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10 to Twins

By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Just say no

Uploaded: 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?"

Comments

Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Aug 19, 2014 at 8:28 am

Thank you for writing this and for being brave enough to make a stand, because being brave is what you have to do and I know from experience it isn't easy. This has to be said and has to be talked about. It is getting completely out of hand.

There is a lot I could say to this but I won't say much. The only comment is that in your situation you only have one child in this arena. You can only imagine how this translates with a second, or in my case with 4. I have had to say I can only do one thing to help with each child and yes sometimes I have had to tag a toddler along (rather than leaving the toddler with a babysitter which is what I have been "expected" to do.)

And because I don't have a job outside the family (I work hard enough to have the energy for paid employment), it doesn't mean that I have all day with nothing to do so can do all the things I am asked to help with!


Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Aug 19, 2014 at 11:34 am

Jessica - All these school related activities - and there are a lot - accomplish something very important that I think you aren't considering. They build a community of students AND of parents. As a parent with kids in high school and college, I have found that this community is even more valuable as your kids get older and more independent. Having other, trusted adults in their lives, many of them parents who my kids met way back in elementary school, has provided both support and enrichment for our whole family.

I'm assume that when you "wonder if some of these programs are an indulgence of the leisure class" you are talking about parents without paid jobs. The stay at home AND employed parents I know are hard working and are certainly not "leisure class". And while my kids were in elementary school, employed parents somehow made time in their schedules for the "school party, school picnic, school family night, school concert, school talent show" that you resent. Even parents that often worked 12 hour days. And it is sad statement to your children that "Mommy has chosen to live her own life, not yours". You chose to have your children, they are part of your life.

Ironically in reference to your post about Venture Capital, the network of parents that we met through my children's elementary school and through volunteering with our kids schools and the school district has led to funding start-ups, starting companies, job opportunities, etc. People would joke that you could start a company, get it funded and gather a board of directors at any school function. And this is a public school. So perhaps you are not only missing an opportunity to build a community of fellow parents, you may also miss making valuable business contacts.

Protecting your daughter from being over scheduled is important and we did the same with our kids. But what you are saying to your daughter when you don't attend school events, express resentment that they exist and call these events "an indulgence of the leisure class" is that work is more important than her. Us grown-ups know that is not true, but actions speak louder than words to your kids.


Posted by Katie, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm

What I found worked for me was to handle what I could and yes I did work and try to fill in where ever I could not always something every day. It all evens out!


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Readers - thanks for your comments. Mother of 4 - I'm impressed with your ability to juggle having multiple kids in the system. It's also reaffirming to know this issue impacts all families not only those who have two working parents. Palo Alto Parent - your feedback brought me back to the wonderful intentions of many of these activities and the strong network we can build by way of living in this area and by participating more actively in our children's lives. When I have been able to participate in school activities, these connections with other parents have been valuable. I'm also glad you brought up the unintended impression I may be making on my daughter resenting school events and not attending them. This is something I can address now for her and certainly with the twins. What I struggle with is being able to attend 3 fifth grade graduation events...I was able to prioritize one this year - three seemed, well, over the top. Katie's point is the one I live by - we all do the best we can and eventually everything evens out.


Posted by Single Working Mom, a resident of Adobe-Meadows,
on Aug 20, 2014 at 10:17 pm

This is a relevant and poignant article: Web Link

We all want what's best for our kids. Sometimes I get resentful when important events are scheduled at a very tough time -- it can feel like the kids of working parents are being set up to be left out. I recall a summer camp with a 2pm Friday end-of-week performance. That really bugged me.

Fortunately, I at least find the main school activities to be at convenient times (evenings or first thing in the morning), and I really, really appreciate it. THANK YOU to all the people who make it possible for us to be with our kids at these events.


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 21, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Single Working Mom - I hear you. I never, ever make the 2 pm Friday performances at summer camp. Great to hear that your school activities are usually scheduled at convenient times for recent parents. Taking an afternoon or morning to attend one of these activities is usually no big deal and something we all want to do. Taking several morning/afternoons off on a given week is quite another thing.


Posted by Ms. Jenson, a resident of Whisman Station,
on Aug 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm

We are in our very first week of school, and I've already been asked to volunteer for 3 different activities! Wow. Add in that I am missing her kinder Back to School Night (daddy will go) to be there for my own students' parents, and I am feeling serious mommy guilt! *sigh* This post reminded me that I'm not alone in protecting the family time that we are lucky enough to be able to have. Thanks!


Posted by perspectives, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 24, 2014 at 8:49 pm

I agree with many parts of your article. The Bay Area does often seem like volunteerism/extra-curriculars on steroids. Was never this way for me growing up (I'm not from here, but still). I also feel twangs of guilt every time I say "no" to things. But as the years have passed, I've learned to feel confident that I can make the best choices for my family and not just go with the strong flow of the rest of the crowd. It's liberating to choose.

