year. I dread her school years after reading these posts. I love the daycare, but feel the monetary and time demands placed on parents even at this age at her daycare are INSANE and BURDENSOME. I hate to vent about it though because I know the women who watch her provide excellent care and are not that well compensated in the low paying field of childcare. But when is enough enough??? I don't want to p*ss anyone off because these people are caring for my precious baby while I work. Parents are needed to volunteer to watch the children so the teachers can meet two or three times a month at lunch time. I don't work nearby, so I must leave my job, drive over, and use my leave to volunteer. The center is frequently closed for special celebrations--anniversary celebrations, auction days, clean up days, special field trips--all which leave me wihtout care and require me to take annual leave from work and impose on my colleagues with my absences. I am continuously asked to donate money for fund raising auctions, awards for teachers, special luncheons, and classroom supplies and wish lists...computers, digital cameras, toys, books and so on. I'll donate for one thing and then turn around and bang ..another request for $$$ has arrived in my email from the daycare. GRRR. IT is nauseating after awhile.

I am glad people are speaking out against all of this foolishness. I can't take it anymore!

Posted by: Tracy | June 6, 2006 4:12 PM

SNK, what a neat post. You grew up in a really special family--and it taught you and your sibling some wonderful values. And I'm sure your family celebrations were much more fun and memorable than what people are doing today.

My question is what are you doing as a parent to give those same wonderful values to your children? It's tougher today to avoid all the hoopla! You don't want your child to feel left out, but you do want to give them down-to-earth values. How do we individually accomplish that within our families when the outside influences are so strong????

Posted by: onlymom | June 6, 2006 4:14 PM

I have a working mom friend who complained to me that the SAHM'ers who run the room projects came up with a brilliant idea for the fundrasier, which personally, for me, fundraisers could be an entirely seperate rantfest, anyhow, at this Farifax school, they decided to do ice cream. My working mom friend dutifully bought her share of icecream.

Then, one day her daughter brought home a letter. It said something to the effect of "The Ice Cream is in. It must be picked up tomorrow, before 5 p.m. as there are no storage facilities to store the ice cream. If it is not picked up before 5 p.m. a $5 charge will be placed on the order for every day it is not picked up.

My friend was absolutely livid. See, she works, and couldn't get to the school before 5 p.m. Neither could her husband. Nobody had said that the ice cream would have to be picked up the day after it arrived, before most people got off of work.

She was so angry, I got an hour-long earful on how inconsiderate and thoughtless those room mothers were, and frankly, I agreed. I became angry at them because I, as a SAHM understand that not all moms stay home, and that many work, and most work til at least 5. I can not believe these women don't know that either. So then I wonder, do they do this intentionally? Does it please them to watch working mothers frantically run around trying to be a part of their children's lives so much they can't make it easier?

Truthfully, I stay home, and I dread the group of moms that live through their children.

However, I am all for the moms in the classroom who are actually helping out, oh, I don't know, in an ACADEMIC way since school is oh, say about academics.... the kids don't need more parties, fundraisers or room mothers to coordinate an entire week of teacher appreciation events. They need more actual academics.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 4:20 PM

Are background checks done on these room mothers?

Posted by: June | June 6, 2006 4:27 PM

Background checks?

HA HA HA HA HA

Do you know how much those cost?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 4:36 PM

We got a note home the other day from the mom of another child in my son's class soliciting money for a teacher's gift. This is for a private preschool - for which I pay plenty of money for my son to attend.

Although I appreciate his teacher very much, she IS getting paid good money to do her JOB. Is anyone taking up a collection for an appreciation gift to give the working parents who take time off to attend events planned in the middle of workdays?

I exercise my right to just say "No!"

Posted by: unbalanced | June 6, 2006 4:42 PM

Speaking of extremes, one mom sent around an email suggesting that we all pitch in to buy a gift for the Room Parent mom to show our appreciation for the good work she had done this last term. For a moment, I thought of suggesting that the parents in turn buy the proposing mom a gift for being so thoughtful towards the Room Parent mom. We could go round and round chasing our own tails forever this way.

