Inspired by a Freakonomics interview with Indra Nooyi
Recently, while listening to a Freakonomics podcast called "A Conversation with PepsiCo C.E.O. Indra Nooyi" something was said that got me thinking. Indra was describing her daughter's school and how they hosted a weekly "class coffee with mothers" on Wednesday mornings at 9:00 am. Because she worked, it wasn't practical for her to attend most of the gatherings. Apparently her daughter highlighted each of her absences by providing a list of the mothers who had attended each week. Indra was clever (she calls it "coping"); she eventually called the school and asked for a list of mothers who didn't attend regularly and provided that list to her daughter in rebuttal.
That story instantly took me back to the years when my husband and I franticly juggled classroom volunteering with our careers. I enjoyed volunteering and learned a lot about my kids, their teachers, their friends and their learning. But even today it elicits feelings of stress, and I find myself questioning whether or not it was worth it. But I know exactly why I did it; I was afraid that my kids' teachers would treat them differently if I didn't. (Who knows whether I was right or wrong?!)
I've heard that some parents pressure teachers to let them in the classroom, and that not all teachers want parents in the classroom. (It has to be a challenge to manage all those volunteer slots while garnering parental approval at the same time.) I'd guess that some parents are very helpful and others may create more work than they're worth.
If we truly want our daughters to have as many opportunities as our sons, our sons to learn how to be supportive spouses, and everyone to be paid fairly, we need to stop and think about how we're asking our moms and dads (aka role models) to spend their time.
We appear to be succeeding in terms of educating future mothers in the US; more women than men are now graduating from college. But we haven't yet figured out how to ensure they succeed at the same rate as men once they're pursuing careers; fewer mothers than fathers work outside the home, and many mothers who do work are underemployed by choice.
We could pile on teachers and ask them to add even more to their overflowing plates as we try to figure out how to help our daughters achieve more career success, or better yet, let's help them out with this challenge. My suggestion: launch a #dadsinschools effort, meaning that we mothers should stop volunteering in schools and instead encourage dads (and only dads) to take on the classroom volunteer duties. This could change things. Profoundly. It would enable moms to focus more on their careers, and it would enable dads to learn more about their kids. And it might even help us, as a society, to understand how important we really think it is for parents to volunteer in the classroom.