Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Parent Cliques: Not So Sweet

Maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day is approaching that the talk now turns to relationships. It was last week that I read a post from Great Schools on Parent Cliques. It moved many readers and they followed it up with a recent post offering advice on how to deal with the problem.

As parents, we've probably all felt the cool shoulder in a school environment from time to time. A common comparison is that the situation reminds people of “high school” or “junior high” all over again. In some ways, maybe it does. And the initial Great Schools article portrayed two very real consequences of these adult cliques.

First, they can deter individuals from contributing time and energy to the school. Second, feelings of rejection, or acts of exclusion, hurt not only a parent, but also his or her kids and intensifies what is already a tough phase for young people.

I wanted to know what it was like for my husband’s grandmother, a 92-year-old-woman who raised three kids and who, even now, seems to be the epitome of graciousness and enthusiasm. I imagined her being a part of a PTA and including every new parent or lost-looking soul into a discussion, remembering someone's name the next time they met.

It was 1960 the last time she went to a PTA meeting. She’d had her third child several years after the other two, and she said she was a 46-year-old mother sitting in a room of mostly 25-year-olds.

“I never made any friends there,” she said recently.

I asked her daughter, who’d inherited what I think of as an ability to make friends quickly. No parent cliques to contend with either, she said. She was working 80-hour weeks. There were few events parents were expected to attend or plan, and when she did go to her son’s private school in Connecticut, the other parents were in a rush to make the commute home.

Then I asked another woman whom I respect. She is now a grandmother, but spent her younger days as the daughter of an Army General moving from place to place. Did her mother give her any tips for making friends when she was a young mom? Not really, she said. As a freelance writer, she developed her own style:

“Cliques are just too hard for me. I prefer to develop my own friends in organic fashion and I tend to be a gatherer rather than one who shuts things off. When I worked at the ballpark, I had a tight group of friends, but was constantly inviting others to join us for dinner in the press box dining room. I think it bothered some of my closer friends, but I remember what it felt like to be on the outside and I never want to give off that vibe.”

I approached this topic thinking it was not only universal but something parents have been concerned about for generations. I am not so sure. Maybe it’s the nature of the independent women I asked. Maybe the current environment of academic competition, or perfectionism, has spurred stronger and consequently less inclusive alliances among parents that act, or are perceived, as ways to control success.

Even if that were the case, given the opportunities of our current world, the person you may least expect to go on to great things may be sitting in your kid’s classroom. It seems to behoove everyone, and every motive, to be nice to that child's parents.

This week on the Educated Mom I take a look at MOOC's, Massively Open On-line Courses, and how they may or may not fit into the concept of a $300,000 college education.


Lunch Box Mom said...

Maybe it’s because Valentine’s Day is approaching that the talk now turns to relationships. It was last week that I read a post from Great Schools on Parent Cliques. It moved many readers and they followed it up with a recent post offering advice on how to deal with the problem.

Tim Morrissey said...

I remember how HAPPY our kids' teachers were that we took time to come to every parent-teacher conference opportunity; how open and candid they were about our children's strengths and weaknesses; and how connected we felt to our schools (don't know how well you know Madison; but their schools were Frank Allis Elementary, Sennett Middle, and LaFollette High) and to our children's teachers.

We were NOT members of, nor involved in PTA, the primary reason being Parent Cliques. It was disgusting. There was the "jock" clique. There was the "my family has lived on the east side of Madison for generations and we are the entitled and the landed aristocracy" clique - my wife and I are "south suburbaners", hence, in the east side clique's view, should have been sending our kids to Madison Memorial High. There was the St. Dennis Parish clique. And on and on, all clearly identifiable. These groups of parents would sit together at athletic events, academic events, plays, concerts, whatever. Our kids seemed to mingle easily with kids from all the parental cliques, but my wife and I were like strangers in a strange land many times at school events, and often felt like the only reason other parents tolerated us was because of our relatively high profile in the community because of our media connections. They heard me on the radio every morning and saw Toni on TV every night.

Obviously your post struck a chord with me, prompting this long-winded and self-centered response; we have such great memories of the kids' teachers and still have contact with them, and such distasteful memories of the parental cliques.

Great post, again, Sarah.

Lunch Box Mom said...

Tim--I love your comment. It's even more interesting because you and Toni could not have been "unknown" to folks--given your professions!
Thanks, as always, for reading and for the insightful comments.