It’s unavoidable. As much as I absolutely adore the “back to school” season–the first soft whispers of fall, back to school shopping, new notebooks and backpacks, and the excitement of brand new adventures, part of me also cringes in anticipation of the parents that are ahem, overtly involved in volunteering at their kids schools, scheduling tons of get togethers, participating in multiple extra curricular activities, and are full of school spirit.
You know the type. They have their kids in every single available sport or activity. They volunteer with the PTA. They work the snack booth at the football games and work in the school library once a week. They sell the most candy bars at fundraiser time and plan the field day events every year. They give Leslie Knopes a run for her money (iykyk).
And the world absolutely needs people and parents like that. But, there are times where I can’t handle that amount of energy, pressure, and find myself getting super stressed out. I feel guilty that I can’t invest the same amount of energy (or excitement at times) for all things school activities because I’m a working mama who happens to have a chronic disease and who’s child happens to have a disability.
So how do you handle that feeling of “peer pressure” from other parents? Here’s what’s worked for me:
Identify Where the Guilt is Coming From
I think it’s a pretty common theme for parents to have guilt about wanting to be the perfect parent who shows up at every single school event. Pom poms in hand. But we tend to forget that overextending yourself can have an impact on your mental and physical health, as well as your overall productivity.
We’ve found it helpful to try and spend some focused time reflecting on our unique beliefs, family values, and ideas related to what it means to be a good parent. We continuously think through:
- Our childhood experiences
- What we are consuming on social media
- Who we’re surrounding ourselves with
- News/blogs/articles/books we’re reading
If you’re like me and your mom always made homemade treats for the class parties, you may feel like doing anything less makes you inadequate. If all of your mom friends are all throwing Pinterest-perfect birthday parties for their kids complete with custom fancy favors for party guests, you might feel like you’re obligated to do the same. Especially if that’s what your social media feed is full of! If all the dads in your neighborhood are coaching Peewee Football, you might feel like you need to be grabbing a clipboard and a shiny silver whistle to be considered a hands on parent.
By taking time to reflect and identify where your feelings are coming from, you can begin to separate others beliefs from your own unique beliefs.
Lock in Your Core Values as a Parent
After we dug deep to see where these feelings of guilt were coming from, we focused on cultivating a life that matched what we value and what fundamentally works for us and our family.
For us, one of our core values is a healthy lifestyle, so we’ve agreed that we don’t feel comfortable sacrificing multiple opportunities to exercise each week to attend an optional PTA planning committee meetings. I would much rather make a donation to the school library and let someone else plan out the school dance. My career is super time-consuming, so I’ve aligned to the fact that I won’t ever have as much time to give as a parent who doesn’t work outside the home. We focused on picking 1-2 activities that are really important to Callie (archery and horseback riding) so we can prioritize those during this season of life. Rest is another core value for our family–and we can’t achieve a restful and intentional life if we are sprinting from activity to activity each day, careening into the driveway at the end of the day, only to collapse into an exhausted heap at night completely disconnected from each other.
We make sure to evaluate our schedules quarterly too. This gives us an opportunity to see where we are at with our capacity health-wise, what surgeries/procedures Callie has on deck, bring a level of awareness to certain times of year where we know it’s a little more crazy, and gives us an advance opportunity to block off family and self-care time on our calendar so I don’t (accidently) fill up every empty spot.
Once we’ve identified the days or weeks in which our family won’t be available, it gives us permission to take a step back knowing that it’s a temporary, intentional, and strategic decision and that there will be times in the future when we can confidently say “yes” more.
Remembering that what matters most is our family’s well-being, contentment, and fulfillment—not anyone else’s.
For us to set and maintain boundaries, we had to get super clear in our values so that when I’m faced with times when I just want to say ‘no’ or I want to buy the store bought cookies rather than bake, ice, and decorate 100 cookies for the class party, I know that this is coming from a place that works best for us. I can still participate and be an active contribution to the class but I’m not stressing out over baking 100 cookies at 10PM. When I’m in alignment with our family’s unique values and beliefs, the “peer pressure” doesn’t feel so strong.
Get Good at Saying No (Nicely)
Even with all the self awareness in the world, saying no can be hard at times. I’ve gotten pretty good at utilizing the following to warmly and firmly, decline:
“I’d love to attend but that date doesn’t work for our family. We’re available on____”
“I can’t do X but I can do Y.”
“I appreciate the offer but that doesn’t work for us right now.”
I also have stopped giving an answer right away. As a recovering people pleaser, I was notorious for saying yes out of habit to everything before I’d even looked at my calendar. Naturally, I would be in over my head and be cursing myself the day of the event when I had too much on my plate. A short pause to evaluate your schedule, capacity, and interest is a game changer.
Comparison is the Thief of Joy
What qualifies as a “great parent” for some may be seen as completely inadequate to others. We’ve focused on surrounding ourselves with other parents who build our confidence, support our individual needs, and have set clear boundaries with those who do not.
Comparison truly is the thief of joy. Comparing my parenting journey to another person’s parenting journey doesn’t do either one of us any good. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent–we all are trying to show up in the best way possible for our beautifully unique kids. Store bought cookies included.