Luckily, the idea went nowhere.

Posted by: A dad | June 6, 2006 5:05 PM

An earlier post asked about teachers' perspectives. As the spouse of a teacher, I've seen the price teachers can pay from dealing with the excessively showy, demanding, and pernicious variety of parent involvement that can thrive in affluent communities such as ours. My husband is a high school teacher, and he taught for a few years in Fairfax County in recent years before he took a 20% pay cut to teach in a Catholic school. He is now very happy, finding his days less stressful because of the supportive administration and cohesive community.) Anyway, his encounters with a few extremely pugnacious parents helped drive him to seek his current job. As one example of the parents' obnoxious behavior in his previous school, I'll never forget the time he left our family's beach vacation alone to return to school to help set up for a graduation reception. All year he had been volunteering long hours beyond his school days (and beyond grading papers at night) to serve as a class sponsor (an unpaid assignment, of course). Using his own funds, he had purchased tablecloths and other party-store items that the parents on some committee had told him they needed. That night he called me long-distance to see how our family was doing (at the vacation he was missing). I said something like, "Well, I'm sure the parents really appreciated the sacrifice you've made being there and helping out so much." No, he said, tired and angry. Instead, some demanding mother had yelled at him and fretted all evening that he bought the "wrong kind" of tablecloths. She'd wanted a different fabric. It didn't end there. Rather than thanking him for his time or financial contributions to all the extracurricular events that year (including a car wash fundraiser in which he did most of the work despite having the flu), this parent wrote him a nasty e-mail telling him he'd "ruined" her child's graduation!

Posted by: A teacher's spouse & working mom | June 6, 2006 5:26 PM

This comment is for whoever had a question about the graduation parties. I moved back to Florida recently after being in the D.C. area. I work for a non profit and one of the programs that we run is a government grant for Project Graduation which is the same program of an all night drug and alcohol free celebration for graduating seniors. However, to my knowledge, this program is exclusively handled by us for our two county area and is free of parental interference. We have wealthy and poor schools in our counties and we operate the program for each high school about fifteen in all. We even bring in national figures who graduated from here to go to their former school's Project Grad. Just wanted to let whoever was curious know how a program like this is funded and worked out.

Posted by: Floridian | June 6, 2006 5:26 PM

Thanks, Floridian. I have a feeling that resourceful parents could find the funding for these events without going to extremes or having to donate their own money. Having special guests and such is a good idea, too.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 6, 2006 5:41 PM

I love the cauliflower post. Being of the culture side (what is the opposite of counter-culture?), we grimaced that our yuppie daycare at Avon in Westchester, NY, forbade "processed foods", of any sort. Each week a parent had to bring lunches for everybody. So, all you yuppie Saab-driving commies, I fed your kid McDonalds nuggets and French fries once a week. They loved it, and the teachers never narked to the Brown University director.

The best "special day", though, was Fire Appreciation Day. The local firemen, God bless them, came each year with truck and all accessories. We asked whether a dog (we meant a real Dalmation) would be coming one particular year, just to make conversation.

The California-born teacher explained, "No, last year, the dude came in an outfit, and he took his head off, and the 2-year olds, they FREAKED".

You have to laugh at these folks. Our "Parent of the Year" is a foo-foo bimbo whose son happens to be one of my son's friends. He is "precocious" to a nauseating degree (encouraged by the always immaculate Lisa). He kept goofing at the latest school play while I tried to get a photo of my son, sticking his head in front and being a general normal kid, only about five times too much.

My best Special Forces/Ranger voice came out, and I yelled, with a command voice, "Quit screwing around, Hunter!" For the entire school to hear. It just comes out sometimes.

She apologized. And other parents quietly thanked me for lighting up the "star". They had had about 45 minutes too much Off-Off-Off-Off Broadway vicarious life.

Don't take this crap too serious. The kids don't.

