Yesterday, Lily asked my opinion on this article on our Slack channel: “The Controversy Over Parents Who Eat Lunch With Their Children at School.” The fact that my response was, “I didn’t know that was an option!” and Paul’s response to that was “IT ISN’T” probably says a lot about the dynamic in our home…
The article is about parents who are so involved in school they show up to have lunch with their kids everyday. Let me say in advance: I DO NOT DO THIS. I am not going to do this. I agree that kids need their space at school. I purposely picked a school that doesn’t have any required volunteering and generally likes parents to stay at home. I believe it’s healthier for the kids, and in case you didn’t notice, I also have a pretty demanding job.
But I soooooooooo get the urge to do this.
My kids’ school is right near my house and office, and I do grab any excuse to run over and drop something off and hug them. I volunteer at every field trip opportunity when I don’t have a meeting already scheduled. I have been the class mom every year. This Thursday, I am the first grade mystery reader. (Shhhh!!!!! Don’t tell!)
Recently Paul and I were having drinks with a couple, and the woman expressed shock that I was involved at school. Paul choked on the mere word “involved.” “Have you seen A Simple Favor?” he asked. “Because Sarah is basically Anna Kendrick at the beginning of the movie.”
Forget working moms who get shamed for not being involved at school. I get shamed as a working mom for how much I am involved at school.
Paul jokes (jokes?) that I spend more quality time with the school than I do with him. He joked (joked?) that next year I was going to start taking the school, not him, on exotic getaway conferences with me as my plus-one.
It is easy to mock parents like me, and parents in this article. But let me just say a few things in my helicopter parenting defense:
1. I am divorced. I did not have children in order to have them 50% of the time. I absolutely hate it. So, yeah, any chance I have to get one more hug from them or see them on a day that isn’t “my day” I’m gonna take. That is way more recharging to me than a social media or coffee break in my day. And I don’t feel any work guilt about that because on those days I can work all night because I don’t get to pick up my kids.
2. I also really adore the school. I love the other parents, I love the teachers, I love talking to the confident and awesome eighth grade girls who give me hope for my own kids’ teenage years and look out for my kids at school.
3. I had lunch with my mom regularly when I was in high school…Huuuhhhhh? That’s right: She taught at my school. I absolutely loved that I got to see her during the day. I was so in awe of what a great teacher she was and I was so close to her. I’d see her walking down the hallway and get to hug her before my next class. I frequently would save one of my meal credits to buy her her favorite candy bar from the cafeteria. I’d often go hang out in her room for lunch. This did not cripple me for life. This did not make me incapable of fighting my own battles or whatever people will tell you about kids who have a close relationship with their parents.
I have had to accept—grudgingly—that I am way more helicopter than I like to acknowledge or than I thought I’d be.
I had an uncomfortable altercation with another parent when we were in Palm Springs for Thanksgiving a few weeks ago. Four little boys were yelling at Evie that she’d taken some cups from them they were playing with by the side of the pool. I would normally not put this past Evie, but I had watched Evie walk over to the water cooler and get these cups. Evie defended herself and went back to her game. She then had to defend herself again. And again. And again. Because these boys would not let up. One little boy—several years older than her—was in her face, continually accusing her of stealing and lying and trying reaching around her to grab her cups.
I got out of the pool and walked over to the hot tub (where they were all playing.) I said, “I’m sorry, but that’s my daughter, and I watched her get up and get those cups. There are stacks of free cups over there. If you’d like more, you guys can go get more, but please don’t accuse my daughter of stealing when she’s already told you she didn’t.”
The kid dealt with the confrontation by going underwater. I (calmly) told him I could stand there longer than he could hold his breath.
The little boy’s aunt came running out of a closed cabana that was on the other side of the pool to start screaming at me about how I wasn’t allowed to talk to her nephew that way. My neck went hot, and I forced myself to take a breath.
Here was one aunt (and mom who followed soon after) who were just trying to enjoy their day in a cabana with other adults and had missed the whole altercation, and were clearly triggered by their kid(s) getting called out by another adult. These women immediately turned the conversation from what their kids were doing to attacking me for being a helicopter parent and start lecturing me on how to raise my kids. They stopped just short of calling me a “bad mom”—words you know I’ve banned from Chairman Mom.
“Kids will work it out on their own!” sounds great until you see four boys who won’t stop screaming at—and invading the physical space of—a younger little girl. There’s no planet on which I will not intervene in that situation—whether it’s my daughter or someone else’s. IMHO, “kids will work it out on their own” is perilously close to “boys will be boys.” We can debate what the line is, but I would hope we all have a line we wouldn’t let kids cross when it comes to ganging up and screaming at a younger child.
But I didn’t say any of that because I saw in that moment from a bird’s eye view, two sets of moms who were desperately trying to get this balance right, and two sets of moms feeling judged and attacked for their own decisions. So rather than defending myself, I invited her to yell at me until she felt better. And I just listened and didn’t respond. There was so much I wanted to say. There were some mean counterpunches I could have landed, given they were totally MIA during the altercation and given how the woman was talking to me in front of kids she claimed she was modeling better conflict resolution for. I’m no saint, I thought those things. I think ‘em now. I’m human. I was shaking for a good 20 minutes after this altercation with rage. But I’m just not going to go there online or offline with another mom…Ever. Everyone else judges us enough.
As far as I’m concerned, everyone gets to raise their kids the way their gut tells them is right. My gut is to make sure my kids know how much I love them and how much I’ve got their back whenever they need it. This has to do with me, with my kids, with our situation, with being divorced, with all kinds of things. But I’m gonna follow my gut, and you guys can make fun of me for being their groupie all you want.