Confessions of a {Non-Volunteering} Mom

“Could you?” I ask, touching Jason’s arm.

“Got it,” he answers, his fingers already taptaptapping the date into his calendar.

We turn to Chloe’s teacher in unison, face her like her students must everyday.

She smiles, tilts her head, parts her lips in question. Her face equal parts curiosity and interest and kindness.

“Are you the go-to guy?” She asks Jason. “And do you not…” She asks me.

This isn’t the first time I’ve fielded this, but it is the first time I falter before answering.

snow

We’re at the girls’ conferences. The halls are bustling with parents ready to hear what’s been going on behind closed (school) doors.

A father in a suit walks by, loosens his tie, sets a smile on his face before entering the classroom next door. Two mothers in yoga pants catch up in the hallway. Their voices thread in the way that they do when parents talk about their children. An older sister reads a book to a younger brother. They lean into each other, booted feet crossed at the ankle, coats still on and zipped and puffed, carving out the waiting space around them.

Chloe’s teacher just shared Chloe’s neat print, carefully outlined drawings, and pages filled with math facts.

She also told us what’s to come: themes and studies and a field trip. And that field trip is what we’re talking about.

Conference celebration shamrock shakes!

Conference celebration shamrock shakes!

Five years ago (!), when Jason and I first walked through the doors of our kids’ elementary school, I expected to be the mom at the field trips and class parties and PTO meetings. And for a few months, I was. I penned my name to every sign-up sheet I saw and I rode school buses and finger painted turkeys and raised my hand to vote yes for one thing and left it low to vote no for another. But then, slowly, I stopped.

PTO became Jason’s — he liked it and was good at it and so it’s still his. And as for me, here’s why I stopped volunteering in my kids’ classrooms.

I’m my kids’ touchstone to and from school. They know I’m interested in their world because I ask and they gift me the details of their days. When I visit them at school it’s to deliver a forgotten item, to get (and give) an extra hug, or to sit by their sides at lunch. I observe them with their friends, try to see them through their teachers’ eyes in these small slices. And then I leave; because the school day is theirs.

Selfie found on my phone. I can't even with him.

Selfie found on my phone. I can’t even with him.

But when I visit their classrooms, I work with and watch and help other kids and while this is lovely and giving and important, it’s also what I did as a teacher and my purpose now isn’t the same as it was then.

Its been cited that kids’ whose parents volunteer are more successful learners. I didn’t observe that correlation in my ten years as a classroom teacher. Kids who knew their parents cared about their days because of the questions they asked and the listening they did and the books they read and the homework they supported, definitely. But the kids whose parents passed out juice at parties or helped with someone elses’s kids’ unfinished work, maybe, but not necessarily.

When I explained my non-volunteering to Chloe’s teacher I stammered and hemmed and hawed more then I needed to.

Jason is our go-to field trip volunteer because he enjoys going and because his schedule means that he doesn’t get to hear the just-through-door stories or sort through the pile of papers first thing in the morning. So he makes the choice to use his time off (and make up for it with earlier mornings and later nights) to volunteer. We each have our roles, as surprising as they might be, and they work for us and I daresay, for our kids.

Do you volunteer? Why or why not?

five

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Comments

  1. We’re not there yet in the children’s educational path, to be volunteering. But, I’m pretty sure I”ll be just like you. The non-volunteer mother. Because, just like you, I’m their soft landing place at home, and there it will stay. :)

    • I think I though I *had* to be that mom. But there aren’t really rules like that, are there?

      Thanks for the words, sister!

  2. I’ve never been a “sign up for every volunteer opportunity” kind of Mom. With 2 kids in 2 schools and a ft job I knew it was unrealistic. But both of us do volunteer. I am more of a “limited engagement” volunteer: sewng costumes for the puppet making workshop, Art Adventure, History Day judge and cleaning up after our Doing Good Together event. Many of these things don’t just benefit my kid’s class but the whole school community. And that is why I volunteer. I want my kids to see me supporting our community. I want them to see me actively supporting something I believe in – education. I want them to see that even if you are not a teacher you can contribute to other people’s learning and that learning is not just done in the classroom. Not that I don’t think I couldn’t model these things in other ways. I certainly could but for now school is such a big piece of our community.

