parent opinion

ANONYMUM: "P&Cs foster toxic exclusivity, new school parents should proceed with caution."

If your eldest child is starting school next year and you’re entering into the exciting new world of becoming a school parent for the first time, listen up. I’m about to teach you a thing or two about what to expect.

At the information sessions for first year of school newbies, a representative from your new school’s P&C will probably stand up and give an enticing speech about how joining the committee and volunteering in the school is a wonderful opportunity to get involved in your kids’ schooling. And kids whose parents are involved with the school do better. They just do.

Firstly, let me call bullsh*t on this suggestion that the kids of parents who work full time or are otherwise occupied are at a disadvantage. You don’t need to spend as much time at the school as your kids do to be an involved parent. Help them with their homework, show up to their performances and the things that are important to them.

If you feel like volunteering and have the time, go right ahead, but don’t ever feel bad for putting your own time and mental health first. Your kids will do just fine if they don’t see your face in the canteen and the uniform shop every day, and they will be more independent for it.

The propaganda machine is a convincing one, however. You may even be leaning towards signing up. But let me remind you that Reverend Jim Jones was also very convincing in getting people to join The People’s Temple. He was also super convincing when he told those people to drink the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid that killed nearly a thousand of them.

Now, I’m not saying the P&C will poison you (although I’m also not promising they won’t either), but based on my own experience and that of other parents I’ve spoken to, there’s a good chance they will poison your enjoyment of life if you drink their metaphorical Kool-Aid. If you’ve been conned already and signed over your email address, phone number, and soul, I’ve composed a few tips to get you through it.

You see, I too was once a newbie, convinced that as a stay-at-home mum I had no excuse to not put my hand up when the opportunity arose, and I genuinely thought that joining the P&C at my kids’ school would be a great way to be involved, make a difference and make… friends.

I’m sure that at many schools the P&C is a progressive and valuable part of the community, and I base the following on my experience alone. Let’s just say, I definitely did not make friends.

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1. It isn’t too late to leave.

Tell them you’ve had a change of heart and would like to opt out. Or if this is too confrontational, re-route their emails to the spam folder and make sure you take up a yoga or meditation class on the night the meetings are held.

2. Ghost them.

Just don’t show up for the meetings.

3. Do not make suggestions.

I learned this the hard way when I, high on first-timer ignorance, was lured along to the meeting with the promise of wine and snacks and made an innocent suggestion.

Thinking it was a good opportunity to voice concerns and make suggestions, I leapt right in. No sweetie. It turned out that what they want is not active new voices, but rather a passive audience to say “aye” at the right moments.

4. Do not criticise.

The school is perfect just how it is and how very dare you suggest it isn’t.

Here’s the thing: Public schools have to make do on a tight budget, and that’s where P&Cs come in to fund projects that otherwise mightn’t get off the ground. For this reason, many improvements need to be approved by this select committee, which is super awkward because in my experience, they don’t like to be told that things need improving – especially if the barer of bad news is a new parent.

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The classrooms could literally have asbestos falling from the ceiling, ready to settle in the lungs of 25 six-year-olds, but if the suggestion to fix it came from a newbie, they’d say they’re happy with the current asbestos management plan and that they’re open to reviewing it in future. From my recent experience bringing up a significant safety issue, they definitely are not open to this.

As a repeat offender with the suggestions/criticisms, I was also told that if I don’t love everything about the school and its decision making procedures, then perhaps it isn’t the school for me – even though it’s the local public school and that isn’t how catchments work.

You know when you see cars around with bumper stickers saying delightful things like “f*ck off, we’re full” or “if you don’t love it, leave”? I’m not one hundred percent convinced that they’re actually racists behind the wheel, but rather members of the local public school’s P&C.

It’s nice to be involved and community minded, and as I said, I’m sure there are P&Cs out there that don’t foster this sort of toxic exclusivity, but proceed with caution. The inner circle can be impossible to break into, even if you wanted to.

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