From kindergarten to 11th grade, my mom was involved in my school’s PTA, usually as the president.
While I totally understand her motives for doing it, when I became a mother, I knew that I wasn’t going to follow in her footsteps.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I was her only child, so she was always available to chaperone a school trip or volunteer for a book or bake sale. She was ever-present in school. She’d drop me off, and then she’d pop up randomly throughout my day as she went about volunteering.
It didn’t bother me until fifth grade. That was the first time someone accused me of getting preferential treatment because my mom was always around. Basically, a group of girls felt that the only reason I got a lead in the class play was because my mom volunteered often and therefore was more friendly with my teachers. It definitely could not have been that I was actually talented enough to earn the part on my own. It stung and hung over me like a big, gray cloud for the next few years.
Solos, leads, good grades — none of those were ever because I genuinely deserved them. I spent the better part of junior high resentful, but unable to truly explain why. I didn’t want my mom to think that I didn’t appreciate having her around, but it also felt like she was ruining my social life.
By high school, I had resigned myself to this reality. She was doing it to help me and make sure that I was getting the best possible education I could — I understood that. But couldn’t she have done that and still kept her distance? Sometimes I wanted to be a regular high school student and skip class without being afraid of running into my mom in the cafeteria or having a teacher mention to her that they didn’t see me in class that day (yes, this actually happened).
It was great when my mom got our favorite history teacher reinstated after she was unjustly fired, but then I became the pawn in the war our principal waged on against her. Me being caught in the crossfire was what finally made her step away, and by then, I had already told myself that when I had a kid, I was going to do things differently — very differently.
As my son approaches school age, I’m being forced to confront what level of involvement I want to have in his school experience. As a mom who works from home and for the most part makes her own schedule, I will gladly volunteer to chaperone class trips or whip up treats for bake sales.
I will insert myself where I think it will be most beneficial, but will also do something that my mother never did with me: I will check in with my son and see how he is feeling about me being around. Of course, kids suck sometimes and will find anything to tease their peers about, but if it is something I have some control over, I will do everything I can to validate my son’s feelings by giving him space.
I will not insert myself into his narrative simply because it is what I am expected to do. But if he’s anything like me, I know he won’t tell me the hard truth, so I will look for those clues that will tell me if he’s really okay with having me around, or if he’d rather I take a step back and give him a little more space to make the most of his school experiences. My own parents didn’t ask me how I felt about having my mom around all the time until I was an adult. By then, of course, it was too late to change anything.
Being involved in my son’s education is a given. I will never be neglectful or take his education for granted. I will always make myself available to be reached if he is having problems, and assure that those in power know that I am a very present and involved force in his life. I will always be his biggest cheerleader and protector, but I also think he needs to have his own identity at school. Maybe I don’t have to go on every school trip and be at every PTA meeting. I will never run for a position on a board like that for certain — it’s just not my gig — but I will let whomever is in charge know that I am available if they need me.
I don’t want my entire identity as a parent intertwined in my son’s school identity. I don’t want him to be known as the kid whose mom is constantly floating around (like mine) unless he wants me to be present. As much as I love my mother and appreciated how much she wanted to be involved in my education, I don’t want to be the ghost that lurks in my son’s memories. I want him to know that I will always be there to be his biggest champion and will go to the mat for him whenever I have to, but he gets to draw some of his own boundaries for my parental involvement too.