Posted by: GladtobeaDad | June 6, 2006 5:42 PM

During our teacher appreciation week, the student activities committee set up a table outside the cafeteria with pre-printed "Thank You" notes. Students could stop by and fill one out with the teacher's name and what they appreciated. The next day we all got a little stack of personalized thank-yous in our mailboxes. I thought that was sweet. (Note: these are high-schoolers.)
One drawback: like on Valentine's day, how crappy do you feel when you don't get ANY thank-yous?

Posted by: teacherappreciation | June 6, 2006 6:31 PM

These comments are cracking me up! I have seen the trying to outdo everyone else, but at my school in PG county, my principal has said no extravigant birthday parties, we have a party for Halloween and for Valentine's day, kids aren't allowed to dress up for Halloween, the class works on a class project to display.

Parents are not allowed to hover in the classroom, they can come and visit, but they can't stick around and have a conference with me.

Teacher appreciation week is nice, but, honestly, I'd rather have a massage therapist come in and do 20 minute seated massages during lunch.

I teach Pre-K and we had a promotion ceremony (NOT a graduation), kids got a certificate (no caps and gowns, they are 4/5 for goodness sake), a cookie and juice. One of my kids gave me a plant and a card with his picture. That gift means more to me than an expensive lunchon with matching table cloths and flowers.

I'll keep my plant and every time I look at it, I'll think of my guy and what his mom wrote to me, "I couldn't have asked for a better teacher for my son's first year of school. Thank you for all the work you have done."

Posted by: teacherof19 | June 6, 2006 7:42 PM

During teacher appreciation week, during the morning announcements on our in-house cable, kids would talk about how great their teachers were. One of my 5 y/o was picked, but no one prompted her to say how much she loved me and the assistant in the room, instead, she belted out some hymm, along with dance moves and hand motions.

It was too funny!

Posted by: appreciatedteacher | June 6, 2006 8:14 PM

As a part-time teacher, part-time sahm who is lucky enough to work when my kids are in school, I used to laughingly say to my friends that you might as well marry a guy who is younger--they peak at 7th grade anyway. It looks like it works that way for a large percentage of women. The women at my bus stop won't even talk to me! I often see them standing at the bus stop more than an hour after the bus has picked up the kids, chatting about whatever. I used to talk to them, but they just lambaste other kids, drivers, working moms. I started driving my kids to school for a while, so maybe they thought I was a lazy mom.

Posted by: parttimer | June 7, 2006 8:41 AM

Wow.

The very first poster hit the nail on the head about how this phenomenon seems to only be a "problem" in major metropolitan areas. When I read about issues like this, I usually see it as an "East Coast thing"...I am currently going through the "I can't wait for school to be over" thing as well - I have 4 children, 3 of them in school - so things *are* very busy. But most of the stuff that's talked about above I just can't relate to because things are so much more relaxed here in the Pacific Northwest.

I do want to comment on the parents who stated that they only go to their child's school during the day for conferences and all of the nasty comments about "hover parents." One parent also stated that her child's first grade class had 16 students and instructional aides and that she didn't want a parent teaching her child to read.

This kind of attitude frankly disturbs me....I guess I'm someone you would call a "hover parent." I take my kids to school each day and pick them up after school. I walk my kindergarten daughter to her classroom and greet her teacher each day. I spend two hours a week in her classroom. I'm involved in the PTA doing fundraising and other events. I'm currently coordinating chaperones for my 8th grade son's "graduation" school party. (For the record, they're not calling it graduation...but they are having a short ceremony and a party.) I help at the middle school where I can, in the library once a week during lunch and occasionally in the classrooms.

The class sizes here are running in the high 20's for primary, over 30 for intermediate (4-5 grade), and in the mid to upper 30's for middle school. There are not instructional aides in the elementary schools unless there is a special needs child in the classroom, and that aide is there for that child predominantly. Volunteers in the classroom are a *necessity.* Yes, we run photocopies and do other administrative tasks, but we also listen to children read, help them during writing centers and with math, provide "supervision" during computer lab and library time, etc. The teachers welcome and appreciate us because it lessens their burden. I certainly *hope* that other parents welcome and appreciate us because it lowers the student to adult ratio in the classroom and gives *their* child more individual attention. And PTA's don't just fund "silly" things like parties and "days"....we're helping to fund actual certified teachers and programs - art, music, reading specialists, P.E., etc.

