In fact, for some of us – particularly the stay-at-home moms, freelancers, consultants and anyone else who no longer hangs their hat on a corporate 9-to-5 –the return of the school season is eerily like being back in the traditional workplace.
And here’s why.
Long gone are the days of summer, awaking whenever your body naturally revs up. School days call for wee-hour beginnings, with many parents rising before six o’clock to wake up the kids and begin the morning rituals of coffee brewing, clothes checking, lunch making and rapport building before seeing them off to a bus that very well may arrive while it’s still dark outside.
The school day for elementary-age kids typically ends between 2-3 p.m. When they come home, you’re back at it, debriefing about their day, checking classwork, monitoring and helping with homework, and vetting pre-dinner snacks. Middle-schoolers and high school kids may arrive home as late as nearly 5 p.m. in some school systems, meaning that it’s almost time for dinner by the time they walk through the door. And in the door with a big appetite do they return, ravenous and ready to consume a real meal because prepackaged snacks and fillers just won’t do. Of course, this means that dinner should already be in the works, if not nearly done.
Some will say these hours don’t sound burdensome at all. After all, housewives and stay-at-home mothers can just go back to bed once the children leave for school. But the truth is, the pre-school day rigmarole just bleeds into a series of other mundane daily tasks, from washing dishes and cleaning the floors to doing three or four loads of laundry, paying a pile of bills and running multiple errands. The reality is, for many of us, there is no downtime, save for an afternoon jog or 30 minutes of guilty-pleasure TV.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but being the parent of a school-age child doesn’t pay well at all. In fact, the compensation is utterly abysmal. This strikes a particular sore note when one considers the ad hoc roles we assume, all with no preparation or formal training but having lived our lives. For example, we are counselors, tutors, facilitators, instructors, librarians, chauffeurs, athletics directors, social planners and clerks – based on the multiple roles and responsibilities thrown at parents by the schools systems, schools, administrations and teachers.
We take on a lot of add-on duties and work in addition to our core parental responsibilities. And these supplemental roles were not the province of parents back when I was growing up. Somewhere along the line, expectations changed and higher expectations were levied upon parents, who have become “shadow” compatriots of our beloved teachers, helping them do their jobs and their lessons stick.
But we receive no financial remuneration. Predictably, some would say that our children’s success and helping hardworking teachers are incentive enough. While contributing to these ends has its own value (an invaluable one, at that), the more active and involved among us spend about an hour or more a day performing this add-on work.
Back in the day, parents didn’t volunteer in schools. They didn’t supervise lunch or help teachers make copies. That’s what the clerks and paraprofessionals – you know, paid employees – were for. Now parents are encouraged and expected to share their time, treasures and talents with the school. This means that some mothers spend the equivalent of a work day, practically every day, volunteering in schools. They go over math facts with the kids; they plan teacher appreciation parties; they fundraise; they attend school social events after hours and on weekends.
Moreover, good parents join the PTA. And better parents are Board or sub-committee members. In the 1980s and 1990s, the PTA existed, of course, but I have no recollection of my parents being involved. Nor were my friends’ parents seemingly clued in, either. But that laissez faire style of parental non-involvement is no longer permissible and certainly not smiled upon.
Our kids are pressured to perform well academically and succeed socially. At the same time, parents are under the gun to serve in classrooms, function as ad hoc, unpaid staff members, reinforce lessons taught in overcrowded or under-resourced classrooms and coordinate enrichment events for students off the clock.
Still, there's something fabulous about school starting up again. Notably, time for oneself and getting more done, from housework to paid work to brief afternoon naps. But I have to admit that the rigors and routine are quite work-like. Do you agree?