    • It sounds like you’ve found a way to really make school volunteering work for you! I love how you show your kids your love and support for education and community!

      (Jason helps with events, too, and I agree that these are fun and an excellent way to get to know the school community!)

  3. I hardly ever volunteer for the school, because the parents doing this (and I’m only speaking for my experience in our little town) are more competitive than hockey parents… and while of course I want all kids in the school to do well, my kids are the most important to me and just like you, I support them “around” school and not necessarily “during”.
    (Yay for Jason for enjoying this!)

    • I’m with you here — for so very many reasons.

      (And you really hit the nail on the head with that last one — if you enjoy it, it becomes a little bit of a different story, doesn’t it?)

  4. This is my first year being a regular volunteer. When my oldest started school, I still had the two littles at home(or various states of preschool). Last year was the first year that all three were in school 5 days a week(with one of them being half day), but I was also working full-time and so I only did field trips.

    But this year, I go in and do weekly math tutoring in my oldest’s third grade class. I used to teach third grade and math was my favorite to teach. Plus, I love it b/c I get to be in my son’s classroom but I never pull him for a small group b/c he’s the top math student. So I’m helping, but not directly with my son. I love what I do, I love the students I work with and I feel like I’m getting the parts of teaching that I miss, with none of the pain in the butt parts!

    But, I rarely volunteer in my first grader’s class. My first grader does great when I’m in the class, but he starts to cry and wants to go with me when I have to leave. And my preschooler doesn’t need volunteers yet.

    All this said, at a PTO meeting last week, one of the parents was saying that the solution to these new assessments the kids have to do is to have more parent volunteers- and I don’t agree. A volunteer has to actually want to be there and know how to help- warm bodies aren’t the solution.

    There are some snotty moms that I deal with who have been volunteering since our kids were in kindergarten together and they do not welcome any one who hasn’t been volunteering the whole time. Morons who don’t get that some people can’t- due to other kids or working or whatever the reason.

    Apparently, I have lots of opinions on this. 😉

    • Oh Shell, there’s just so much to love about this comment!

      I love that you enjoy volunteering and it works for you — you’re absolutely right volunteers have to want to be there (and be willing to learn what would be most helpful to the teacher and class!) to be helpful and effective!

      You also made a really good point about volunteering not working for every parent/kid combo! It’s so important to look at the whole picture and then decide if it’s best, and for who!

      Thanks so much for your thoughts, sister! I really loved hearing them!

      (And the snottiness? I can’t even.)

  5. I’d rather eat rotten spinach with you than volunteer is my kid’s classroom.

  6. I can understand your view, and I love that Jason is the go-to guy….I bet he really enjoys that time that he doesn’t get the rest of the day(s). I know my husband would enjoy it if he got the chance. No need to feel guilty or flustered or stammer. :)

  7. I tell my kids’ teachers at the beginning of the year to let me know if they need anything or if there is something I can work on at home. My job doesn’t give me the time to volunteer in class. My vacation days and time off are saved for other things. I think it would be wonderful to volunteer, and if I didn’t work, then I would volunteer.

    • I love that you offer to help with things at home! It’s kind and generous and I’m sure a time-saver for the teacher!

      (Also, we choose to do other things with vacations days and time off, right? But that’s ok! We’re still good moms making the choices we want/need to!

  8. I laughed out loud at Tracy’s comment!
    I only have one left in elementary school, so my volunteer days are almost over, and I can’t say that I’m too sad about that.
    Being a former teacher and a book lover and tilting slightly towards introverted, I have limited my school volunteering to the classroom and the library and an occasional field trip, for this is where I feel most comfortable and most helpful. No PTO. No committees. This year, with the youngest in fifth grade, I rarely see the inside of the school.

    • OMG, Shannon — me, too! Tracy and I really *did* eat “good” spinach picked out of a rotten batch — Vikki, however, decided against our risky eating!

      I could have used the same words about myself as you did! I’m glad you found ways to volunteer (if you wanted to?!) that worked for you! And in solidarity, I’m glad you’re almost done with that chapter!

  9. I volunteered quite a bit last year for G’s Kinder class because I did not have the opportunity as much when B was in Kinder since K was a newborn. And it was fun, but A) my husband CANNOT do very much of that with his work schedule and B)I have never been a teacher myself so it was just for fun and to get to know his class and his teacher.

