I'm A Room Parent Not Your Child's Social Secretary

Don’t even try to delegate your tasks to me.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

I was in awe of room parents when my oldest started school. These parents, almost always mothers, seemed to have access to all kinds of insider information. They knew when my child’s classroom was running low on Clorox wipes or tissues and sprung into action to make sure our children weren’t forced to wipe runny noses on their shirtsleeves. At the end of the year, I was relieved when they organized end-of-year gifts for teachers and staff, taking the guesswork out of the process.

Even though I rarely spoke to these hard-working women, I saw their names in my inbox at least once a week throughout the school year. I admired their dedication and felt guilty when they sent out a reminder about a permission slip I had forgotten to sign or when I lazily signed up to contribute napkins to a class party rather than bring in homemade treats.

Eventually, because my kids wound up in classes where no one else wanted to volunteer, I became a room parent myself. I didn’t want my kids to go without pizza parties and I wanted their teachers to feel supported. Sometimes, I’m even a room parent for more than one child’s class at a time. Mostly, I enjoy the role. I like being able to get to know my children’s teachers outside of parent-teacher conferences. I like spending extra time in my children’s classrooms.

I'm happy to do it, but there's one thing I won't do: run your kid's social life.

My role as a room parent, as I see it, is to support my children’s teachers, to make their jobs a little easier. Teachers shouldn’t have to run to Costco after work for supplies or send endless reminders to parents about costumes for the first grade play. I am there to step in so that teachers can focus on creating lesson plans and grading assignments without burning out.

But I have my limits. At some point, the role of a room parent seems to have gotten lost in translation. Parents started reaching out to me for help with arranging activities for their kid’s outside of school.

For instance, one parent asked if I could pass along a birthday party invite to three specific kids — and my child wasn’t one of them, either. (I had never met this parent in person.) When I explained that I could not send out birthday party invitations for her because my role is limited to supporting class activities, she asked if I could look up their parents’ email addresses for her.

That was also a no, but I reminded this parent that each year the school published a directory with this information so she could easily find it herself.

“I don’t have the directory with me so I was hoping you could it,” she replied.

I did not have the directory with me either and told the parent that it would be impossible for me to help plan birthday parties for all 22 students in our children’s class. “Ok,” she replied, but I was left with the impression that she did not think this was okay at all.

The next day another parent I barely knew, whose child was not in my child’s class, asked me to look up yet another email address for her. She wanted to arrange a playdate for her son, a playdate to which my son was not invited.

Yet another parent asked me to intercede on her child’s behalf about a slight from a teacher she thought was unfair. While I had sympathy for her situation, it was an issue unique to that child that needed to be handled by that child’s parents. It wasn’t my job or my place to get involved.

I get it. Parents are all busy and pulled in too many directions. I’ve often thought it would be helpful to have someone to take on the mundane administrative tasks of parenthood, like planning playdates. But room parents are busy too. Some of us are working moms, some of us have other kids to tend to, and all of us shouldn’t have to. We are made busier by the volunteer work we take on to make school a little nicer for everyone, not just our own children.

So please stop asking us to be your child’s social secretary or advocate too. I’ve seen too many room parents bow out of the role altogether, frustrated by these types of demands. I am a room parent because I want to be. Your child benefits when schools have active, involved parents, as does mine. But I am begging my fellow parents to respect the limits of the role, or there won’t be any room parents left.

Jamie Davis Smith is a mother of four in Washington, DC. She is an attorney and explorer who always has a bag packed. Jamie has written for Travel & Leisure, USA Today, the Washington Post, Fodor's Travel, Viator, Yahoo, the Huffington Post, Romper, Tinybeans, Insider, The Expedition, and Reviewed among many other publications.