Sorry, PTA. I’m Just Not That Into You.

Sarah del Rio
Written by Sarah del Rio

Oh, the Parent Teacher Association. We hear those words and immediately envision town hall-style meetings with home-made refreshments and a warm, comfortable bonhomie. We see in our mind’s eye a cheerful and effortless rapport among parents, teachers, coaches, support staff, and school administrators alike. We imagine all of the participants eagerly rolling up their sleeves with a smile and doing whatever needs to be done to improve their childrens’ schools.

It’s good to have fantasies.

At the risk of thousands of PTA members marching on my house with fiery torches, I’m going to come right out and say that the PTA – as awesome as we might imagine it to be – is not for everyone. I didn’t say it’s not for anyone. But it’s definitely not for everyone.

What exactly do I mean? Read on, and you’ll find four reasons why you may want to reconsider joining the PTA. And before you tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about, I’m speaking from three years PTA officer experience. Three years — but no more.

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Reason #1: Before you immediately jump to the defense of the esteemed, timeless organization that is the PTA, be aware that your school’s parent-teacher organization is most likely not even affiliated with the “real” PTA. According to Wikipedia, only about 25% of parent-teacher organizations are affiliated with the National Parent Teacher Association, and the rest are considered “independent.” 

This is why the PTA at your child’s school is probably not even called the PTA but rather the PTO, or the HSA, or the HASA, or any of Lord knows how many acronyms that almost no one understands. Witness:

Person: So what are you doing tonight?
Me: I have a HASA meeting.
Person: *blank stare*
Me: I mean a PTA meeting.
Person: Ohhhhhh.
Me: Yeah.
Person: Well, have “fun.”

Reason #2: Too many people get involved with the PTA for the absolute 100% wrong reasons – and by this I mean any reasons that aren’t “wanting to volunteer one’s time and effort to improve the school for the sake of the children.”

These reasons are diverse and many, and can range from “I need to fill some kind of inexplicable void in my life” to “I am a narcissistic Type-A control freak who has to have my nose in every aspect of my kid’s business” to “I WANT TO MAKE LOTS OF NEW FRIENDS AND BE SUPER POPULAR!!! WHEE!!!” All that these reasons have in common is a marked lack of real, selfless interest in actually helping the school.

Now. If you’re the kind of person who *does* have a real, selfless interest in actually helping the school, and if your’e not in the least dissuaded by the thought of joining an organization made up largely of helicopter moms, attention seekers, overachievers, and stay-at-home parents who feel they have to prove their worth to their working spouses, please. Join the PTA. We need people like you to level the playing field.

I mean it.

Seriously.

Reason #3: Joining the PTA may honestly seem like a good idea at first. It’s probably the start of a new school year and you’re all “Yes We Can” and “We Can Do It!” and wanting to do your part. Undoubtedly, the PTA seems like just the robust and traditional organization to hitch your wagon to, with lots of regular participants doing lots of good work.

That’s at the BEGINNING of the school year.

Over the course of the year, however, attendance will start to wane significantly. After about February, the only people getting their asses to the PTA meetings are the officers, a couple of room parents, and that one chick who NOBODY LIKES but VOLUNTEERS FOR EVERYTHING. Which means that the work that at one point was divvied up among a goodly number of people is now divvied up among you and about six others. Depending on the size of the school, it might be even less.

Basically, it’s a hell of a commitment, the extent of which you might not truly understand until later on in the school year. So beware.

Reason #4: The PTA can get more than a little Mean Girls. Don’t ask me why. But it can and often does. Cliques form, people become snobbish and patronizing, and there’s even a metaphorical “cool kids table” that everyone wants to sit at – but have no delusions, chairs are limited. If you’re not Regina George the PTA President or one of his or her lackeys, there is no space for the likes of you.

Sadly, when this happens, one of the unfortunate outcomes is that people with unpopular opinions become Not Welcome. Decisions get made without their input, they are excluded from email threads and phone conversations, and they are bullied into voting the “party line” (if they’re even allowed to vote at all.) Not exactly a democracy, the PTA.

Not exactly a place conducive to a warm, comfortable bonhomie, in my opinion.