However, as a stay-at-home mom to 4 young kids, your multiple inferences to "the leisure class" and "recent parents" I find off-putting. I end up taking away from both your article, and your following posts, that somehow those moms like yourself who work outside the home have it the worst. And that your lives are so much busier and more important (the comment about living your own life and not your child's for example). I live my own life. I happen to have 4 children. I have chosen to raise them myself and not give that job to a nanny. That in no way makes me less of an individual who lives the life of a child. I would wager that many, if not most, mothers around this area who work outside the home have, in some way, chosen to do so. As opposed to being forced to because their family cannot make ends meet. But regardless, it might be good to think about how your views can come across to those like myself. I assure you- being home with 4 young kids is not as simple as you may think. Twins or no twins.


Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 9:53 am

Jessica T - One of the reasons we have such great school in this area is because of parent volunteers. The teachers feel supported and have more time to be teachers instead of lunch monitors, cooks, event planners, etc. Instead of resenting those parents and events, perhaps you could just be thankful that some parents have the time and energy to contribute. Perspective is right, you may want to consider how your views come across to other adults, especially those who will interact with your family. If your child was at the same school as mine, your condescending attitude would offend me. Attitude is so important and makes a big statement to our kids. Missing an event at your child's school is not the issue, things come up, life happens. How you handle missing the event is the issue.


Posted by Local Gurl, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:11 am

I was a single parent raising my son in Palo Alto, which I could barely afford but which offered excellent schools. I just did not have the luxury of taking multiple afternoons and mornings off from my job in order to either volunteer at school or attend special events in which my son participated. It was heartbreaking and I felt guilty all the time, even when I was doing my best. I contributed cash whenever I could, which wasn't as often as I would have liked, and I avoided answering the phone when the "super volunteer" (every school has one) called me to ask for help on the playground, with the bake sale, with the school fair, the book drive, and on and on.

The pressure from other parents and the judgment of those same parents that somehow I wasn't good enough because I didn't do what or as much as they did was crushing. My son is now an adult and we talked some time ago about his recollections of that time. What he said made me tear up . . . "Mom, I always knew that you did the best you could for me."


Posted by local gurl, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 11:13 am

And "perspectives", I think you are mistaken about choice versus necessity re working outside the home. JMHO


Posted by Mother of 4 , a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 12:22 pm

As this has become a "us" v "them" debate, which doesn't surprise me as I have been involved in these many times, usually at planning sessions, or on group emails, I think there should be a discussion on this topic and an anonymous discussion is a good idea.

The fact that all the volunteering is what makes the schools here great, is not something that can be quantified easily, but the types of things being done by volunteers may promote community, but are often a needless traditional carry on to the past. Do we all "need" a back to school social for the whole school as well as a classroom "potluck"? Does the Kinder/First Grade field trip to a pumpkin patch form a true educational trip since most pumpkin patches do not even have the pumpkins growing in the dirt, but are part of bouncy castles, train rides and haunted houses.?

It is about time that some of the traditional parent volunteer requests were reassessed. The description of a "postal system" described in the original post has almost no value to the well being of the child and educational value.

I think it is a good question to ask our school PTAs? Do we really need as many social, performance, bake sales, etc. etc. as we have. Can some of these be combined? For example, can a Halloween Parade be an evening costume event combined with say a book sale/bake sale/school potluck rather than four separate events?

Our schools are great, parents do help to make them so, but quality parental participation rather than quantity are much easier for busy calendars for weary parents.


Posted by MPCSD Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm

Jessica,
I enjoy reading your blog, although I don't always see eye to eye with you. Of course, I have been a stay-at-home mom for the majority of my children's lives, so you and I have different life experiences.

But I am with you on this topic all the way! Due to corporate moves, this is the fourth school district that we've attended in three very different regions of the country, and it wins the prize (by far!) in over-the-top volunteering, school-sponsored social functions, and (my personal favorite) charity drives. When I had to attend a two plus hour meeting on how to be a room mom (excuse me, one of three room moms, because apparently it's too big a job for just one person) I was disheartened. When my daughter's grade school hosted something like six or seven "drives" per year (food drive, coat drive, penny drive, soccer gear for third world country drive, book drive...etc) I was overwhelmed...and filled with guilt when I couldn't keep up and remember to send the needed items. I've had to let all that go, and make decisions based on what works for me, and not based on what others feel needed to be added to the program.

Just as I look at the "suggested donation" for each school's PTO and/or Foundation and consider it against our family budget before making a decision on what to give, my husband and I make our decisions about volunteering/school social events/etc, based on what is right for the health of our family...all our family, included the two of us, and not based on what the powers-that-be decided to add to the school calendar. There is nothing wrong with your children knowing that ALL decisions don't revolve around them. "Sorry, sweetie, but Daddy has been traveling non-stop for two weeks, so we are spending family time here, rather than the Luau/BBQ/Fiesta at school."

Jessica, never feel guilty about wanting to have a life for you, too, not just for your kids. As long as there is plenty of love in your house, your kids will thrive. (And, personally, I believe will be more well rounded adults.)


