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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Schools & the PTA: Too Hard on Working Parents?

Having dropped my three children off at school, I was headed back to my home office to work like mad. I only had a precious few hours until the three maniacs - ages 8, 8 and 5 -- returned, making the completion of my assignments, well, let's just say . . . challenging.

While I was mentally reviewing my to-do list, a public service announcement came on the radio. The announcer had a quiz for parents. She asked when was the last time your child watched a TV show, a movie or televised sports: The previous night, during the past week, the past month, etc. Then she asked when you, the parent, had last been in your child's school. The message was clear. If your kid watched a cartoon or the local sports team on TV -- while you were desperately trying to get dinner on the table - and you hadn't been inside your kid's school in the past month, you're a bad parent who obviously cares more about boosting the ratings on Nickelodeon and ESPN than in supporting your child's education.

Then I started to get angry.

As I drove home, I became very defensive as I reviewed the volunteering I'd been able to squeeze into my working mom life as a writer, columnist, blogger and adjunct journalism instructor at a university. During this school year, I've managed to go into all of my children's classrooms to read, as has my husband who has a job several towns away. I change the messages on the marquee at a school once a month and attend my kids' big school events. Not including school, I coach my daughter in soccer and have just started volunteering as an assistant teacher at our church's Sunday school. My husband coaches both of our sons in soccer and baseball and just finished his assistant teaching session at Sunday school. Both of us work AND love our kids, but, at the time I heard the ad, neither my husband nor I had been inside an elementary school in recent weeks and, according to the national PTA [1] ad, that meant we weren't doing enough.

Well, I, for one, have had enough.

I've had enough of groups judging parents - particularly parents who have work obligations during school hours - and telling us either directly through public service ads, or indirectly through social pressure, that we're failures if we don't allocate our time the way some PTA groups think we should. Here's an excerpt from the PTA's web page describing the reason for its Ad Council campaign [2]:

"Only one in four parents are actively involved in their children's school. That number shrinks to one in nine among working parents, according to the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). When parents are involved in their children's education, studies show that students generally have higher grades and test scores, better attendance and self-esteem, higher graduation rates and are more likely to go to college."

I don't quibble with the fact that the more involved the parents are in general and across the board (not simply INSIDE school buildings), the better off the kids will be. I also don't have a problem with people who want to spend tons of time in the schools volunteering. That's their prerogative. Bully for the one in nine working parents who is able to fit it into their schedules. However I get my back up when I hear ads like the "quiz" ad and when I'm constantly barraged with solicitations to volunteer at my kids' school to do things that don't directly relate to my children's education, as if a parent's time earning a living for a family is a bad thing because that means the parent doesn't have time to do the recycling in the teacher's lounge at your kid's school. Or to work for free in the school library. Or in the computer lab. Or to make photocopies. Or to put up and take down classroom displays.

I'm not exaggerating. My kids' schools - which I am grateful to say provide my children with high quality instruction - have asked parents (let's be real now, they're asking moms) to volunteer to do janitorial, assistant, IT and librarian work. Because parental involvement is good. Because it's "for the children."

Working parents are just trying to get through their days. In a case like mine where I'm fortunate enough to work from home, by the time my children finish school I've still got work to do. Nonetheless, I stop and get them after-school snacks, discuss their days, read through the 4,000 school papers they've brought home, make sure they understand and do their homework before I walk down the hall to my office to try to tackle some more work. Then, depending on how much I get done, I throw together a meal, check the homework, get them bathed, into pajamas and into bed. My spouse gets home in time to eat dinner (sometimes), bathe them, get them into PJs and escort them to bed.

It's time for schools and for organizations that supposedly want to forge connections between parents and teachers to recognize that we live in a society where vast numbers of families have parents who work during school hours. And instead of judging people for the fact that they're working, why not support and encourage THEM rather than piling on. I'd feel a lot better about a partnership with the schools if they didn't simply look at parents as either free labor or bad parents because they have work to do.

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