The unrealistic expectation of constant parental involvement

Carmen Sample
Oct 5, 2018 · 6 min read

My oldest daughter just started 1st grade this year and she is kind of killing it. Reading, math, spelling, and fun….that is kind of what 1st grade is all about, right? Yay for her and all of her new experiences and adventures. I love that she is trying new things and going to new places and learning new ideas. I also love her amazing sense of style — I wish I could pull off her outfits because they are truly magnificent:

I love that SHE is getting to do all of these things….. but why do I feel like I’m expected to do them with her?

In the first 6 weeks of first grade there have been 4 events that parents were invited to attend. FOUR EVENTS…..during the middle of the day. So some might say “Well, they aren’t mandatory, so you don’t have to go.”….. That may be true if the school didn’t tell the kids that parents are invited… but that isn’t the case.

Once the kids know that parents are invited they expect you to come. They ask you about it in the morning before the event. They ask you after school why you weren’t there… *sigh*… *cue serious mom guilt*. Out of avoiding mom guilt alone I have gone to the events…. and then stand there the whole time thinking “Why am I doing this?” These “optional parental involvement” events are not optional… they are expected because if one parent goes then the other parents all feel guilty they aren’t there too.

Here is the thing — these aren’t educational events like going to the museum or the zoo or some new local exhibit where learning is taking place. They aren’t events that need extra adults on hand to help wrangle 20 six year olds. No, no, my friends. These are “meet us at the local park to watch the kids play” kind of events. Today the expectation is that parents come and watch their children run around the field for 20 minutes during their “dash” event.


But wait…..the dash today isn’t even a race. “WHAT?!?!?!?” you may be asking….. You mean they want parents to come and watch the kids run around the field without a competition? No ribbons? No trophies? No sense of pushing yourself to be the best? Just running around a field waving at the parents that all took time out of their day to come and watch because the school said it was “optional parental involvement”?

Rose asked me “What happens if I win?”.

My response: “Nothing….but try to win anyway”. lol.

Well, today I’m making a stand…watch out. I’m going to put the mom guilt aside and say “no”…. I’m not going to and watch her run around the field. I’m just…I….I….I have thousands of excuses but the truth is:

I just don’t want to…..and I don’t think I should be expected to.

It’s just as simple as that. It isn’t that I can’t flex my time at work. It isn’t that I think something else is more important. It isn’t that I am not an involved parent. It isn’t any of the mom guilt thoughts that creep into my psyche. Truth is I’m going to be at lunch with my husband instead of standing at the field. The reason I am not going is because I don’t see the value in it or why my involvement is necessary and helpful.

Isn’t it now someone else’s turn to watch them climb a wall and cheer when they slide down the slide and clap as they run around the field? More than that, isn’t it now their opportunity to do things independently and for themselves and not to do them because their parent is watching and reinforcing her to do it?

Apart from the inherently annoying expectation for parents to leave what they are doing in the middle of the day, there is actually something bigger I am worried about:

I’m worried that kids are learning to do things for the reinforcement of their parents instead of for their self satisfaction of a job well done.

I grew up with working parents that ran their own businesses and an alcoholic mother that I preferred be at home rather than embarrass me at a school function. Had my mom asked “Do you want me to come and watch you run around the the playground?” I would have replied “No thank you… watching you slur your words in front of my friends sounds like a blast, but I’d prefer you just stay put.”.

Yet, I would have ran around that playground as fast as I could. I would have broke a sweat and planned out a killer running outfit all on my own. I would have tried with all my might and not because my parents were there. Not because there was someone standing at the finish line to give me a popsicle. Not because I was seeking someone else’s approval.

No, I would have ran around the field because it was fun and because I wanted to win. I always tried to do my best and though I didn’t always win, I excelled in school and athletics and work. I loved to compete and get good grades and I would go to great lengths to get some nice gold stars on my notebook. The funny thing is that I never showed my gold stars to my parents. I never ran home to show my good grades or proudly display my report cards (and they were really good). I got a deep sense of satisfaction from knowing they were awesome and that my hard work paid off. My parents never once asked me if I did my homework. They never asked if I needed help with a college application and they never once prompted me to get a project done. Never.

I prompted myself and encouraged myself and whatever my parents thought about my work and accomplishments was…at some point…incredibly irrelevant.

I don’t look at the lack of detailed involvement as a black mark on my parents, I actually look at this is as the best thing they did for me, whether intentional or not. Despite my mother’s alcoholism, they were loving parents. They cared about me and I knew that. I knew they wanted me to do well, but they came to maybe one event a year if they didn’t have other things to do….and I don’t remember being upset about that. I wasn’t resentful or angry or depressed about it. It didn’t really matter whether they were there or not because I was going to perform for myself and if I was in a race then I was going to run as fast as I could no matter who was watching.

This sense of self-satisfaction and self-drive is something that has served me well in my life and I continually think about how to instill this skill in my own children. I haven’t figured it out yet, but the only thing I know is that me being involved every step of the way is not going to create a sense of self-control and self-direction.

*shoulder shrug*

I’m going to take a deep breath and just say out loud that I won’t be there today to watch her run around the field. Not because I have other things to do or because I don’t care about her well-being, but because I don’t need to be. I want her to do awesome things not because I am there, but because she wants to see what she can do all on her own. I really hope she runs in her cowboy boots with her leopard skirt and kicks some serious ass and comes home to tell me about it. Ultimately, I hope she feels accomplished no matter what at the end of her run, with or without mommy being there to give her a popsicle in the end.

I’m going to enjoy my day trusting that she is enjoying hers…and I’m going to put on my impractical sparkle shoes (at least she got her sense of style from me) and leave the mom guilt at the door.

Good luck, Rose. I can’t wait to hear about your day and your run.

….I feel better already. Now I have to get ready for a Girl Scouts event where I will be sleeping on a floor mat in a room with 30 other people this weekend…*sigh*. I suppose I’ll take one for the team.

The things we do for our kids. :)