Guest Blogger Jenny: Imperfect Mommy. She’s At Private Schools, She’s Everywhere!

Imperfect Mommy
After writing that “Perfect Mommy” piece that got the Holistic Mommy Network in an uproar, Christina and I noticed something: an uptick in the past year or so of the “Bad Mommy” blog genre. You know, the opposite of Perfect Mommy, in which Bad Mommy secretly (or not so secretly) wants martinis, cigarettes, pot and sex (usually not with her partner). Billed as being “honest,” these blogs end up almost as competitive and crazy making as their “Perfect” counterparts. If you’re like us, you’ve probably spent time clicking on sites like: Her Bad Mother, Mommy Wants Vodka Perfectly DisheveledVodka Mom  and many more. And still, the mommies in the middle learn nothing and continue to shriek and finger point. We may digress slightly with this topic…we find it amusing. But, rest assured, private elementary schools in LA have plenty of Imperfect Mommies (and mommies in the middle too!).

At first, I thought I’d write a parody of one these Bad Mommy blogs, a sort of Bad Mommy to end all Bad Mommies. But here’s the problem: it doesn’t work. The real blog entries are usually pretty out there already, so to write a parody, the mommy has to be really bad. Like, call Protective Child Services bad. In my unpublishable attempt at parody, my “bad mommy” caricature got drunk three times, forgot her kids’ names, lost her kids on her own block, exposed them to second hand smoke, locked them in their rooms, and slept with the handyman. Yes, that’s some bad behavior. It’s also not funny. I was ready to call the authorities on her by the end.

I think it’s very easy to make fun of the perfect mommy idea, simply because it’s unattainable. Most of us lack the funds, the patience, or the time to devote to the demands of perfect motherhood. Most of it is so ridiculous, in fact, that it’s easy to attack. Who doesn’t want to go off on some self righteous celebrity using her perfect motherhood to get publicity? It’s just a lightning rod for criticism.

But the Bad Mommy phenomena hits far closer to home. Many of us came to motherhood relatively late, and had time to live freely, have careers, went to dinner whenever we wanted. We were independent and sassy and a little bit selfish. All of these things are, I think, an improvement in the lives of women. But all of these things make the myopia of motherhood harder to take. Thus, the Bad Mommy blog is born.

“Quit your whining,” I hear critics say. “You chose to have children, and this is now your life.” It’s true that men in particular loathe the Bad Mommy genre, possibly because it makes them wonder if their mothers might have secretly felt the same way; it makes them squirm in some fundamentally Oedipal way. And there are plenty of us out there who secretly read Bad Mommy blogs because it’s a comfort to know that someone out there is way, way worse than us. But none of this is particularly productive; it just pits women against one another and makes us seem whiny and silly to the other 49% of the population.

These blogs all tend to focus on actions, whether it’s making your own granola or sneaking a smoke in the backyard. The thing is, the actions involved in parenting, if you really boil them down, are not complicated. The kid needs to be fed, and feeding her just involves food (breast milk or formula, homemade baby food or store bought, is fairly irrelevant; to the baby, food is food). The kid needs to sleep, whether it’s with you in bed or solo in a crib. The baby needs to be held, by someone. We make it complicated, but it’s not.

What are immensely complex are our feelings about parenting. All our expectations, all our dreams, all our frustrations and disappointments get tied up in the act of parenting. This isn’t really about the kids, it’s about us, and how we were raised, and how, even after years of working and competence, being parents brings up immense feelings of inadequacy. And inadequacy tends to lead to overcompensation, either through becoming a bossy, show off, Perfect Mommy, or a rebellious, sulky Bad Mommy.

Add an entire industry of self-help books and tv shows and contradictory advice, and you have a perfect mechanism to feed this inadequacy. After all, if mothers feel inadequate all the time, they’re far more likely to buy into the latest food trends, or invest thousands of dollars in unnecessary baby-proofing, or attend parenting classes touting dubious techniques. There appears to be very little in the way of trusting your instincts, looking at what you personally can tolerate as a parent, and then carrying out those plans without guilt or self-consciousness.

We are a very fearful, insecure, needy generation. We say we want the best for our children, but are unable to articulate what “best” even means. We think that by raising our children differently from how we were raised, our children will be happier, but really we’re only trying to please ourselves. And, in the end, we drown in our own self-absorption and needs, which masquerades as parenting. Perhaps it’s time to take a solid look at our own unfulfilled childhood needs, the complexity of what it feels like to be a parent when we still feel like children inside, and set the actual parenting scenario aside. In the end, we need to have some compassion for one another, rather than one-upping each other in terms of parenting actions.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad


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How Intimidating!

 

When you’re applying to private elementary schools in Los Angeles, just about anything can rattle you during the admissions process. A too-hard stare from a school official. A breezy, off-hand remark from another mom. Second thoughts about a written application you’ve already sent in. Pretty much anything can send you into a tailspin.

