I am not PTA material. I never was, and my recent experience with the group has validated that I never will be.
Recently, there was a temporary lapse in judgement on my part when I fooled myself into thinking that maybe I could actually be the PTA type. I was in a particularly good mental space on that fateful day when I said, “Pick me, I’ll do it!” I was so certain that I had all my ducks in a perfectly-constructed row that I impulsively gave into an unexplainable urge to make a difference in the world by joining the PTA. I do, after all, love and cherish the elementary school that has educated my three children for the last eight years; wasn’t it my duty to give back a little?
I imagined myself transforming into some politician-type PTA mom who not only has all her sh*t together, but has everyone else’s sh*t together, too. I was going to be the mom all the kids at school know by name. The one everyone else wants to know. The mom other moms at school email with both questions and praise. The mom others look at and wonder, how the heck does she do it all and make it look so easy? My kids, the suburban moms whom I have envied for so long, and the entire school community would admire me. How sweet it would be!
How to Quit the PTA
Turns out for this mom, it was a lot more sour than sweet. I found that I was more annoyed by the topics of discussion than I was engaged. I rolled my eyes, at least in my mind, when others came up with new ideas for fundraising because to me it simply meant more tedious work. I didn’t care about collecting box tops or how we could save $50 extra on the school dance budget by hiring a different DJ. Every suggestion, question, and email seemed simply like more work — and more stress — to me.
I'd bitten off more than I could chew, and way too soon into my commitment, I realized it was not right for me. I wanted to quit for months, but I just couldn’t do it, and I struggled for a long time with this internal conflict before finally resigning. Sure, it was a painful experience, but in pain there is always growth. These are the valuable lessons I learned.
1. You can’t let pride get in the way.
When I told people that I had signed up to be the new PTA president-elect, their responses became grist for the mill: Are you crazy? You can’t possibly do that! What are you thinking? You’re a single mom! Well, that took my ego and my pride by storm: I tensed up, put myself on high alert, and made a mental note: I will show them. I will do this. And so I did — or I tried to. I showed up at meetings, went to the training, and started taking on a more active role, speaking at school events, running a PTA meeting, responding to an insane amount of emails, and writing the group's newsletter. I was showing them — but at the expense of my own family and self-care. I was too proud to say, “No, I can’t. Please help me.” That would have required vulnerability and humility, and that’s the hard stuff, isn’t it? I worried too much about what others would think, and that interfered with my judgement. When you recognize yourself protecting your ego more than your own needs, it's time to say, Too bad, pride. You lose.
2. You must recognize and honor your priorities.
Here I was, a single mom struggling to keep my life together, working both a full and a part-time job just to make ends meet. I'm also an alcoholic who has been sober for almost five years. AA meetings are a regular, essential part of my routine. Skipping these meetings puts my sobriety at risk — and yet there I was, skipping meetings. I was neglecting the nonnegotiable priorities in my own life to be a good PTA president-elect — and it was killing me. The answer was so clear, yet I couldn’t see it.
Think about the priorities in your life so that you will recognize and honor them when it matters. When something interferes, don’t overthink; just say no. It really can be that simple.
3. Your intuition doesn’t lie.
For months, my intuition was screaming: This isn’t for you, do not pass go, wave the white flag! I ignored it for too long. I ignored my intuition because, quite frankly, I was obsessed with what others thought of me. I ignored my intuition because if I quit this role, it would be a very public admission of defeat. But here is the thing: Intuition doesn’t lie, and it tends to get louder if we ignore it.
Time and again, my intuition tells the truth about what is best for me. It may not be what is best for Mrs. Smith next door, but there is only one person to whom I have to stay true, and that is myself. When I ignore my own truth, two things are certain: resentment and emotional pain. And so as I continued pretending I could keep it all together, a pain grew in my mind and spirit, and so did resentment. After a while I could not ignore these feelings; they simply kept growing.
My advice? Pay attention. Sometimes it’s difficult to follow the advice of our intuition, but it really does have our best interests at heart.
4. Don’t believe your fears.
Eventually I was able to give up my quest for admiration and to respond to the shouts from my intuition. I caught hold of my imagination, and stopped caring what others thought because I realized they didn’t know. They didn’t know the tears I shed at night, the stress this was causing my family, or that my sobriety was at risk if I continued down this path. And I didn’t know what they actually thought, and I never truly would.
Fear sometimes lies, and we don’t have to always believe it. If you're afraid to make a major life change or to walk back on a commitment you were initially excoted about, talk to a friend you trust. Try to ensure that you are seeing things clearly, and practice getting to know the difference between intuition and fear, and those feelings that should or should not be acted on.
5. You don't have to negotiate.
When I finally made the decision to quit, I resigned with a brief and non-negotiable email. I knew that if I left room for negotiation, I would be tempted to go back on my commitment to myself. So I didn’t offer the wish-washy, guilt-ridden, "if you need me to do something else, I am happy to help" resignation. Nope. I wasn’t happy to help; I wasn’t able to help. I chose my words carefully, leaving no room for misinterpretation, and I hit send.
Sometimes there isn’t room for compromise, and giving ourselves permission to know and honor these situations will save us headaches down the road.
As it turns out, the school and the PTA are surviving just fine without me; I'm not quite as important or influential as I had imagined. No one seems to care too much about my resignation; then again, what other people think about me is really none of my business.
Now, when those PTA emails cross my inbox, I smile widely. They are a reminder of how my past mistakes have led to a fuller commitment to myself. I remember a time that I'd been been brave enough to put myself first, and to choose sobriety, self-care, and balance over my need to be liked and my fears of disappointing others — and that's a wise, beautiful thing.
This post was written by Suzanne Hayes.