Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back-to-School Primer for Adults.

With the kids back in school, this feels like the perfect time to write a back-to-school primer. Not the kind that lists cool new school supplies, anticipated curriculum or fall fashion. Nope, this is a back-to-school primer for the parents. 

In my experience there are two categories of parents. Those who work and those who don't.

No matter which camp you fall into there are certain unintentional statements which function as the verbal equivalant of rubbing salt in someone's eyes.

In the interest of preserving eyes and avoiding rants from some of my close friends, today's blog will focus on the verbal minefields to avoid if you happen to be talking to a working parent. On Friday, the viewpoint will be flipped for the stay at home parents.

1. I know you wish you could see your working parent friends more, but please whatever you do, don't ask, "How come we never see you around school?"

There's a reason you never see them at school. They're working. Doing that thing required to pay bills, buy food and insure the general survival of their family. By asking them why you never see them around you are a.) making them feel guilty and b.) making them happy they aren't around school more so they can avoid seeing you.

2. If you're not paying the nanny, hands off.

I know it's tempting to ask your working parent friends if their nanny can pick your kids up from school/take them to a soccer game/piano lessons/host a play date but unless you're planning on full reciprocation you need to fight that temptation.

The purpose of a nanny is so children of working parents can go about their routines, not so they can accomodate yours. However, if you find yourself in desperate need of childcare and your best working friend's nanny is the only option, offer to split the cost, play babysitter on a weekend night or anything you can think of to show your genuine appreciation.

3. Schedule meetings in the evening.

Here's the thing. Most parents want to be involved with their children's education. If you're in a position to set the time of volunteer based meetings, make an effort to schedule them in the evening. You might be surprised how many new faces pop out of the woodwork.

4. "Look at you, all dressed up."

If you're dressed for your morning yoga class while your friend is sporting a suit with heels there's a good chance this statement is going to make her imagine tackling you to the floor and teaching you a whole new series of yoga poses you don't want to learn. She's dressed up because, as discussed in #1, she's going to work. There's no need to comment.

5. Play nice.

Follow the golden rule of human interaction. Don't make assumptions, treat people the way you'd want to be treated and if you find yourself questioning whether you should say something, err on the side of caution. Otherwise you may find yourself on the receiving end of intense glares, or if you live in Oregon, extremely tight-lipped smiles.

Don't forget, Friday is the second part of my back-to-school primer with a focus on the worst things to say to your stay at home friends.


Gabrielle Meyer said...

I stay at home full time and I know I've been guilty of a couple of these fauz pas. We have two MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) groups in town. The first was started as a daytime group and mostly stay at home moms were involved, but we quickly saw the need for an evening group so that working moms can be supported in the early mothering stages, as well. It's been a hit! No matter how a parent chooses to raise their children, they love them and have the best interest of their family at heart.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Play nice is a good tip whether you have kids or not!

Alison DeLuca said...

As a stay at home mom, thanks so much for this primer!

jenny milchman said...

Given that sending to your children to school IS a fulltime job, my hat is off to all those parents who work out of the home. Nanny or no!

Connie J Jasperson said...

Awesome! I am reposting this to my two older daughter's fb pages - of course, my own children were raised by wolves which was so much simpler than doing it yourself...

Anonymous said...

We had an open house night at the school last week. The Wife decided to look into the PTA, and inquire what she could do to help. Every suggestion out of the PTA woman's mouth was about meetings between 10am and 2pm. I expected that response; The Wife was disappointed.

Barbara Watson said...

Good stuff, Johanna. I think of it as walking in someone else's shoes. Or as Atticus Finch so aptly stated in To Kill a Mockingbird--to walk around in someone else's skin.

Tonja said...

I love number 4.

Having been on both sides of this, I think it's best to assume good will when people say stupid things to you. We're all tired. It's hard to always say the right thing on 5 hours sleep.

Johanna Garth said...

Gabrielle, that's so great you had a positive reaction when you moved the time of your meetings.

Alex, it is, isn't it!

Jenny, mine is too.

Alison, you're a work at home mom. Seriously, you work harder than anyone else I know.

Connie, where can I find some wolves to help in the rearing of small children?

Josh, that's really too bad...hmmm...can you forward this post to the members of your PTA ;)

Barbara, exactly!

Tonja, so true. I tend to avoid everyone in the morning until I've had my second cup of coffee.