 

For me, it was a mom at my daughter’s preschool who was really intimidating. She had a son, Jack, a year ahead of my daughter. She was knee-deep in the admissions process and would walk through the school with an enormous binder filled with school admissions information. Understandably, she was determined to get her child into the best school she could. She talked about nothing else.

 

When the admissions letters came out, Jack was accepted at Oakwood School. The intimidating thing about it (and really, the irritating thing) was that whenever any of us asked her for tips on what she did to get her child into this very competitive school, her response was:

 

“Jack got Jack into Oakwood”

 

You’ve got to be kidding me! This was the most smug, unhelpful answer possible. It was completely intimidating, possibly by design. Again and again, this mom would repeat this statement. She would never offer anything beyond it. No helpful advice. No words of wisdom. Nothing. Any words of wisdom were conspicuously absent.

 

The preschool whisper campaign kicked into high gear. Her kid took on the status of a child prodigy, a legend at the school. Jack took a starring role in way too many of our conversations. We didn’t know what to make of what this mom was telling us.

 
My family applied to Oakwood the following year. My daughter was accepted. When other parents asked me about the admissions process, I remembered how intimidating (and annoying) this mom’s statement was. I tried to be forthcoming with as much specific information as possible whenever asked. Hence the book and this blog. 

 

Here’s a very funny post called, “CompetiMommy” from the hilarious blog, Mom 101.

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Guest Blogger Jenny: Interviews and Student Visits: A Wealth of Opportunities to Make a Bad Impression

It Rained On Anna’s Visiting Day At Mirman

I don’t need to tell you that private school interview and student visit season is upon us. If you’re reading this blog, you’re either about to go through it, have started to go through it, or went through it already and are grateful to have it over with.

Between the interviews and your child’s visiting day or morning, there are countless ways you and yours could mess it up. These are tense, fidgety times, bringing to the forefront all your anxieties and insecurities. And your kid can sense it, too. He or she is being questioned and tested and judged, and every kid recognizes it.

But, does all this self-scrutiny really do you any good? I’m not sure, since, in my experience, the writing is often on the wall from moment one of the interview. For two years running, my ex and I tried to get Anna into St. James. Our reasons were mostly practical: she was at Third St., she’d have to switch before 6th grade to a private school, and St. James was close, good, and convenient. I know many families there, and one of my best friends put in a glowing recommendation. Yet, during both interviews, I felt that it was a perfunctory exercise. There was no enthusiasm reserved for us or Anna. We felt like numbers. And when she was denied acceptance twice, I really wasn’t surprised.

Then there was John Thomas Dye. We really liked the school. Anna loved the school, idyllic country club that it is. The Admissions Director said outright that she really liked Anna, and told us up front that she would be a shoe in for Archer (not JTD) for 6th grade. This was polite code for “we have no room for her, and it was nice meeting you.”  While I have previously mentioned our being a divorced family as perhaps being part of the reason why Anna might have been a less desirable prospect, I have no way of proving such a claim. All I know is that it was a done deal from before we ever walked through the door for the interview. She was waitlisted, and we decided after review that entrance wasn’t a possibility.

There was actually less chance of actively blowing it during the Mirman interview, mostly because the parents are only interviewed with the child present. Thus, it was up to Anna to make a good impression. Since she’s a pretty friendly, articulate child, it was easy for her to be charming and answer the AD’s questions in an engaging fashion. That part went really well.

What didn’t go as well was the morning Anna spent at Mirman. Anna’s father dropped her off at 8:00, and by all reports the visit itself went well. Anna took a test and then spent time with a Room 3 class. I was the designated pick up parent. It was a severely stormy day. I mean, like sheets of rain and major gusts of wind. Streets were flooding. I’d only been up Mirman a couple of times at that point, and had only driven there once. The school is up Mulholland on the west side of the 405 freeway. I took Sunset to Sepulveda and headed up, managed to miss the turnoff at the Skirball Center to go over the 405, and ended up driving over the hill and into the Valley.

There was patchy cell service (iPhone, of course), and I kept trying to call the school, since it was clear I was going to be late. I could just picture Anna, abandoned in the front office, wilted and forgotten, with the staff thinking, “Bad Mommy. She’s a terrible flake who will not be an asset to the school.” I would ruin her chances of getting into private school, just because I didn’t own a GPS and was an idiot.

I managed to call the school, sounding just as harassed and moronic as I was feeling. Mulholland literally looked like it was washing away as I drove up it. I found my way, finally, to the gates, parking in the wrong place and dashing through torrential rain. Anna looked relieved. I was overly apologetic. And the staff simply waved us out of there, probably thinking: “Sometimes dumb parents have smart kids.”

I worried about this bad impression. When Anna was wait-listed, I wasn’t surprised. What did surprise me is when she actually got into Mirman, despite my navigational challenges. She was off the wait-list and in from a fortuitous call in late June.

