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“Elite” Parents Who Volunteer in School Aren’t Hurting Anyone

fur coat

Is it other moms who are most hurt by the elite ones, or does it affect the kids, too?

I empathize with Debra Monroe. To a point, anyway.

She wrote in The New York Times parenting blog the Motherlode about how she lacked “cash or social sway” when she was a child. Her dad was an alcoholic and her family was not well-off. Fortunately, she broke the pattern of her parents’ misfortunes, went off to college, and then earned a Ph.D. When she eventually had the opportunity to volunteer for her daughter’s school, she seized it, at which time she noticed, “Parents who worked for an hourly wage and chose between volunteering or earning money were unrepresented. Parents who lived in big, new houses ran the show.”

Monroe explains how kids with less, like her, could easily feel left out by moms with more.

I get it. Kind of. I didn’t grow up like she did — not at all. But I grew up in a diverse area. I live in a less diverse area now, with lots of families in the top 10 percent of the 1 percent, as well as families who are working class, hourly wage folks.

My husband and I do just fine. We’re nowhere near the top, but thankfully we’re also far from the bottom. Because I work from home, I’ve been able to spend way more time with my daughters than I would if I worked in an office. As a result, most of my dearest friends are those who have way more than me — and don’t work much. If you’re attending music, dance, or gymnastics at 11am on a weekday, you don’t meet too many working-class moms.

But while I know what and who Monroe is talking about, I don’t totally agree with her.

She talks about kids in school wanting cake, not chocolate mousse. Pizza, not sushi. She talks about expensive extra-curricular activities being an obstacle for many kids. The latter part, I get. I really do.

While worrying about money wasn’t my reality as a kid, and I’m very cautious with money now, I don’t think as many kids lose out as she seems to think. And for those who do lose out, it’s sad to say, but that is just a reality for many. Sheltering those with less from those with more might be a temporary solution, but that’s all it really is.

In my experience, not everyone gets to do everything — and for those with less, like Monroe, they are sometimes doubly motivated to get more. My kids get plenty, but I’m also trying to slowly impart to my older daughter that there is a limit. We don’t go on the number and types of vacations that many of her friends’ families do, and the day will eventually come when I’ll have to tell her that she can’t go to a 7-week sleep-away camp like her cousins because it’s just too expensive for us. But we’ll find other ways to make her summer fun.

I volunteer in my older daughter’s class each week, helping kids with art projects, and sometimes Xeroxing and collating papers. Other moms with more time volunteer more than I do, and I’m grateful they’re able to help. I know plenty of working moms who feel badly that they can’t do more to help out, but for moms like me who were fortunate enough to carve out a work and home life where there’s a bit more balance, I’m just happy for the school, teacher, and kids that there are extra bodies where needed.

Nobody ever said every kid can, should, or will get all the same stuff. Same thing with adults — if elite moms are dominating the volunteer scene, does it really matter as long as what needs to get done is actually getting done?

Monroe is concerned that the parents available to help, plan, and do “lack insight into the lives of students whose parents don’t.” Yet, there she is, a parent who does, writing on behalf of those who don’t. I’m a mom like her, and I would have no problem speaking up if I saw an injustice.

Ultimately, I think the most important thing is giving teachers and students the support they need. If some of the food is fancier than kids are used to, and they don’t like it, I’m willing to bet it’s because they just don’t like it, not because it’s fancy. Adults think like that, but in my experience, most kids don’t.

It’s easy to project our feelings on our kids based on our own experiences when we were their age, but often it’s just that — a projection, perhaps with a pocketful of exceptions, like Monroe. It would seem that as long as there are moms like Monroe (and me) who are around to offer some kind of balance, we should all just be happy that our kids are getting enough.

Photo credit: Morgue File

More from Meredith on Babble:

Follow Meredith on Twitter and check out her regular column on the op-ed page of The Denver Post at MeredithCarroll.com

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