Parent cliques: how to handle them at your child's school
What to do when you feel left out of the "in" crowd at your child's school? Follow the advice of the experts: moms and dads who've been in the trenches and made it work.
By Leslie Crawford
Sometimes a story hits a big nerve, and so it was with our recent article about how damaging parent cliques can be for a school. Several dads chimed in about never being invited into the mom coffee klatch. "Can you imagine how hard it is to infiltrate these groups as a dad?" wrote Troy von Kultzleben of Atlanta, GA. "We're talking guerrilla warfare here."
Dozens of other parents described their own experiences of feeling shut out — even bullied in the form of overt exclusion — by the powerful parent cliques who run the show. "I lived my entire school career as the 'unpopular' kid and here I am, a parent myself, and I find myself intimidated and inadequate next to the popular parents," wrote Brooke Fishman, of New York, NY.
What to do? "If you run into a brick wall, look for a door," says Tim Sullivan, publisher of PTO Today. "It's rare when the clique controls everything." If the clique is in charge of the entire PTO, adds Sullivan, find some other way to volunteer. Yes, he admits, "there are people who are pains in the rear end and can be snooty. But I find in most cases, it's unintended. The good news is long-term, you will find that open door and typically, the brick wall melts as well." (Read more from PTO Today on tackling difficult parent groups.)
Along with Sullivan's advice, the best suggestions came from – little surprise – other parents who found their own strategies for navigating a difficult parent culture.
Go to the teacher
Teachers always need help… Do whatever you can do for your kid's teachers and the class and get connected with them. That's all that matters. You are making a difference in your kid's life....What you and your kids feel is more important that what PTA feels about you. – Mamata Tripathy
My advice: just show up...Teachers will hardly ever refuse help. Then, one day, one of those prissy little kids will go home and ask their prissy little mother why they don't ever come to school and read to the class. Because, "I was having a mid-afternoon glass of wine with some other mums to talk about the PTA bake sale." Touche! – Troy von Kultzleben
Focus on the kids
At my school, I call them the "strollergang". I just ask God to help me through the day, it's for our kids. Full-time job, and mom, [I] help when I can. They can stare and whisper all they want. – Anonymous
... everything I do, I always think of the kids, everyone's kids, but mine in particular and how happy what I am volunteering to do will make them. – Shauna Esper Goldman
Keep socializing out of school
I don't socialize at my kids' schools. It's actually never crossed my mind to do so. We participate, but at the same time, I try and keep my distance a little. I don't socialize with co-workers either. There is work, there is school, there is home life, and I try to keep things from overlapping. I do help out at school, but I kind of get in and get out and do what needs to be done period. I'm more in touch directly with the teachers instead of a group like PTA. – Beth Coger Casey
Be the grown-up
... My one thought is "grow up." Life is tough enough. As a parent, it is our job to help minimize drama, not participate in it. If the parent brushes this off, then so will the child. You will encounter cliques in every aspect of life ... Seriously in 10 years the only thing that will matter is whether or not your child received a decent education. That is the only thing I would fight for. – Jennifer Bruder
Very common not just in schools, but mom groups, parenting classes, Girl/Cub Scouts, etc. Grow up and be a good example for teaching your kid to play nice with others... – Ben Ander
Do something positive
When I hear and see folks excluded from social settings due to race, culture, economic or marital status or otherwise, I hear a likeness to what led our country into WWII, to a course that eventually led to millions lives lost because of a drive to exclude them. I want humanity to evolve and realize we are much stronger together, everyone is needed, desired and has talent. Everyone can contribute. Make sure to stand up and call out when being excluded. Start a RandomActOfKindness.org (kids) group or a prayer (adult) group and be heard that way. There is always another way... – Kimberly Corona
I feel it's more a case of the PTO crowd (or what I refer to as soldier parents) not wanting to impose on other parents that they don't know so well. I think it's more like, "OK, we have these events that needs to be completed for the school" and it's just so much easier to do it yourself or ask another PTO parent, rather than to seek out new parents to complete the task and possibly risk inconveniencing them. No parent gets an engraved invitation to become involved with the PTO: you simply need to go to all the school and PTO meetings and events and start imposing your own opinions, but more importantly, giving your time to your school. – Pinny Ohayon
Take the initiative
As a parent group president, I constantly beg for parents to get involved, often using the quote: "Many hands make light work." I give out my email address, in addition to my home and cell numbers if they would like to talk to me after school hours about getting involved. So imagine my surprise when I hear parents complain about our 'clique' and how they don't know how to get involved, when they have not once tried to contact me! ... Let the group know your strengths so they can find a good fit for you! – Nicol Jones
About two years ago I had the same problem "fitting in." I came up with a great idea to get parents into the school, and I approached the PTO about it. They told me it was a bad idea, and they didn't have the time for it. I knew this would work, so I created a proposal for our principal. The principal gave me the OK and I was on my way to get other parents into the school. It has been two years, and we have a volunteer program that is very successful. We get to spend valuable time with children, help teachers with projects, give hugs, and mentor children ...We are not cliquish and we all have dreams that are equally listened to. Please don't let anyone discourage you from spending time with your children. When your heart is right, the right people will listen. – James N. Hannah Carroll
Leave the school
We were fortunate enough to be able to pull our youngest son from the "cliquey" public elementary school after third grade. Mothers in this town make excluding certain Mom's and kids an art form. – Nancy King Shaw
Forward this article
I wish I could forward the article to the "mean mom" who has made me feel like I can't plan things in our school. – Rosie Loera-Colpitts