Since dealing with the school, I now know that it didn’t care what I did. The school really only looks at the kid. It’s one place where they really don’t care who your parents are. All that self-consciousness and scrutiny made no difference in the end, although it definitely raised my blood pressure.

My advice? Relax and do try to be yourselves. There are so many factors beyond your control. There’s no point in freaking out and second guessing yourself, or making your kid crazy. Trust your instincts. These schools will send you signals if you choose to recognize them. And the only way to recognize them is to get out of your own head and pay attention.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. Her daughter started 4th grade at Mirman School this year. She previously attended 3rd St. Elementary School. Jenny has been published recently in the Daily News. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad.


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When Things Don’t Go Well At Private School: Two Articles

In Beyond The Brochure, we talk about choosing a school for your oldest child, which most of you are probably going to have to do. But, what happens if the school you choose doesn’t admit your second child? Most schools admit siblings, so this doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it can be very difficult.


New York Times: “Schools Counsel Out The Unsuccessful.” An article about students who don’t make it in private schools. 

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Minority Families At LA Private Elementary Schools: Progress, But Enough?

By Porcha Dodson, Co-Author, Beyond The Brochure
 
 
Los Angeles is often described as one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the Unites States. A melting pot where people from all social and socio-economic classes can create a comfortable space for themselves and their families.  The topic of diversity and inclusion has always been a top priority for many private elementary schools in Los Angeles. Most accredited schools have a diversity mission statement that fits with the school’s educational philosophy. Diversity initiatives at private elementary schools are in place. Efforts are made to recruit and retain minority students. Why then, do some minority families feel like there are very few, if any, support services for them at their schools? Why are some diverse families feeling like they are excluded from social events, both at the school and outside of school?
 
A recent dinner I had with friends who work in some of LA’s top private schools led me to think about this subject, one which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working on when I was Director of Diversity at The Curtis School.  Over dinner, my colleagues and I pondered the question, “why are so many minority students and families still feeling isolated within their private school communities”? The name of a very well-known music industry super-star and his family were mentioned as parents who are feeling isolated at their children’s school. In this case, race, not class is the dividing issue.
 
I spoke with a private elementary school family who had recently fallen on hard times as a result of the recession. The woman’s husband had to take a job in another state. The woman felt totally isolated from  families at her child’s school and was no longer invited to many of the social gatherings, party book functions and play dates where previously the family was often first on the list of invited guests.
 
This is one example of how minority families can feel isolation due to a change in socio-economic status. Although this situation is unique in its own way, it illustrates the fact that at some schools, additional time must be spent on developing effective retention strategies for minority families and incorporating more sensitivity training into professional development workshops. 
 
The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) encourages schools to educate their teachers and staff on how to be sensitive to all students and work to develop these practices and lessons into everyday classroom instruction and the admissions process.
 
Last week, a good friend shared with me that there was an amazing new family from out of state that had just joined her daughter’s third grade class. The mother was friendly and always made time in her busy work schedule to volunteer and be an active member of the classroom community. The family lives in a gated community in Inglewood because the father had accepted a job at the last minute at a huge law firm in LA and this was the first house they found. The mother tried hard to set up play date after play date, but seemed to continuously have no luck. Finally, one day she called a mom that she was friendly with and asked if they could get together. The other mother’s response was, “Sure, but I heard that you live in Inglewood and we DON’T DO Inglewood.” Needless to say, these same patterns continued throughout the course of the next year and finally the family ended up leaving the school.  In my experience, this is not uncommon. Some minority families can be isolated due to socio-economic status, geographic differences, race or other factors. Let’s face it, race still matters. 
 
If you are a minority family applying to schools, there are a few things you should look for during your tours, interviews and visits to the school. Do you see diverse students, teachers and staff at the school? Does the school have a diversity committee that allows parents to join? Once your child is at the school, if it does not have a diversity committee, talk to your head master about setting up one. In addition, you could help organize a parent-driven committee that is responsible for acknowledging and creating campus-wide programs that celebrate each cultural holiday (Chinese New Year, Black History Month, Cinco De Mayo and more). A guest speaker series that focuses on social justice and inclusivity is also a format that is used successfully by many private elementary schools in Los Angeles.

 

All of these practices will help ensure that diversity is welcome and celebrated throughout the school community, making the campus more inclusive to every family. A note of caution, however. If you tour a school and you don’t see diversity in the students, teachers, administrators and/or parents, don’t assume it’s there, just missing in action that day. The diversity you are not seeing is probably because it’s not there!  There is one top LA private elementary school about which parents joke because it’s known for having “one black student.” Think about whether your child (and your family) would be happy at a school like that, not matter how great the reputation of the school is. 

 
If you are a minority family applying to private schools, The Alliance, as it’s known among private schools, can help with all aspects of the admissions process.
 
Independent School Alliance for Minority Affairs of So. Cal 
 www.thealliance-la.org or 213-484-2411

 

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