PTA moms get a bad rap. They're the brunt of jokes, the subject of ridicule, and always depicted in the same tightly-boxed, stereotypical fashion, akin to matronly sorority sisters. Sure, it's funny at times and deserving at others, but after recently completing a two year term as PTA president, I feel that it's my duty to come to these moms' defense.
In case you've just arrived on the planet, the Parent Teacher Association (or PTA) is an auxiliary group usually affiliated with an elementary school (in some cases, they serve middle and high schools, as well) and exists to supplement its needs. Its motto is “One child, one voice" or something to that effect, but really its primary purpose is to raise money for the school. Because underfunding education seems to be a universal policy, parent groups with similar objectives exist all over the world.
On average, 83 percent of the funding for a K to 12 public school in our country comes from the state and district locality, while the federal government's share is approximately 8.3 percent. The rest comes from private sources, specific grants, and outreach programs. In an underserved or sparsely populated district, the PTA helps to fill discretionary budget gaps.
In addition to its monetary role, the PTA sponsors events and offers services, like helping the Health Department administer hearing and vision screenings, bringing teachers dinner on conference night, and monitoring the lunchroom. All this is done in a volunteer capacity, so why the flack?
The success of such movies like “Bad Moms" (which was incidentally written and directed by men who admittedly never attended a PTA meeting) and TV shows like “The New Adventures of Old Christine" (in which PTA moms are portrayed as expired cheerleaders with no lives outside of meddling in grade school politics) makes PTA membership an increasingly difficult sell. (For the record, I have yet to meet a mom even remotely similar to these women at our meetings – or anywhere else for that matter.)
From my years of experience as a PTA mom, I can attest that most of us become card-carrying members out of a sense of obligation to contribute our time and energy toward the greater good of our children's education, not because we want to be in a clique or are looking for something to do in our free time besides eat bonbons and go to the gym. If friendships evolve as a byproduct of spending time with one another, so be it. Consider it hazardous duty pay, not an episode of “Desperate Housewives."
I see the growing animosity toward the PTA mom as an extension of the ongoing rift between working moms and stay-at-home moms, where each resents the other for what she perceives is misplaced judgement. The volunteer claims it is her sacrifice that allows the working mother to go earn money and further her career, confident that someone else will show up to sell sweatshirts or pass out combs on picture day. The working mom maintains the position that she doesn't have the luxury to not get paid and anyone assuming otherwise has no idea. Both have valid points, yet neither is in a position to legitimately criticize the opposition.
I have stood at the PTA membership table during our school's open house to recruit new parents, doing my best to appear approachable but not pushy, nice but not phony, sincere but not too serious. For what? So other women will not think my volunteering is a catty social outlet and instead see it as the worthy cause it is? To allay preconceived notions about bake sales? To get them to please help a sister out?
I have been rebuffed at said membership table by neighbors, by my daughter's friends' parents, by moms I knew before we were moms, and by my own sister. Then I've been contacted privately at a later date by these same people when their basketball team needed uniforms, or a kid needed a camp scholarship, or when they needed bodies to help distribute pies. I've held my tongue, kept their secrets, and quelled disgruntlements, all the while wondering what the hell was in it for me. But not really. I already knew.
My reward has been the mighty influence I've wielded over the years, influence like knowing what child could use extra help and then discretely delivering it, or determining which fundraiser would afford us new traffic pylons but not be too burdensome on our families, or sitting on hold for 45 minutes to discuss our tax exempt status with an IRS agent. Powerful influence like that is why most moms join the PTA.
The next time you're tempted to brush us off as goody-two-shoes snobs who gossip for sport and vie for a nonexistent reserved-for-the-PTA-president parking spot, remember this: we didn't want to join either – we got guilted into it.