I cannot tell you how many women I know refuse to participate in the PTA. Forget about attending a monthly meeting; they won’t make cupcakes, not even from the readymade mix that comes in a box.
“No way,” my friends and acquaintances say in my hometown and elsewhere. “The PTA’s not for me.” They’ve said worse, too, but we won’t go there.
I’ve heard such sentiments not only from lawyers, writers, doctors, artists, marketers but, yes, also stay-at-home mothers — you get the picture.
It’s a terrible shame, since the work volunteers do at parent-teacher groups is supposed to benefit their children.
Most of these naysayers are women (there are fathers, too, but they are more likely to participate when they are asked, although not as likely to seek out more opportunities to contribute on their own), and although for some it’s just a matter of not having the time to help out, the reason is usually a dislike of the politics.
That’s why I’ve decided to write an open letter to those mothers who might be turning off potential recruits and not even realize it:
DEAR PTA MOM,
I know you mean well. You spend countless hours wedged into all parts of your day to plan events, brainstorm new ideas, sell gifts, make cookies, rally the troops, meet with school administrators, attend meetings, attend more meetings, attend even more meetings, do phone chains, gather materials, decorate rooms, order food, make posters, organize games, bring in speakers, send out emails, run book fairs, attend school board meetings, attend PTA council meetings, run social media pages, write bylaws, monitor those bylaws, write checks, balance books, take photos, publish yearbooks, make flyers … oh, gosh, the tasks are never-ending. Without the work you do, a school wouldn’t have the energy it does, the parent/teacher participation, the events children might remember for the rest of their lives.
But you need to know something.
Another important but less tangible thing you do is motivate parents to get involved and then stay involved. To that end, you are leaders. Leaders need to inspire. When it becomes a situation where volunteers are involved, the task becomes not only more challenging but vital.
Remember, the parents who offer to volunteer for you don’t work for you. They should come through on their promises, but be careful not to talk to them as if you wield some kind of power over their lives. Never disrespect, no matter how bad your day has been. It’s such a cliche. And just because you're in a school setting doesn't mean you should talk to them like they are children. Also, it’s great to derive satisfaction over the work you do, but be careful not to turn the doings of a PTA matter into a competition. You may be woefully unaware of how you are perceived, and the women you’ve recruited to help may be turned off from “working” for you forever. That is often the case.
Speaking of turning people off — the PTA is not supposed to be a 7th-grade lunchroom where there’s an “in” crowd and then there are the others. When you run with your pack of girlfriends and take over an event and leave others out, that’s remembered. It’s likely you’ve forever lost those who wanted to make a difference and work on a project with you, at least in spirit.
Put the PTA’s work into perspective. If you recognize that someone has a professional or personal talent, use that to the organization’s advantage. Don’t crowd someone out because you think you can do it better or because you feel entitled to. It makes you look desperate and robs the children of having an expert on the case.
Finally, go out of your way to involve working folks. Some of the busiest women I know do the most work because they prioritize it and some of the least busy women I know contribute nothing but a check for the annual membership dues. Getting high achievers into the fold should be a no-brainer.
A PTA mom who has seen it all