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All of this said, I do want to stipulate that I am in no way against parent volunteer efforts. In fact, I believe that parent volunteer work is absolutely necessary for a school to be successful and offer the best education it possibly can. I just also happen to believe that there are other – and in some cases, better – ways besides the PTA that parents can offer up their time and talents.

Almost every facet of a school needs help and if you don’t want to be stuck in a somewhat archaic parent-teacher organization shouldering more work than you can handle while rubbing shoulders with a bunch of people that might not be your cup of tea, I would suggest looking into more targeted options. Got a kid who loves sports? Be a sports booster, or try your hand at assistant coaching. Got a kid who loves reading? Ask the school librarian or Battle of the Books coordinator if you can be of any help there. Got a kid who plays an instrument? Marching band and pep band can always use extra support.

My point is this: the PTA may work for some people. It might be perfect for some people. But if it isn’t perfect for you, don’t despair and just slog your way through it, or worse, give up on volunteering altogether. There are other ways to help your child’s school, and to participate in his or her education. Trust me — your kid will be delighted to find out that *you* were the one in the school mascot costume. You know the one — hot, stifling, and smelling strongly of mothballs. And is that a hint of urine?

About the author

Sarah del Rio

Sarah del Rio

Sarah del Rio is a comedy writer whose award-winning humor blog est.1975 brings snark, levity, and perspective to the ladies of Generation X.

Despite being a corporate refugee with absolutely no formal training in English, journalism, or writing of any kind, Sarah earns her daily bread as a freelance writer and editor. She has also contributed to several anthologies, including I STILL Just Want to Pee Alone, the latest installment in the national-bestselling I Just Want to Pee Alone series.

Sarah contributes regularly to BLUNTMoms and has made frequent appearances on The Huffington Post Best Parenting Tweets of the Week List. She has also been featured on Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, and the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop.

You can also follow Sarah on her blog est.1975 and on Facebook and Twitter.

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28 Comments

  • I love it! I never joined the PTA, and now my son is a senior. So, I’m not going to start now. It was a combination of my not wanting to deal with the mom jean wearing Barbies and my son never really giving a rat’s ass about school activities. I wonder where he gets that from. Anyway, it sounds like I would have been annoyed with it. Really, PTA people, you’re not saving the world. 🙂

  • The sad thing is that the PTA has the potential to be GREAT. I went into the whole experience all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Three years later I was like “Don’t let the door hit me in the ass on the way out. SEE YA. PEACE!”

    • There was a lot of that in my PTA too. And a lot of “discussion” which ended up being a complete waste of time because what the President wanted, the President got. I’m glad I’m out.

  • I’ve been a member of our svhiol’s PTA. But because we are “independent” rebels it’s called PAC- Parents in ACtion. This is my second year as co president and I have one more year ahead of me. I love it. It’s awesome. The school my kids go to is small so I know the other moms well and for the most part they’re cool. However… It is sucking the ever living snot out of me. How in the hell is this “volunteer” opportunity taking more time than my job?!?! Oh sure, people say they want to help. And when the end of the year is only 3 weeks away and they’ve only completed 2.25 of their required 30 volunteer hours they ALL come running or calling or emailing or standing in front of my car in the parking lot and all I want to yell is “You can pay the $10/hour for your remaining hours because where the hell were you when I was buying 8 million freaking Otter Pops for the Box Tops collection party, you ass wipe?!”
    PTA, PTI, PAC… It’s all code for : time sucker!!
    Love this post!!
    Vicky

    • That was one of my problems with it too, Vicky. I would watch the room parents start out the year with TONS of help and then by the middle of the year it was down to like 6 women doing EVERYTHING and just absolutely killing themselves. Even though I wasn’t a room parent, I started just going to the school parties early to help out a little, because they needed whatever help they could get. It was ridiculous.