    Now, my boys are in a TOTALLY different school environment and I just ask if I can do anything or what is needed and they let me know. It’s a good balance. I did go on a super fun field trip with B’s class last year though, but I will admit, that was more for me than him. LOL. I think some people LOVE to volunteer but I am not really one of those people. 😉

    • It *sounds* like you love it! And I can so picture you enjoying the time — and I love that about you!

      Finding the balance of what’s helpful and enjoyable is key, yes?

  10. As a teacher myself, I didn’t have flexible hours to volunteer regularly so I never did – before my leave of absence. I tried each year to pick one field trip for each of my kids that I could chaperon, but that entailed my calling a substitute to cover my own classes – in other words, I was short-changing MY students. I felt guilty; but since it was only once a year, and I was ducking out to be with MY kids, I did it anyway.

    When Jack was in first grade, I sent a message (I can’t remember if it was via email or an actual card) to the room mom thanking her for all her hard work since I was unable to contribute in that way. I did this for the room moms every year, but eventually became friends with this particular woman so I got feedback.

    She told me I was the only one who ever reached out to thank her. Ever. I’m sure that part of this was because the other volunteers didn’t feel like they needed to thank her. And the ones who couldn’t volunteer may have been struggling with the fact that they couldn’t or chose not to.

    I just thought that was interesting. I did NOT feel bad that I couldn’t volunteer because I had a job outside the home that was inflexible. But I DID feel like I should appreciate the work being done by the volunteers, if that makes sense.

    I think some of the guilt/conflict/judgment comes down to (again again again) that war between stay-at-home types, work-at-home types, and work-outside-the-home types, which is a shame.

    We are ALL JUST DOING OUR BEST, right?
    The end.
    :-)

    • Hi you! Love your perspective, thank you so much for sharing it!

      I also love that you sent the room mom a thank you card! Having volunteered (and having a husband who does so regularly) I can tell you that this rarely happens! I do know that we have both loved notes from teachers and kids thanking us for classroom help and Jason *glows* when families of the kids he coaches thank him. This is a great reminder about out loud gratitude!

      And I do think you’re right about the wars and the guilt. Have you read “The Good Mother Myth?” It’s a must-read and really covers all the ways we think good mothers have to be — most of which are, indeed, myths. Like you said — we’re all doing our best and we’re all good moms we just get at it in different ways!

      Good talk, baby, but yes — the end! :)

  11. I remember as a kid, always being a little jealous of those kids that were “lucky” enough to have the moms that were involved. At the school. At the games… My parents both worked full time. Now that I stay home, I feel so privileged that I GET to make my kids special and be apart of the workings of school. Especially since Doug’s work schedule prohibits him from really ever going to school stuff. I love that you have a balance and know your boundaries. That alone makes for a good mama!!

    • What I love best about this comment is that we clearly see things differently but that doesn’t matter because we’re each making our kids feel special and are a part of their days in our own ways! Such a win of a view!

      (Love seeing your face in here! Thank you so much for the note!)

  12. Galit,

    I do not volunteer often. I tend to do the easier forms of volunteering, i.e. sending in snacks for the class, sending in money towards a fundraiser of some sort, or organizing a birthday treat and surprise for one of the girl’s teachers. With a two-year-old at home, my time is not my own, and I tell myself I’ll do more when she’s older. Of course by then the twins may not want me around, LOL!! There are plenty of parents who do NOT volunteer at our school… and likewise many who do. I’m grateful for the ones that do, and I try not to beat myself up for NOT doing every.single.thing.

    You are wonderful!! let’s both stop feeling self conscious about not volunteering more!
    xo

    • Girlfriend, I’m with you on the not beating up part! I’m also with you on the being grateful for those that this works for and it’s what they want to be doing! That’s such a win!

      The only thing I will say is that I think that our time *is* our own, but we’re choosing to use it differently. And here’s the kicker: That’s okay! We’re allowed, as you said, sans guilt!

      Love the dialogue, thank you for adding to it!

      xo

  13. I have volunteered for the Kindergarten years – but after that; I drop off. Unless it is something really, really special. Same as you: I learn about their day through talking and questions….and listening. I don’t want to be too much in their lives, because it feels like school is sometimes like a “secret” life away from parents. And as long as no trouble is afoot: I think that is kinda cool for kids to have.
    Also, since my hubby normally misses out on things due to his job – I do prefer to leave those opportunities for him. They all had me at home – ALL day LONG – before school, while daddy worked. They had me on weekends – while daddy worked. So I feel it’s a gift I give him to have some special moments with them as well.

