Oh, the PTA. The bastion of competitive motherhood. Childrearing and housewifery as an art form. There’s nothing more domestic than a parent teacher organization.
My own mother was the president of my school’s PTA. She was an uber-mom, back in her stay-at-home heyday. Then she decided to go back to school and become a teacher.
Getting involved in the PTA is wonderful. It’s important. We all know that volunteering at our kids’ schools is a wonderful thing to do. But let’s all be honest. That competitive mom business isn’t always enjoyable. In fact, the PTA can be daunting at best, awful at worst for a parent who isn’t interested in proving themselves to be Supermom.
Don’t worry laid-back moms! Mommyish is here with a navigational guide to your parent teacher organization. We’ll teach you how to keep your head down and even enjoy those monthly meetings.
Pro Tip: She’s the woman who asked you multiple times in the last week if you would be attending tonight’s meeting. Also, if she’s not leading the meeting herself, she’ll be speaking up pretty quickly to offer her oh-so-needed advice.
You need to quickly identify the Sanctimommy so that you can avoid her, as well as anyone with sits within a two-seat radius of her. The only reason to engage this PTA stand-by is if you plan on looking at school involvement as a competitive sport. If that’s not your goal, then avoiding the Sanctimommy is step number one. Defer to her dominance. It’ll save you so much trouble.
Step 2: Join The Subcommittee With The Least People
Pro Tip: Less people might mean a little more work, but it’s less drama. We’ll take hard work over to hard-to-deal-with-parents any day.
Find the project or subcommittee that only one or two other people have agreed to work on. Not only will you be seen as helping out in a struggling area and taking on a less-glamorous job, you won’t have to deal with the hyperactivity of the more ambition parents in the PTA. They’ll be content to let you glide along, controlling your un-fancy but still necessary task. Even better, you can bet that the other people who signed up for this assignment are just as low-key as you are!
Pro Tip: Bring some khakis and a sweater in the car if you don’t have time to stop home. But never, ever, ever show up in your business casual.
You might not think that suit jacket is a big deal, but it tells all of the other parents that you just came from some super important meeting and definitely don’t have much time to spare. It’s sad to assume that there might be stay-at-home parents who would look down on the commitment of a working parent, but when it comes to school-time volunteering, you just want to play it safe. Wearing your work clothes into the PTA meeting is just asking for a little old school mommy wars.
Pro Tip: Offer to bring paper products or drinks. Offer to serve the food instead of staying back in the kitchen. Just never cook.
There is always a mother who bakes it better, cooks it differently, or has a secret family recipe that you just couldn’t compete with. Cooking turns even the most mild-mannered moms into fierce competitors. It’s a rat race that almost never has a happy ending. The best advice is to get involved in any other project. Once again, you’ll save yourself a lot of drama.
Pro Tip: Pull out a secret skill and then stick with it, for years if necessary. You’ll always know what’s expected of you. You won’t get stuck with a job that you don’t know how to do or don’t like.
My sister-in-law knows how to make balloon animals. At every school event, she can be found with a booth making hats and swords and flowers and fishing poles with little balloon fish at the end of them. People found out that she could make these things and now that’s her shtick. Personally, I’m the lady in charge of the newsletter. I’m a writer. I know my way around the computer. That’s my shtick.
Find your shtick. Then you won’t have to worry about the random jobs that can get thrown at people. You can just say, “Sorry I can’t coordinate the silent auction, I always handle the balloon animals.”
Pro Tip: Instead of throwing in $20 to every random request that comes your way, just give one big charitable contribution. That way, it’ll be easier to remember and write off on your taxes.
School budgets are not forgiving. These schools need those contributions. It’s all going to a good cause. And there’s the added bonus that generosity goes a long way in the PTA politics. Making a nice donation will help your kids school, but it will also show the parental hierarchy that you’re committed. They’ll be thankful for every second they don’t have to spend begging for funds from local businesses and worn out parents. If you’re able to swing it, a nice PTA donation could make the whole experience more enjoyable. And ya know… it benefits a good cause.
Pro Tip: The more fun, laid back parents you get to join your PTA, the more you might actually enjoy the process of volunteering. And wouldn’t that be nice?
You don’t want to turn into that mom asking people multiple times a week, “Are you coming to the PTA meeting?” But that doesn’t mean that you can’t mention to some mom friends how much you could use their help organizing an event or a fundraiser. If you get some non-competitive, cheerful moms to join your group, it’ll make the entire experience better! At the very least, you’ll have someone to roll your eyes at when Sanctimommy gets extra preachy.