Schools expect far too much from parents

My mum never worked in the tuckshop. She occasionally came on excursions if the teachers asked for helpers. She did lift club (we mostly caught the bus), and would bake for our class cake sale once a year.

We had a concert every two years that my parents would attend.  And at the end of the year, Christmas carols and prize giving were rolled into one.

Other than that my mother was not expected or asked to do anything more for the school, even though, like most of my peers’ mothers, she didn’t work until I was in high school.

My sister and I never felt unsupported, and did fine at school, so why do schools now ask for so much more from parents, even though both parents are far more likely to be working?

Our kids go to the local public school, a good school, with a supportive community, where most of the parents work full or part time. 

We know they want to see us in the crowd, but resent how time consuming school events are.

In any given year we are asked or expected to, make hats for the Easter parade, sell raffle tickets, donate Easter eggs, bake a cake for the school fundraiser, man stalls at the school fundraiser, buy our own Mother’s Day gift, pay for our own Mother’s Day gifts, wrap our own Mother’s Day gifts, serve Mother’s Day morning tea, serve Father’s Day breakfast, help with reading groups, attend two teacher meetings a year, be present when kids get certificates in assembly, be present when kids perform in assembly, be present when the band performs, be present for the school dance performance, create costumes for book week parade, volunteer as class parent, remember nude food day, pay for a sausages when it’s the athletics carnival, fill out the forms for crap school photos, complete a survey for the You Can Do It programme, return all the forms for camp, in-school sport, medical needs, enrichment programmes, ICAS and more, help cater for the Kindy orientation, donate prizes for the Halloween Disco, remember Jersey Day, and Bandana Day, turn up for Education Week morning tea, send them to school in mufti for the year 6 fundraiser, get the little one to the Kindy playdate (with a plate of eats), support the Premier’s Reading Challenge, support the Principle’s Reading Challenge, attend the Triva Night, and recover from the Trivia Night.

Homework can challenge both child and parent. 

That is on top of helping with homework, getting them to their two activities each (the middle one only got one this year because I couldn’t fit another one in) and just getting them to and from school (no easy feat when you have three, both parents work and sometimes travel).

And legally we are required to feed and clothe them too.

Plus, don’t get me started on fostering resilience, watching out for depression and anxiety, making sure they are developing a healthy body image, and are enjoying their childhood.

All on top of maintaining a thin veneer of professionalism.

A few weeks ago I was in the office doing just that, when the school office called to tell me our youngest didn’t have any lunch.

When kids start school, it's not just them who struggle to keep up with the busy schedule.

I was puzzled because that morning she had proudly shown me the lunch she packed, and so I said that she just needed to sort it out herself (that’s how we foster resilience.)

They actually suggested that I could make it to school in time for recess, expecting me to drive across town, during work hours, with a freshly-made sandwich in tow.

Of course there are parents for whom involvement in the school community and their kids’ schooling is a source of great enjoyment.

I salute them and thank them for their dedication and community spirit, and I’m sure our hardworking teachers are very grateful for the ways in which they help ease their load.

But we need to find a better way of supporting our kids’ schooling, because I believe the current model adds undue stress on already overburdened parents.

When I recently realised I had an anxiety problem, and with the help of my GP and a counsellor found a way to deal with it, I suddenly noticed how many other mums were suffering the same thing.

Most women have more productive things to do with their time than making Easter bonnets.

I decided to be open about what I was experiencing, and discovered at least five other women in my circle of mum friends who were facing the same issues. 

At some points we found it debilitating, other times it gets in the way of productive work, or enjoyment, but most consistently it transfers stress onto other members of our families, the very people we are trying to support.

The pressure to constantly do extra stuff for the school is only one cause of these symptoms, and there are numerous other ways we could look at relieving the pressure on working parents, but given that what’s expected from the school is supposed to benefit our kids, we need to acknowledge that there may be unintended consequences.

So here is what I propose: let’s reconsider the need for each and every event on the school calendar and weigh up its value against what is expected from parents.

And you're also expected to deliver treats for the whole class on their birthdays.

Let’s look long and hard at the Mother’s Day gift stall and ask whether it is building community and raising funds, or is a dispiriting event that exploits women’s time in return for unwanted, thoughtless trinkets.

Chocolate raffle? Really? Let’s think about that one a bit harder.

If there’s a need to distribute vast amounts of certificates, can they be done on one day, so parents with three kids and a job don’t have to pick favourites?

And let’s send the certificates digitally, to spare us having to clap for every child who’s getting an award for risk-taking in spelling.

Can't we rather spend the time running free on the beach.

Then let’s find out from the school community what skills they do possess and harness those, so that instead of our kids seeing highly skilled and qualified women whiling away a morning wrapping chocolate hampers, they instead see the trained landscape architect thanked for her beautiful contribution to the school grounds, or the web designer shown appreciation for making the school website more usable.

Each of the events on the school calendar may seem important in their own right, but add them up, and many get in the way of much more important things - like doing paid work, taking the kids to the beach, returning to university, having lunch with mates, or sitting on the couch reading a good book.