  • Sarah, I don’t have personal experience in the PTA, but even so, I just KNEW it wasn’t going to be right for the likes of me. You confirmed every suspicion I had about it, honestly! I call myself the Manual Labor Mom – one of my first blog posts is about the fact that I could never be the PTA Mom or the Room Mom but I will put my blood, sweat, and tears into stapling, cutting, copying, filing, organizing, and laminating the hell out of whatever my sons’ teachers tell me to for at least 2 hours every week! (And half the time I manage not to screw those things up, yaaaay for me)! That’s what I can handle. I can’t handle all the mean girl, social or school politics stuff…I just can’t! Thank you for this post – so honest!

  • That’s exactly my point though – do what you feel comfortable with! The school needs stuff that’s best for the PTA to handle but it also need tons of other help. Just do what you do, mama! <3

  • As of next year, I am on the board of our PTO as the “Afterschool Enrichment Chair.” But this means that I get to convince all those parents who are like, “PTO? HELL NO, WE WON’T GO!” that hey, come to the school for one hour, one day a week, and play Simon Says with the Kindergarteners, or teach some third and fourth graders how to crochet or something. You get to contribute without the politics.

    I did this last year (although I wasn’t the official “chair” and didn’t attend meetings) and I have to say, the mainstream parents were harder to deal with than the PTO parents. We had 20 slots for an art offering, and 75 applicants. We did a STRICT lottery (my kids didn’t get in, either) and I still heard whining. Shut. Up. It’s why whenever I have almost anything to do with the school, I try not to be “that” mom. I never want to be the person who walks in the room, and everyone else in it thinks, “Oh god, it’s THAT asshole again…” Probably too late, though…

    • Oh girl. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of non-PTA parents who are all “we’re not going to help or do anything useful but if we have a single complaint BY GOD YOU ARE GOING TO HEAR ABOUT IT.” Hmm. Maybe I’ll write about them in a different piece 😉

  • I lost interest in your negativity after the part about “SAHM’s trying to prove their worth to their spouses”. My friend YOU are a mean girl who never grew up

  • OH. MY. GAWD. Hilarious. But sad. And so true.
    Well my two cents is that I lasted two months and one week as a PTO President before I resigned, and I will NEVERevereverEVER volunteer for one of their events or a meeting again. In my case, half of the last board had quit (due to drama) and I didn’t want the programs/events to stop, so I stepped up, even with that nagging feeling I was making a mistake. I had been a random meeting attendee up until that point.
    I organized over the summer, and made some major positive changes…then the school year started and shit got real…real crazy. Our new treasurer, the Nazi, disagreed with evvvvverything. Then the lying started, and Nazi started playing another member, Deb/Flo, who has some serious emotional problems, like a puppet. Deb/Flo started flipping out (like, tantrum flipping out) and carrying out Nazi’s devious lies/plans and both went bat shit crazy. I even had the Principal constantly telling me about all these “concerns” these two snickers bars kept telling her, which were never true. It was nonstop drama, me fielding gossip and lies more than planning events. I finally snapped and let both of them have it. Deb/Flo went even crazier and I sent her what is now dubbed “THE filthy email,” telling her off. Then I resigned. She forwarded the email to basically the entire school and tried making it look like she had been victimized by my vicious words. Nazi is still lying about events that never occurred, it’s just unreal. The Principal was totally driving the crazy train and encouraging the drama, which is JUST so lame. They can’t get anyone to be on this board, or volunteer, it’s always the same dramabomb people, year after year…no wonder! Jeeez!
    The stigma of PTA Mom’s is so true. Normal people cannot last without talking shit or leaving at some point in disgust. Being scolded for buying the wrong sprinkles, listening to lies/gossip and being held captive in 2 1/2 hour meetings about popcorn and bylaws is just too much to take! I relish that scandalous email, felt darn good. And, getting a few thumbs ups from teachers who can’t say what I did or they’d get fired was pretty freakin’ awesome too.
    NEVER again.
    Loved your post. You rule.

  • And without those jean wearing Barbies who are snobby, what would go on at your child’s school? Would there be money for field trips? Would there be money for grants? Would underprivileged children get school supplies? Would there be a yearbook? Dances?

    I find it ironic that this blog post is just as bad as those women they profess to hate.

    Nice try.

    • Who said anything about jean-wearing Barbies? I certainly didn’t.