    • I really love — and agree with — your perspective!

      It’s ok (good even?) for kids to have school as their own! And the way you worded “gifting” the time to your husband — yes! Because why wouldn’t we? (Especially if they enjoy it!)

      Thank you so much for the words, sister, I really appreciate them!

  14. The only volunteering I have done this year with Eddie’s preschool is to provide items for parties or projects. I have not been able to volunteer my time because I work full-time a long commute away from Eddie’s school. I know it makes him sad that I can’t be there for parties because he has sad so. I also know I LOVED when my mom was the Room Mother in elementary school, but my brothers did not love it. So she didn’t do it for them.

    I sort of feel like we will try to contribute where we can and how it makes our kids feel loved. I know my husband wants to do that too. He doesn’t want to be absent from the volunteering just because he is a dad who works.

    • What I love best about what you wrote is the differentiation — we do what works for our kids, what makes them feel loved. That’s HUGE and such a refreshing perspective!

      (I also love the way your guy isn’t excluded from this conversation! #feminism)

  15. I used to volunteer for field trips and special celebrations and being a classroom helper, and it was fine, but not my calling. After a bit I got burned out and stopped enjoying it. I will help out for small things if asked, but I know my limits. This year I haven’t done much of anything at school, and I don’t feel bad about it – there’s a season for everything, and there is always another parent who just loves spending time with their kids at school.

    I have the same viewpoint as you – school is my kids’ place, not mine.

    • I love that you’ve found your limits, guilt-free. That’s exactly how it should be! And yes, for sure, a season for everything!

  16. I never have, because it’s just never worked out with my schedule. Tuesdays and Thursdays I still have Zoe, and other days I am usually running errands or working. But when they had their winter party I was suddenly so sad I couldn’t volunteer. It was a Zoe day, and I just assumed that I couldn’t. I suddenly wanted to be there so badly. Then a few other parents told me that younger siblings were welcome at their kids’ parties, and I kinda felt worse because I didn’t even ask. (But an equal number of parents said that younger sibs were asked NOT to come to their kids’ parties, so who knows?)

    • I know what you mean about the full schedules, I always feel that way, too! (But I also know that I’m choosing to spend my time differently, and I’m completely ok with that!)

      I got teary that you were so sad to miss the party! (I’m such a sap!) Ask the teacher for next time! Fingers crossed that Zoe is welcome and your wish will come true!

  17. As a mom of a 2-year-old boy, I’ve often thought about what role I want to play in school functions. Do I want to use my energy there or to be the best mom at home I can be? For his preschool, I’m definitely volunteering to help with the silent auction and other things, but I have an interest in parties and events. I love that you figured out what was best for you/your kids and what might not be. Great perspective.

    • I love how thoughtfully you’re thinking about the role you want to play and utilizing your interests and passions — how completely fabulous is that?!

      (I think thoughtful decisions are exactly where it’s at rather than just making assumptions about what we “should” be doing!)

  18. My youngest is about to start school this fall (!) so I have not volunteered at school with my oldest, since I have been caring for his younger brother since his first day of kindergarten. Come September, though, I will have the opportunity to do so. I think I may from time to time, but I know what you are saying about being involved a home and letting school be theirs. I want to continue to do that too.

  19. I LOVE this point of view…And I agree: Nora gets more out of it when she can excitedly tell me about her day than when I’m there, half-listening to her words and trying to keep someone else’s pencil out of his nose.

  20. I am generally not a volunteer in the classroom kind of mom. The past couple years one of my children has needed a little extra help and a little extra advocacy and I have volunteered a little bit more. It was important to that particular child and that was my motivation. Thankfully that child is doing better and I don’t have to go in as much because as my mother-in-law would say “it’s not really my bag.”

