Anne Tergesen

This blog has been far more fun and interesting than I anticipated. On a personal note, it’s like the diary I don’t have the time to keep. On a professional note, it’s helped me become a better, less inhibited writer. As a working parent, it’s been enormously helpful to get reassurance and tips from others who struggle with the same issues. Last week, I learned—upfront and personal—yet another lesson: That blogs, like radio call-in and TV talk shows, can foster misunderstanding rather than understanding, unless we're careful. The problem: To attract an audience, bloggers tackle provocative topics in provocative ways: Nuance can easily get lost. The relative anonymity—you rarely meet the people you’re sparring with—can also encourage fiery posts and exchanges.

Here’s what happened. Last May, I wrote a post about volunteering, in which I claimed I used my working parent status as a sort of “get out of jail free card”—to duck requests for my time from my children’s schools. When emailed requests came in, I wrote, my response was swift and decisive: “Delete, delete, delete.”

The truth of the matter is far more nuanced. Lost in the blog was a sentence I wrote owning up to the fact that I have served as a class parent (and not just once but four times, which I neglected to say). I also neglected to say that I would never be so rude as to delete requests from class parents (moms, invariably) without first responding. Nonetheless, I do plead guilty to deleting the more anonymous and prolific email requests I get—almost daily—from the parent’s association for help with school-wide events. Much as I’d like to help, I feel I must make it a priority to spend my volunteer time in the classroom, where I can see my kids. I know this is selfish—and that I freeload off of other parents who are willing to do more for the school. But I feel I am already stretched too thin.

The blog elicited the following response: “It is parents like you that make it hard on those of us who are trying to give our kids a good school experience and help their teacher…. Not only does it embarrass your child that you won't help out but it makes those of us who actually do something to HELP YOUR CHILD lives harder because we not only have to do all the in class things but the extra things that working moms could easily send in if they cared at all. Such as "cleaning up" after an event or "making cupcakes." This is not about all working moms - just those like you who are taking advantage of their working status. Just so you know - room mom's have lives. We just choose to spend much of them helping our children - and yours. Someone has to - you obviously won't."

The criticism stung. I was tempted to write a nasty follow-up. But instead, I decided to take it offline, and email the poster to explain that I felt misunderstood: “I have served as a room mom 4 times,” I said.

Her response: “Your article sounded as if you choose to ignore the room mom’s pleas for help with the “delete” comments and the like. The tone of the article hit a major nerve with me, because out of 21 parents in my son’s class, maybe three will even respond to me.”

I couldn’t disagree with her characterization of my blog. It did sound as if I had chosen to ignore the room mom’s pleas for help. I also could understand—based on my own experiences as a class mom—her frustration in trying to rally the troops. We exchanged a few more emails. Both of us apologized. And we decided that when it comes to volunteering on behalf of our kids, we agree more than we disagree: Parents—working outside the home or not—should make a reasonable effort to help out. I wonder how many of those people screaming at one another on TV, radio or on the internet would actually find they have a lot in common—if only they’d take the time to talk.

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