      I worked as a PTA officer for three years… along with like 7 other women for a school of 90 families. Because 7 women is literally all we could round up. People would came to meetings and see the attitude, drama, and unreasonable workload and would oftentimes never show up again. Don’t you think we could have raised more money for field trips and grants if we had more volunteers who actually wanted to be a part of the organization? Don’t you think we could have recruited more people if the attitude was more inclusive and more about helping the school than personal politics?

      Also, as for your underprivileged children receiving school supplies… last time I checked, you don’t have to be a “jeans-wearing Barbie” to donate time, talent, or treasure to those who need it.

  • It’s not about “jean wearing Barbies,” it’s about the negative subculture that bored, attention-seeking Moms have created at too many schools. At my kiddo’s school, the moms are hefty, stretchy pant wearing meanies who wear no make-up, so it isn’t about what they look like, but their finger-in-everything, this-makes-me-more-important-than-you attitude and how they have ruined it for anyone else for eternity.
    Snobby Barbies or hefty meanies, of course it’s great if underprivileged kids get school supplies from these groups. No one argues that, but that is not what these people are about. What turns people off is the holier-than-thou, “I do everything for your kids and you don’t” attitude (Karen). The majority of parents steer clear of mom groups because of people like Karen and how they list and exploit their “good deeds” as if that makes them good citizens. They are just a tiny group of depressed women living in a vacuum of denial, looking for any way to feel important and needed. Let’s let them be and go on with our lives while they toil away on yearbooks that only feature their kids anyway.

    • *applauds* Well said. Better than I could have done.

      I am at a new school now and I volunteer 3 to 4 hours a week OUTSIDE of the PTA organization and it is glorious. And the last time I checked, this school doesn’t care whether money for service projects and “underprivileged children” comes from PTA members or non-PTA members. It’s all green.

  • Your article is spot on….Call me dumb but I thought the PTA/PTO was designed to improve conditions between parent and schools. I fell right in the arms of the ugly ones who have nothing better but to hurt students and their parents. I was asked to Be the VP not having a clue what was their real agenda. Mine was innocent to just be helpful. Little did I know it was a game to harm 5 of us who previously we’re talked about. Found out our association as mom’s was we all had disabled children and had fought the district as advocates. I had a daughter who was autistic and was an advocate at the time years before my son was born. Never got involved and knew no one.
    It started when the leader of the “clique” asked me if I would be VP. Oh it was an ambushed I never saw coming. I had never even been a part of the PTA. I tried to do a good job bringing donations even got huge group of new diverse group of parents involved. To “cliques” I stepped on their toes by not choosing their friends. My poor son he became their target. It’s been 9 years of hell for my son. He’s 14 years old now and all the gossip has isolated him from making friends, gossip even amongst teachers, and excluded from peers over the years in activities mostly due to defamation and slander gossip from parents even teachers and the “CLIQUE”of the PTA won. My whole family have suffered and still to this day have been excluded. I feel PTA should answer to certain laws that eliminate unfair elections or appointments. Laws that hold “CLIQUE” parents responsible from Excluding any parent to serve more than a year when a new parent can be appointed. They should require an independent person(s) to run elections fairly and to run the list of all volunteers with open written requirements of each job. PTA has to much power taking teachers time and administrators. On the other, the district developed putting X teachers, family members, community churches on the PTA to keep certain parents from participating or discussing issues of bullying, discrimination due to race or religion. They want to make sure parents with the same issues may bound and seek justice. Unfortunately, my son never saw his mother at school nor his peers but had to deal with gossip about his mom. He tries so hard over the last 10 years to make friends and walk behind those who’s who. I look back now and wish I never joined for his sake. Why can’t with all our laws stop this bullying behavior of parents PTA/PTO?

  • I Googled “how to stay calm around pta asshole moms” and your article popped up. It was just what I needed to read to today. Thanks for putting into words what I know to be true!

  • My question is why do you care? If you don’t like, don’t go. It is that simple. Please spare us your mean response. Honestly, you sound like a high school girl who never grew up. You and your victims are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Grow up and stop whining. I honestly don’t know what else to say. Not everything in life is about you and your insecure feelings. Just chill and trust me, your kid will be just fine without you complaining about everything.