If you don't have the time to help in your child's school, or if you simply don't want to, I'm fine with that. But all of us out there who *are* doing it are doing it because we want to help not just our own child but the rest of the children at the school. We're not hovering because we're worried about our child - we're there because we want to be *helpful* and benefit not just our own child but *your* child as well.

My children are independent and well-adjusted and not damaged by my involvement. It's a myth that a parent can't be a volunteer at their child's school without screwing them up and making them a dependent being who doesn't have their "own space." I'm not advocating being at your child's school full time of course, but it's certainly possible to do it without going overboard or hurting your child, other children, or other parents.

Posted by: momof4 | June 7, 2006 9:21 AM

Had to jump in. Because the parents of little guys who are now afraid of school years. I remember thinking, "when he gets to kindergarten everything will be great." But the challenges change. Potty training is hard. Convincing a kid in 2nd grade to stick with the piano lessons is hard. Things just change. And the thing is -- you'll be ready for it. It works out. So don't think ahead too much!!! It just happens!

AND have to give my story about "spirit week" -- that's the week when you have "crazy hair day", "sports jersey day", whatever. My kindergardener got the idea that "dress as your country day" meant he had to dress as a Pilgrim and we don't have black hats etc. around. I forced him to just go to school, tears rolling down his face. Believe it or not, he survived being one of the few uncustomed kids. He doesn't even remember it now. In fact, he learned early that we won't help with costume days so if he wants to dress up he's just to figure it out himself!

I also went to the school office and absolutely reamed them out for wasting my time, the schools time, everyone's time on stupidity such as "pajama day" -- and they looked at me like I had 2 heads. "Kids learn better in a fun evironment," I was told. "Kids want to be part of a team and employers need team players." As an employer, I laughed at them. "What I need from my employees are independant problem solvers not people who need to be told to reboot their computer when it freezes -- and that's what most bright young things seem to be these days." BOY I was mad. They finally said that "no other parent had EVER protested or complained about spirit week."

My son's school no longer has a "dress like your country day" by the way, even though spirit week has expanded to 2 weeks. So I want to tell you all -- Speak UP! Talk to your school's principal! Protest!

Finally, however, I say I'm mystified about the hate toward goodie bags. Trust me, they're not a problem. That's the easy part. And when I was a kid, back in the 70's, I remember getting "goodie bags" or "guest treats" at parties. I don't remember the exact name they were called. My favorite "guest present" I still have! LOL It is also about 100 times easier to have a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese or LaserTag than to clean the house and prepare the food and etc.!!!!

This overall, just a wonderful discussion

Posted by: Rae | June 7, 2006 11:44 AM

They were called party favors.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 7, 2006 4:37 PM

They were called party favors.

YES! That's it. Oh thank you!

Posted by: Rae | June 7, 2006 9:27 PM

At my kids' school parents are not allowed to volunteer in their own child's classroom. So, when I volunteered, I was in another room and not hovering at all, just helping out the teacher.

Posted by: susan | June 7, 2006 9:46 PM

I have to say that as a former teacher now SAHM, I am appalled by some of the insanity some parents are reporting. I personally would love the parent that volunteers to make copies and would probably abhor having a parent disrupt my class on a daily basis with parties and dress-up. Teachers have become very stressed on how much time they actually have in order to teach a concept that any disruption in the classroom is very unwelcome. In my previous school system, parties, costumes, and parents who interfere with the class instruction time are encouraged by the PTA parents, not the school staff. I am impressed by previous posters who have suggested end-of-year and Christmas gifts such as books donated in the teacher's name. What a wonderful idea! I personally don't expect gifts, but I will always remember the ones in which a student gives the gift, not the parent. Example: a wonderful child volunteered to come in on the day after students left for Christmas break and helped cleaned classroom. She organized my bookshelves, cleaned the white boards, etc... Now that is a gift worth giving - no #1 teacher mugs, please!

