By Jessica T
Just say noUploaded: Aug 18, 2014
For many, school starts this week. Summer ends, and with it goes the autonomy families enjoy during those precious months. In the summertime, kids have a little more control over their own schedules. They have more unstructured time to catch up on sleep, play with their siblings, enjoy the outdoors, read, or whatever else they wish to do. As we launch ourselves into a new academic year, I cringe at knowing that I will once again have to guard my daughter's sleep, her family time, and her independence.
Every week during the school year is a complex dance for Coach T and me. In our school district, the academic calendar is crammed with events that rely on an army of parent volunteers to pull off. During my youth, I don't recall an academic/social/sport schedule approaching anything like what we are accustomed to now, even though I lived in a high-performing public school district. My school only hosted activities it could support with employed staff (and kids!) What that meant was an annual spaghetti dinner, a science fair, and a spelling bee. And that was plenty for my working mother and father. When my mom went to work, I took the bus and served as a crossing guard for younger children. Lunch was served by the cafeteria staff, not parent volunteers.
My favorite example of non-essential programming is the "postal service" at my daughter's elementary school. Every year we receive a breathless flyer from the parent volunteers running the program. "Please send your children letters through our postal program and encourage your child to send his/her friends letters too!" The creators (and sustainers) of this program seem to have failed to evaluate whether they were filling a legitimate need at school. I often send a well-appointed note to my daughter care of her lunch box. And my daughter and her friends communicate through Docs in their Apps for Education Google Drive accounts. Never mind the fact that we have an actual postal system that kids are free to use!
I wonder if some of these programs are an indulgence of the leisure class. I resent having to explain again and again why Mommy can't go to another school party, school picnic, school family night, school concert, school talent show - the list goes on. Mommy works twelve hour days. When Mommy is at home, she wants to sleep and see her kids (not other parents from the class although they are delightful). Mommy has chosen to live her own life, not yours.
Every year it gets harder and harder to cope. When did parents became so involved with school life? I wonder if we aren't stifling our kids with an onslaught of enrichment activities. I've realized that I need to advocate for my daughter, or else she won't have any unstructured time at all. It's the cumulative effect of a basketball practice that ends at 8 pm to the fifth fundraiser for the Girl Scout troop. Enough is enough: eventually, you have to start saying no.
We've recently said "no" to sleepovers and late night activities just to ensure that our growing daughter gets the sleep she needs. As a result, we often feel like jerks. We also feel like jerks because we can't volunteer to help staff extracurricular events. And we feel like jerks having to excuse our daughter from some activities and pick her up early from others.
Coach T and I are coming to terms with the fact that our job as parents is increasingly about saying "no" to other parents to protect the health of our family. Do other families feel the way we do? Do you go against the grain or is it easier to accept overscheduling as the "new normal?"