Emily R. King said...

As a stay-at-home mom, I totally agree. Those tight-lipped smiles work in Washington, too. Must be a PNW thing.

Morgan said...

I've been a working mom and a stay-at-home mom... and it's CRAZY how different the worlds are... and how SNOBBY stay-at-home moms can be to working moms! And vice-versa! Madness. We're all just doing our best... and this is so spot on, Johanna---we should never make assumptions... just be nice ;)

Dianne K. Salerni said...

It's funny that the first commenter mentioned MOPS (and helpful too, because I wouldn't have remembered the name of the group otherwise). When I had a preschooler, I was once invited to attend a local MOPS group.

The guest speaker made a 30 minute speech about the importance of staying at home with your children and why, if you want to stay in your career, you ought not bother to have children at all.

I got up and walked out as soon as she was finished and never went back. I am a teacher. I was going to have many of those people's children in class one day. I assumed they would, at that time, appreciate the years of experience I bring to the profession. But I did not want to socialize with people who thought I ought not to have had children of my own.

I know not all MOPS groups are like that, and perhaps many of the other members there were as offended by the speaker as I was. Sadly, I never went back to find out. THAT was a faux pas on their part. :(

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I wonder how many parents do get to stay at home these days? So many work, which is sad.

Brenda McKenna said...

And then there's those of us who work part-time, which is a luxury in and of itself. Both sides will be useful to know for me! :)

Nicki Elson said...

Too funny that I just returned from the actual back-to-school night before reading this. I think "don't make assumptions" is brilliant advice in any circumstance.

This is very good - and very nicely put - advice, and I think it's extra cool that you'll be doling it out for both sides of the fence.

Liza said...

Wow, well done. The one that got me was the meetings scheduled during the day. I wanted to tear my hair out for not being there. It took me a long time to realize some of that pertained to school union rules...but it was hard nontheless.

PK HREZO said...

This is so funny cuz recently my book club ladies got into it cuz some work full time and raise a family while a few are stay at home moms. The working moms swore they had it harder and they didnt like hearing stay home moms say they were busy.
Whew, talk about sensitive subjects. I'm in the middle cuz I work part time and still get to be a part of my kids school lives. But both categories of moms have pitfalls and challenges.

Scarlett said...

Johanna, what great suggestions!

I, currently, raise my children from home; a unanimous decision made by my husband and me when I was pregnant with my first child, nineteen years ago. Though I've had experience in both camps through the years, depending on our financial needs and my individual, and personal needs as a human being. I only wish those who would criticize (outside of this supportive forum), regardless of our decisions, would understand that this one is, indeed, personal.

The funny thing is, why is this such a hot topic among women? I find that even those women who have yet to raise children of their own often express an opinion, often with a judgmental tone, on this subject.

My conclusion? We often speak as if we are camps at war because, in fact, we are at war with ourselves.

Most parents struggle, women and men both, with how much time and energy and love we have to dote on our children. But we mothers... well, we mothers instinctively feel a great urge to defend to others, less understanding of our motives, how we go about it.

In this great defense of our actions/choices, we are just as guilty of turning that criticism in on ourselves, especially when we see our kids struggling through life, as young human beings will do while growing up... no matter if their mothers earn a paycheck or not.

The question is NOT do you love your family enough to sacrifice a paycheck.

The question is NOT do you love your family enough to contribute a paycheck.

The question is... do you love your family enough to support them in any way humanly possible in order for them, as the individuals that they are within that family unit, to thrive in all areas of their life. If yes, then you as the mother have probably made the right choice for your family. No matter which choice you've made.

I struggle with following my own advice on this subject. Am I doing enough for my family? Am I being selfish in earning a paycheck or not, and all which that entails? Am I a worthy person if I don't earn a paycheck? Am I a worthy person if I do?

Am I a good mother? Ouch. That one smarts.

Tamara Narayan said...

As one in the stay-at-home camp, this was good information. Of course, I always feel guilty about how casual/messy I look compared to the going-to-work crowd. Commenting on how nice they look doesn't seem mean, but I guess it's all in the tone! I can't wait to see what you say about us at-home folk!

Unknown said...

My kids aren't school-age yet but thanks for this!

And I have to agree with Scarlett. I've never really understood this "war" between stay at home moms and working moms. In the end, we're all just doing what is best for our own families and I really don't think that anyone can be faulted for that.