Why I Am a Terrible School Parent

I am so proud of myself. Not only did I actually manage to sign up to buy sunglasses for the themed group gift for my son’s first-grade teacher, but I bought them and got them to the room parent (well, OK, my husband helped with that last part). This was a real accomplishment, because I am a terrible school parent.

I only signed up to bring one other thing this year—plates for a party—and then forgot and ended up grabbing whatever I could find at home (half said “Happy Birthday” on them). I haven’t chaperoned a field trip. I’ve never gone to a PTA meeting. I completely missed the notice for the last class presentation. Luckily my husband heard someone talking about it at school drop-off that day and reorganized his schedule so he could go. “All the parents were there,” he said. “Everybody knew about it.”

Not me. I mostly look at the papers that come home in the folder, but some days, well, I don’t. It’s not that I don’t care. I do. I just get distracted and forget.

I felt better when I read Jen Hatmaker’s hilarious blog, “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.”

We are limping, limping across the finish line, folks. I tapped out somewhere in April and at this point, it is a miracle my kids are still even going to school. I haven’t checked homework folders in three weeks, because, well, I just can’t. Cannot. Can. Not.

I didn’t feel a ton better, though, because she says that she was awesome back in October. I’ve been terrible all year.

In my defense, I haven’t always been a terrible school parent. I was pretty darn amazing with my older children, especially the two oldest (who are 22 and 20 now). I signed up for everything. I was on the elementary school site council (I even chaired the search committee for the principal—twice). I chaperoned field trips. I baked for bake sales. I never missed a school notice. My amazingness wasn’t just limited to school; I sewed costumes and made things like hand-painted hats or towel ponchos for birthday party favors.

These days, I order online from Oriental Trading Company.

In part, I’m worn out. This is the fifth time we’ve done first grade. The luster and urgency are gone. I am old and tired, and, truth be told, a bit bored. I have looked at hundreds of homework papers, practiced math facts and spelling words hundreds of times, and sat for countless hours while my children sounded out words in books (I was glad to see Jen Hatmaker complain about that too), drew pictures for reports or made barely recognizable objects out of modeling clay for dioramas. It becomes a blur after a while.

Liam, at the Thanksgiving party (to which I brought birthday plates)

I think, too, that having gone through the teenage years 2.5 times now, I have a different perspective on the elementary years. Given what’s ahead, I know that pacing myself is a good idea. Liam will make it through elementary school whether I look through his folder every day or not. He will learn to read fluently and figure out multiplication and the life cycle of a mealworm. I’ll go to the parent-teacher conferences and pore over his report card and pay more attention, if needed. But as long as he’s doing OK, I’m not going to worry too much if some tasks go lower on the to-do list.

It’s not that Liam isn’t precious to me; he is incredibly precious. I cry unabashedly at school concerts now; there is something about the sound of children singing that wins and breaks my heart, because I am acutely aware of how quickly they will be grown.

That’s just it: it’s all so fleeting. I think that I hold Liam tighter than I held my older ones when they were in first grade because of what I’ve learned over these years. I treasure his hugs and kisses, and his smile undoes me daily. He is a wonder to me; life is a wonder to me. I spend my time with my family differently now.

So, yeah, chances are I’m going to miss more notices. I’m going to forget to turn in a check. I’m not going to manage to sign up to bring supplies as often as some other mothers, I’m unlikely to do a whole lot of volunteering, and what I send in on Liam’s birthday might be really unimaginative. But I can live with that.  I am busy with other things in this wondrous, precious, fleeting life.

5 thoughts on “Why I Am a Terrible School Parent

  1. The parents who can focus on what is real like the joy of your child’s hugs and the Importance of being mentally present while talking to your child is most important to the child’s psyche. Those moms who control the PTA and
    micromanage the nit-picking details are those same mothers who gossip as you wrote out of sheer jealousy of your life and wisdom in raising children. I learned early in first child first grade class what true motivations behind the JOINERS
    does not benefit the child or classroom. When I realized the real meaning behind PTA, Why the funds were raised,
    and where the funds went, I quit PTA out of principle. It is best to ignore these unnecessary busy body groups related
    to pimping out children to raise money for unnecessary causes.

    1. I have been on a PTO board for 3 years and find the above comment out of line. I don’t judge parents who are not involved and expect the same courtesy in return. I work for free for our elementary school to bring enrichment programs, technology, music, field trips and art to the school. To help run a school play involving all ages and to see the children blossom on stage. Not just my child.. all children. Don’t be so quick to judge those that are different from yourself. Shame on you.

    2. As a non-joiner, I completely disagree! The moms who are dedicated to the PTA and do the dull-but-have-to-be-done things like budgeting make it possible for the non-joiners like me to benefit from their hard work. As the family breadwinner I don’t have time to do PTA stuff, but at my sons’ school they are the ones helping to fund field trips and positive behavior incentives that definitely improve the educational experience. I felt guilty about not helping more and tried to attend meetings, but then my 3-year-old started chanting “BURRR-ING” during a financial powerpoint and I made a hasty exit never to return. Maybe you ran into a “mean girl” PTA clique – it happens, I’m sure! – but I don’t think it’s a general rule.

  2. Rainstorm, that’s a bit harsh. Just as there are different types of non-joiners, there are also school-involved parents who are genuinely interested in the kids’ school lives (not in a selfish way). Let’s not go overboard in stereotyping based on your first-grade experience

  3. I was a mother with a great husband like yours. It has now come full cirlce. I did what I could and y husband have 3 highly successful independent children who are fantastic parents themselves. I believe now that my husband and I were roll models back in the early 70’s when I was burning my bra with Gloria Steinam and making brownies for the school bake sale.
    I just retired after 47 years working full time.
    I still have a little guilt but mostly I have pride in raising such fabulous children…..and the bonus for it all is 7 grandchildren to spoil in my retirement.

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