Back to School

How to Deal With Back-to-School Peer Pressure… From Other Parents

according to experts
family posing"
family posing
Source: @scottystyle
Source: @scottystyle

At every stage of my life, I’ve encountered the type of very enthusiastic person who pressures me to get on their level. In high school, it was the team member who wanted everyone to make each other elaborate holiday gifts. At work, it’s the person who plans team happy hours and expects equal excitement from everyone else. My fellow Parks and Recreation fans will recognize them as the Leslie Knopes of life.

While this type of person can often be a wonderful asset to a workplace or friend group, they also sometimes overwhelm me. That’s why re-entering this phase when my child enters school is one of my greatest reservations about parenthood. I just know there will be parents whose energy for volunteering in the classroom, organizing playdates, and attending all of the sports games will greatly exceed my own, and I fear how that will affect my stress level. To help get ahead of the issue, I talked to experts about how to deal with peer pressure from other parents.

Meet the expert
Amanda Justice, LCSW
Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Owner of Child Therapy Solutions
Meet the expert
Kristi Yeh, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder of Parent Self-Care


Examine Where the Guilt is Coming From

Amanda Justice, a licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Child Therapy Solutions, said that it’s common for parents to have guilt about wanting to be the perfect parent who shows up at every event. But overextending yourself can have an impact on your mental and physical health, as well as your overall productivity.

She suggested spending some time reflecting on your beliefs and ideas related to what it means to be a good parent, considering factors such as:

  • Your own childhood
  • Social media influences
  • Who you’re surrounding yourself with
  • Information you’re consuming

If your mother was the type to voluntarily sew costumes for the entire dance team, you may feel like doing anything less makes you inadequate. If your friends are all throwing Pinterest-perfect birthday parties for their kids complete with fancy favors for guests, you might feel obligated to do the same. By identifying where your feelings are coming from, you can begin to separate others’ beliefs from your own.


Know Your Values

After this reflection, consider what you value and what works for you and your family. If one of your core values is modeling a healthy lifestyle, then maybe you don’t feel comfortable sacrificing your one chance to exercise all week to attend an optional planning committee. If your career is super time-consuming but important to you, you may just never have as much time to give as a parent who doesn’t work outside the home. Part of this process is identifying which activities are truly important to your child so that you can prioritize those, remembering that what matters most is your family’s well-being fulfillment—not anyone else’s.

“In order to set and maintain boundaries, you have to be clear in your values so that when you’re faced with times when you just want to say ‘no’ or you want to buy the already-baked brownies rather than bake 300 brownies, you know that this [is] coming from a place of what works best for you and your children,” advised Justice. “When you’re in alignment with your own values and beliefs, the pressure doesn’t feel so strong.”



Get Comfortable With Saying ‘No’—Warmly and Firmly

Even with a healthy amount of self-awareness, actually holding firm to your boundaries is easier said than done. Justice suggested a few polite phrases for declining participation:

  • “I appreciate the offer, but that is not going to work well for our family at this time.”
  • “We are unable to attend that event on this date, but we are available on ___.”
  • “This is what I am able to contribute to this event at this time.”

And don’t forget that “no” can come after you’ve committed, too.

“It’s okay to let people know you won’t be attending or can no longer commit to a school volunteer position,” Kristi Yeh, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Parent Self-Care tells parents.

Of course, you don’t want to put people in a bad spot if you’re canceling at the last minute, but if you’re giving respectful notice (enough for them to find a replacement or adjust their plans), most people will understand.


Buy Yourself Time

As a natural people-pleasure, one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten is to simply pause before responding to invitations or requests. I used to automatically say “yes” to everything out of habit, but I would often regret it when I realized how much I already had on my plate. Now, when someone invites me to a social event or asks for a favor, I try to remember to take a minute before answering.

Yeh suggested buying yourself time using phrases like, “I need to check my calendar and get back to you.” The simple act of waiting can help you assess your own feelings.


Be Aware of Your “Mental Load”

Just because a task may seem easy doesn’t mean that it won’t take up a lot of space in your head. Helping organize a “one day” fundraiser could actually result in weeks of planning, with dozens of mental tasks like remembering to email other volunteers, choosing and ordering decorations, and anticipating pain points and confusion at the event. Research shows that these types of cognitive tasks tend to disproportionately fall on mothers, so keep that in mind before agreeing to a commitment.



Do Some Strategic Planning for Your Household

If you look ahead at your family’s calendar, are there certain times that are going to be crazier than usual? If so, Yeh suggested blocking off family and self-care time on your calendar in advance so you don’t fill up every empty spot. For instance:

  • Do you have predictable busy seasons at work?
  • Are there particularly intense periods for your kids’ extracurriculars?
  • Are you planning to host any friends or relatives at your home?

Once you’ve identified the days or weeks in which you won’t be available, you can give yourself permission to take a step back knowing that it’s a temporary, intentional decision and that there will be times when you can “yes” more.


Resist Fixating on Comparisons

What qualifies as “good enough” for some may be seen as inadequate to others. Justice suggested surrounding yourself with other parents who build your confidence and setting boundaries with those who do not.

“Parents can avoid the comparison trap by understanding that there is no such thing as the perfect parent and being clear in their values, beliefs, strengths, and abilities,” said Justice.

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