If you want to feel like an inadequate parent, attend back-to-school night

If you ever want to feel truly bad about yourself, just hit back-to-school night. You will be feeling inadequate in no time.

OK, this may not work for everyone. If you are the parents of the kid who sits next to my daughter then you probably didn’t feel the same sense of inadequacy that I did because your child has inexplicably perfect cursive handwriting as a 6-year-old. My daughter still writes her numbers backward, and your child wrote (perfectly) that his favorite book is Harry Potter. Really? You’re 6, kid.

But for me, back-to-school night was full of moments of self-doubt. I know mothers are not supposed to compare their children, but that’s a tall order when your child’s work is posted right there on the wall next to everyone else’s. I also know I’m not the only mom doing a quick mental list of where my child falls in her writing ability.

Then, of course, you have the moms who want to spend the whole night talking about their advanced child who is clearly too smart for the public school system and will likely need extra material to challenge him. We get it, lady, your kid is a boy genius. Has he met Harry Potter’s No. 1 fan over here? I think they’d like each other.

It’s not just the nerves about where my child falls academically. Back-to-school-night also puts you face to face with (insert ominous drumroll here) . . . other parents. I generally get along with other parents and like meeting them, but then there are the people who make me feel like I am 15 again walking into a crowded lunchroom with a tray of food and nowhere to sit and oh my gosh I am such a loser and everyone is staring at me so I’ll just turn around and go eat by myself in the bathroom stall. True story.

It’s amazing how those awkward teenage feelings bubble right back up when I run into a mom who is wearing high heels, has fabulous hair and somehow looks amazing sitting in a ridiculously small chair meant for a first grader. She has already volunteered to be the room mom, of course, and knows all of the teachers personally. They love her. She loves them. It’s just one big love fest.

Speaking of which, am I the only one who is terrified of the PTO? Seriously scared to death. The PTO president is this parent celebrity who walks around flanked by her volunteer minions. She tells me I am important to the cause. She encourages me to sign up and that PTO can’t run without Y-O-U. I feel myself getting brainwashed, but, no, I must resist. If I don’t, I too will soon be wearing a pantsuit and pearls on a Monday night and saying crazy things like, “The Fun Fair is the highlight of my year.”

To be honest, I appreciate these moms. I’m glad someone is willing to do the hard work of hosting activities, buying teacher gifts and setting the standard for maternal excellence. If not for them, who would shame me out of wearing my pajamas every day to drop of my daughter? I mean, I still wear them most days, but occasionally I throw on an actual pair of pants to leave the house. I know. I am totally going to be room mom next year.

Joking aside, I am honestly trying not to compare myself to other moms and my daughter to other children. Back-to-school night was quite the test of my resolve because the comparisons were easy to make. But I tried to focus instead on my daughter’s tiny desk with her name scrawled on her pencil box. I tried to think about her sitting there all day, learning and trying her best and hopefully ignoring the kid finishing up “War and Peace” beside her.

The thing that pulled me out of my childish comparisons most was the note she had left at her desk for us: “I am liking first grade. I am learning to write. I like my teacher. I like when my teacher reads me a book. Thank you for coming to my classroom.”

Yes, many of the words were misspelled or the letters were backwards, but all I could think was how last year, she couldn’t write more than three words. She kept reading and writing and trying all year and all summer, and now she is writing. She didn’t stop to compare or feel inadequate. Soon those letters will be perfect and she will continue on her way, happily focused on who she is and who she is becoming. Here’s to hoping I can do the same.


  1. Cagesjamtoo (aka Sam)

    Oh Erin, too bad we live on different sides of the ward boundary. We could then or we could go to Back to School night and feel inadequate together!

  2. Danny Chipman

    Holy cow, was this ever a timely blog! I just had my first Back-To-School Night. After a hectic day of housework, errands, and running (well, creeping; it was rush hour) from one end of the valley to another because Daddy had evening classes and Grandma was the only one available to watch the two little ones, I barely made it in time. I felt frazzled and unkempt in my jeans, T-shirt, and baseball cap and sat on my daughter’s little seat in the midst of fabulously coiffed moms. Seriously, I think I was the only one there wearing something other than a dress or pants suit. Must be a Draper thing. Even when the volunteer moms man the crosswalks and direct before- and after-school traffic, they’re dressed in skirts, heels, makeup and jewelry. Same when I volunteer in my daughter’s classes. It’s like being in the Twilight Zone. Or in the Stepford Wives.

  3. Another Parent

    Talk about feeling inadequate . . .If you child really wrote that letter to you for back to school night, then I have a lot of work to do with my first grader.

  4. Erin R.

    Oh, gosh, their kid needs extra material to challenge him? I don’t even have a kid and that bugs the crap. People are obnoxious. Sometimes without meaning to be, sometimes blatantly. But I loved the ending to this post and you are exactly right to focus on how far your little girl has come. Everything is relative, and she is clearly miles ahead of where she was a year ago, so, well done, both of you.

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