Posted by Robert, a resident of Midtown,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 3:31 pm

To make this a terrific community to live in, you have to decide how to be part of the community. You have to give, and you'll get back more than you give. It's not just the schools and PTA, it's also youth sports, church youth groups or committees, city government boards and commissions, bike club leaders, Environmental Volunteers and Acterra, FOPAL and Canopy, the community gardens people, Art Center folk, and on and on. Sure, you cannot do everything, and you do not have to do PTA, but if somebody asks, think about the ways your family is contributing to our community. When I've told volunteer coordinators I cannot help out with science fair, because I'm already busy with work, family time, and (in March) basketball coaching, saying No is easy, and understood. When someone says "I work at Apple and have no time for this" (a line I heard second hand at least 15 years ago. Maybe Apple has changed...) it's pathetic.


Posted by perspectives, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 25, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Local gurl- I respect your vantage point re: the choice (or not) of the second parent working outside the home in the Bay Area. And as a single parent of course you had no choice. I am amazed at what it would take for one parent to raise their children and kudos to you for sure. It sounds like you did a great job from what your child told you recently and you should feel proud.

However, I wasn't referring to single parents around here with my comment. I am referring to the second parent also working outside the home. I stand by my opinion that most of the ones around here choose to do so. As opposed to needing to financially. I believe this because a) in nearly all of the cases that I personally know this is true, and b) it defies my logic that there is a true financial burden, to be addressed by the second parent working, in order to buy a $2mill house.

All of this to say that when a working mom in a two parent household- here in the Bay Area-complains about how busy they are and how hard it is to manage kids and a job, I have limited sympathy beyond what I would offer ANY mom (who is not single) here in the Bay Area. We've all made choices. It's hard. I get it. Its hard for all of us. And certainly if you have a lot of kids.

We can ALL only do the best we can- volunteering, making time for family, planning meals to eat together, being social, helping with homework, etc. No judgement, or inferred judgement, needed towards those who have chosen to take a pause from our corporate careers to stay at home with the kids while they're young. And- as I said before- I do have a life.


Posted by Jessica T, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Aug 26, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Perspectives,

I think your notion that most people living in our community do not need to have two working parents is naive. Our community is made up of the 99% (not only the 1%). As someone married to a public school professor, I can assure you that two incomes are needed in my household. This has never been a matter of choice for us and will never be. I'm sure that there are many teachers, nurses, and blue collar workers in our community who face a similar reality.


Posted by perspectives, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Aug 26, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Jessica,

I read your words "Mommy works twelve hour days....Mommy has chosen to have her own life, not yours" and understand that to mean you agreed that it was at some level a choice for you.

This is obviously a sensitive topic and I don't want to further online dissent. However, I think you've misunderstood what I've been trying to say. When I say that I feel most (not all) mothers here choose to work outside the home, I am pointing out that we live in one of the most expensive areas in the entire country. My comment about the $2mill house is not at all implying one parent around here should be able to afford that. I'm saying that even though one partner might have a blue collar job, or hasn't made millions from an IPO, they still generally choose to live where a modest house costs that much, and make choices accordingly. For understandable reasons perhaps- like family, other partner likes their job, etc. But these all are part of some level of prioritizing and choice. There are of course exceptions, and I've never said "all".

I've never judged a working partners' choice, I pointed out only that I believe it is heavily a choice in this area. I choose to live here, I've chosen to stay home, and I own both choices. Who's to say my family, or others, don't accept significant financial set-backs b/c of it. Certainly not all of us are "leisure class". That, I would say, is naive.

I strongly considered continuing my work outside the home. I respect mothers who made that decision equally as those who have decided to stay at home. But I didn't take away that you feel the same. Saying you've chosen to have your own life, not your kids', strikes me as condescending.

As I said originally, I agree with many of your views on the pumped-up, often unrealistic expectations of social and extracurricular school activities. Probably your intended focus of the article. But your tone and several comments were a bit provocative and that overshadowed the other focus for me. I only want to point out that parents who stay at home, and parents who do not, all share in these same pressures, and it was frustrating to feel judged as leisure class, and a mother without my own life.


Posted by Palo Alto Parent, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Aug 30, 2014 at 11:15 am

Jessica - Back to the topic of too many events and their timing, several working moms (and there are more as your kids get older) suggested moving some events to the evening, such as parent support groups, PTA meetings, etc. When my kids were in elementary school, a few parents asked the PTA to discuss consolidating and reducing the number of events for all the reasons you mentioned. But they did it in a non-condescending manner and it happened. (And I totally agree that three 5th grade promotion events are two too many!)

You have obviously achieved success in the business world, use some of those negotiating skills to help solve the problem instead of just complaining.

@perspectives - I agree that many of the two parent working families in this area are both working by "choice" since they have chosen to live in one of the most expensive areas in the country. Even moving to Fremont or Sunnyvale would ease the financial burden.


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