Posted by: nan | June 8, 2006 9:49 AM

What I find funny is that the crazy room mothers never really change. One mom, who organized our ridiculous, over-the-top kindergarten class parties is now organizing my senior prom next year. I have no doubt it will be just as ridiculous as the halloween parties she orchestrated 13 years ago. That said, I think there is a fine line between parents being obtrusive in the classroom, and being helpful. I have some of my happiest memories of my wonderful mother helping out in the classroom when I was little. I remember absolutely beaming with pride when she would bring in cupcakes or read stories to us, and I know for her, she liked meeting my friends and teacher.

Posted by: ek | June 10, 2006 12:59 PM

I'm not sure that the mania is confined to major metropolita areas. I think the certain definition of, "parenting," prevails in small towns as well, or maybe I just live in a small town full of over achievers. At any rate, several things I've read in these postings really ring true for me, namely that all the room parent carrying on is really more for the parents than for the children, and that teachers don't orchestrate most of it and don't particularly enjoy it either. I've done my share of vounteering in classrooms and chaperoning field trips, but I learned early on that room parenting is not my thing. I guess I'm just not a party girl. I also learned how to say no, mostly to pushy parents who appear to have no real lives away from their kids' schools. I do my share, but there are some things I just don't do.

Posted by: Michigan Mom | June 19, 2006 3:08 PM

"Screw that. If I'm going to spend my time/money/energy, it is for the benefit of MY children. You want socialism, go live someplace else. Geez!!!"

"America-- where selfishness is a cherished value."

Good grief. Please do not blame all of America for this kind of ignorant commentary.

I myself have time/energy/money enough only for my children and my family for my own personal reasons (having nothing to do with selfishness) but if you have any of that to give due to personality differences or whatever, then so be it. I believe it was the harshness of the comment (along with the incorrect usage of the term "socialism") that set people off.

Posted by: KCS | July 6, 2006 7:17 PM

I have been waiting SOOO long to voice my frustrations about this whole topic! I thought it was just me...thank goodness there are many more frustrated and pissed off parents out there who think the whole "keep-up-with-the-Jones'-PTA style" thinking is just crazy.
I stay at home for a reason. Because I want to do just that - stay at home...and do my own thing...on my own time...when and where I want to do it. I DO NOT want to be told or coerced into doing something that I have no interest in doing. This is not to say that my husband and I do not volunteer at our kid's school. Because we do. A lot. We just volunteer our time and talents quietly; without being told to do it, and most certainly without expecting or wanting any recognition for it. The teachers always love what we both have to offer their individuals classes. We always have something fun, unique, and interesting to share with the kids.
Of course, we are never recognized for ever doing anything for the school, because the PTAnals are not aware of our quiet volunteering. We are always ostreacized for"not doing enough", or "you, of all people, should be able to volunteer a lot of time to the school because you stay at home".

Since when is it anyone else's business what I choose to do with my time? Is this any indication that I love my children any less than they do? No. And I for one, do not, will not, and never have caved into their pressure. They may not like me for it, but at least I practice what I preach to my kids: be a leader, be different, and be comfortable and secure doing things your own way.

And as for the birthday parties AKA mini-wedding receptions...complete crap. We have never given into that ridiculous notion, and I assure you that inviting 4 or 5 kids over to our house to run around and play and eat cake at a table set with a paper cloth is all they ever really want. They aare going to remember playing the games that THEY came up with, not the "organized and pre-planned" theme games that their parents spent hours researching and implementing with military precision. And goody bags? Forget it. The only thing our party goers are sent home with is a smile and a frosting-covered face. Ahhh...gotta love the simple life!

Posted by: NC Stay-at-Home-Mom | August 23, 2006 12:15 AM

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