    • Hee! Not my bag either, but advocacy is a whole ‘mother story and purpose, sister! I would have been right there with you! #watchoutformamabear

  21. No. Plain and simple. I had a very bad experience volunteering and I prefer not to ever put myself in that position again. I prefer instead to look at it like you have…. “I’m my kids’ touchstone to and from school. They know I’m interested in their world because I ask and they gift me the details of their days. When I visit them at school it’s to deliver a forgotten item, to get (and give) an extra hug, or to sit by their sides at lunch. I observe them with their friends, try to see them through their teachers’ eyes in these small slices. And then I leave; because the school day is theirs.” LOVE that! :)

    P.S. My experience is in my latest blog post http://www.laniejandco.com/2014/01/monday-musings-coming-out-of-hibernation.html

    • Thank you so much for sharing that!

      I’m so sorry that you had the experience you did, but it sounds like it brought you exactly where you need (and want!) to be — and *that* I love!

  22. Oh, I feel strongly about this one too. When my oldest started school, I felt like I really wanted to be one of those volunteering moms, but my work gave me limited options. So I volunteered when I could – more than I should – because I felt I had to. The next year, I didn’t do nearly as much. A couple years later I felt the need to try to find something to do to volunteer at school more and be part of that community. I volunteered for the PTA audit committee – and kind of liked being a bit more involved, but also did not like those moms who acted like I was new to the school because I hadn’t dedicated hours/days/weeks of my life to volunteering in the previous years. And acted like that’s the ONLY option for being a true part of the community. We have a PTA president now who’s better about saying that everyone is part of the community – and focuses on the kids, rather than what makes each parent feel good about themselves. I got suckered into the PTA treasurer job, which is a two year commitment, and I’m happy to say I’m almost done and not planning to volunteer as extensively next year. My middle girl is the only one at the school now, and at first she liked me being at more school events, but she doesn’t like that I usually have some kind of job to do, so I can’t be as focused just on her. So I want to get back to being a parent to her, rather than worrying about everything else that’s going on and every other kid during school events. I think that’s best for my kids, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it :)

    • I love that you found your way to where you want — and need — to be.

      I also love that you embraced that it’s a process, and not something we need to “know” exactly how we feel about until we’re in it.

      And last, amen to no guilt. Just, amen.

  23. I volunteer here and there. A field trip, our Christmas store (which is my most favorite thing to do at the school), maybe something else that comes up. I’ve helped out more regularly in the past, but now it’s just when I can and if it works out AND if I want to. I know it means a lot to my son when I volunteer, so I do what I can for him. But I am also okay with saying no. I’m a volunteer dabbler.
    I found this post and your opinion/decision to be super refreshing. It’s nice to hear about volunteering from the other side. Thanks for this, Galit!

    • Thank you for the note and the words, Heidi!

      I love that we can see things differently, dialogue, and move on. Refreshing, indeed!

  24. Shamrock Shakes! I just wrote about them today 😉

    I volunteer to help with parties and field trips. I do not do the PTO. It’s not my scene.

  25. Ha! I have been totally watching my sister go through this same thing!

  26. I needed this, need it every day.

    I have excruciating guilt sometimes about not wanting to volunteer. I want hear about their days, support their efforts, celebrate their triumphs, but I need to work. The time at the office, much like their days at school, let me run like a wild stallion in open land. I stretch my muscles and soak up air and sun to come home and be the parent that they need.

    xo

  27. I do volunteer, in the library and on field trips, but because I enjoy it.

    I did kind of get sucked into the PTO this year (didn’t realize it was a “BOARD” meeting they have, and not an open meeting), but just for Library board. As they are getting ready for next year’s positions, a push has been made to take on a more active board position – and I said no.

    I don’t work outside the home, but I like my routine. I don’t like to solicit donations. I’ll leave that, along with the accolades, to someone for whom it falls within their comfort zone.

    And I won’t feel guilty about it, not one bit.

Trackbacks

  1. […] heartfelt. But PYHO is also about sharing your opinions. After reading a great post over at These Little Waves about volunteering, I realized this is something I have a lot of opinions on, so I thought […]

  2. […] seem to have shifted to expectations, an idea written about beautifully by Galit Breen in her post Confessions of a Non-Volunteering Mom. Two things hit me, the first, maybe I fit into a category of misfits or, maybe, just maybe, all […]

  3. […] – she is a fantastic writer. She opens her heart and shares herself and her stories about being a non-volunteering mom, raising tweens, her faith, body shaming, and her marriage in a way that’s pure […]