PTA Politics.

I’m not trying to launch a political career or anything, but now that my daughter is in the first grade, I’ve decided to join the PTA at her school. I enjoy being involved in my children’s schools; my kids get so excited and feel so important when their mommy is in charge of something, and I like the feeling of being a part of the community. But that being said, as a working mom, it’s not always easy to fit in the meetings, or to find the time for yet another responsibility. At our preschool, the Parents Association was pretty laid back. You did what you could, you came to the meetings you could make, and they were grateful to have any help at all. But at my daughter’s elementary school, the PTA is run like the United States Army. Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of each month. Each committee is expected to give a brief and succinct report. Receipts must be turned in within thirty days. Unlike the harried mothers of two and three year-olds at the preschool, the grade school moms seem to be professional parent volunteers, and they take their jobs extremely seriously. The attitude is not one of gratitude, but rather, of expectation. As in, ask not what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school. Or, to be more exact, as in, your child attends this school, and if you want your child to have a good experience here, then you’d better get off your lazy ass and pitch in, or else don’t even think about complaining, bitches. I’ll be honest: it’s more than a little intimidating.


But nonetheless, I enlisted. Well, okay, techinically, I was recruited. At the end of last year, I was called by the former PTA President, who explained that, now that I’ve had a year to “sit back and see how things work,” I should really think about chairing a committee. I told her that I was slightly wary of committing to something like that, since I also have a job and a four year old at home. But she assured me that the PTA was friendly towards working moms. I’m a doctor with a full time practice and four kids, she said, not a little impatiently, and I’ve chaired every committee there is. And I was like, well, that’s just fantastic. There goes my cover. I mean, what do you say to something like that? Sorry, but my two kids and my part-time job as a writer are more demanding than you could possibly understand? Uh, no. What you say is Sir, yes Sir, may I have another.


And so, cut to: last Tuesday, the day before the first day of school. I’m crammed into a pint-sized chair in the school library, with about forty or so other moms, plus two dads. The new PTA President is at the head of the table: blonde, no-nonsense, and totally devoted to making our school the best it can be.



I can not believe the PTA pres acted that way!


First, can't believe the PTA pres. did that!
I found your post hilarious -- mainly because it's the exact opposite of my experience with the PTA. (I think your experience is more typical, by the way.)
My kids attend an inner-city school because their liberal activist parents believe in putting our money where are mouths are. So I'm the new PTA president, and we basically have to beg anyone to attend the meetings -- let alone do anything. Our school has a poverty rate of 70 percent, and a refugee population fo about 20 percent. So we're dealing with families who are on the edge, don't speak English, just fled genocide in a foreign land.
It makes for an interesting experience. I can't guilt any of the other moms into helping out because they are facing obstacles I could never even imagine -- being in a new country, living in substandard housing, not speaking the language.
Thanks for making me smile.


Oh and by the way, as a PTA President who probably says dumb things all the time...I would hope that people would tell me when I have (in the nicest, gentlest way). Sometimes these stereotypes are in us and we don't want them to be. We just forget. Gentle reminders help us be better people. :-)


As the school year started, I remember my first meeting of "Room Parents" at my son's elementary school. I write that in quotation marks because it was only women -- only "room mothers." When I asked another woman if there were any men who were "room parents" she asked me, "Why? Are you single?"
Um, no. And if I was, I wouldn't be trolling the Room Parent meeting to find available men.


When I was a full-time outside the home worker as VP of Marketing at a large bank, I didn't have time for the "games". And now as a SAHM who is President of the PTA of her daughter's school (she's a 2nd grader now) I still don't have time for the bashing games. But we're lucky. We're at a fantastic school with about 370 students so it feels more like family. I'm just as busy as a SAHM (who is starting a consulting business) as I was full-time working. So I know how busy everyone is no matter what! I am amazed by all the people who do find time in their busy schedules to volunteer and I'm so grateful. Your daughter is so lucky to have you there. Studies show that students who have parents who get involved tend to do better in school. I think it's basically showing your kids that you believe education is important and volunteering is a great way to demonstrate that. And rise above the daily politics of your own school. PTA does amazing things. They helped bring on hot lunches, seatbelt laws, mandatory immunizations and kindergarten...and SO much more. I've seen PTA leaders go on in their late years to continue their work in other countries like Africa...all to better the lives of children and their families. PTA is the largest child/education advocate organization in the world. I am honored to be with such a great organization and hope to continue my PTA "career" to the state and maybe national level one day! (BTW, always say how much you enjoy your volunteer's MUCH easier to find a replacement than if you complained about it! :-)


That's great he had that reaction-- what a pleasant surprise! Someone should buy him a cookie or something.


I change my former response, which said that my school would never be that way. My supposedly diverse school which is supposedly accepting of working moms just declared to me who the room parents are ... 3 stay at home moms, of course. And that band of three just booked a "mommy get together" the same night as the fabulous mommy track'd event in San Francisco! Sigh. It just goes to show that no school is immune from insensitivity to working parents.

leslie morgan s...

Leslie Morgan Steiner

I love you, Risa! Thanks for telling it like it is. My school is different -- only 600 kids grades K-12, and pretty accepting of moms and dads all along the work-home spectrum. But I face a lot of assumptions and gender stereotypes as a working mom, and I am very grateful to your sense of humor, candor and attitude. You are an infiltrator -- now you can change the PTA from within (and don't wait for that dad to send his email -- what if he decides he doesn't want to rock the boat either?)


Wow! I cannot believe the mom group would run like that. I would NEVER treat my working friends that way. I am a happy stay at home mom, and I love what I do, but I know that not everyone can or wants to stay at home like me. As I've said many times before, we should celebrate our similarities, not bash each other over the head because of differences. If someone I knew pulled a crappy stunt like that, I would be in their face about how rude that was!

Feel free to join my PTA meetings. As a homeschool mom, they are usually the small breaks when the girls walk the dog, where I sit down for 5 minutes and have some ice water and something to eat. I'll be happy to discuss parenting, education, and anything else you like without being anal and acting like your job as a working mom is less of a job than a working dad. I certainly won't act like being a working mom is less important or more horrible than being a SAHM.

As I've told my sister many times, it's not my place to question other people's choices. Only they can say what works for them. I am absolutely shocked to see people, women in particular, question other women's choices when they would never question a man the same way. It is a big disservice to women. I like the fact that I am able to choose to be a stay at home mom, not just be told this is the role a woman should have. I like the fact that I am not forced to be "barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen as a women should be", or whatever. I like the fact that my girls will have a choice when they get older.

I certainly would never put another woman down for living her life, making choices that are best for her and her family. What a shame that anyone would be treated like that! If you need a breath of fresh air and a dose of REAL life, come on over for a chat. No mommy wars here, just mommy friendship. :)


Your story couldn't have arrived at a better time! My daughter is also in 1st Grade and I also received the "volunteer or die" recruitment guilt call. I signed on as the VP of Fundraising and soon learned that I have a $250K goal for the year! Our first Exec Staff meeting (which I left work early for) was interesting and as we tried to figure out when we were going to meet next, the PTA President announced, "As we know, Jane WORKS outside of the home. I respect her decision to do that, but I don't know how many meetings we'll be able to have at night to accommodate HER schedule." Talk about crappy early initiation. I asked my SAHH (Stay at home husband) if he'd go to the meetings for me and he said he'd rather have a root canal.

Our first official PTA meeting is tonight and my PPT slides aren't done, so I better finish those before I get back to my REAL job!