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 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:

"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."