A Few Thoughts on Volunteering

posted by Andrea | 09/6/2017
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NOTE: This article is specifically geared towards volunteering in the school setting (because it’s that time of year). However, I feel strongly that the message pertains to almost any type of volunteer work. 

Although this is only my 2nd year as the mother of a school-aged student, I have been the wife of a teacher for more than 11 years and I grew up as the daughter of an elementary school teacher… so I have a little experience with the whole volunteering at school thing.

Obviously schools (especially Christian and other private schools) need lots of parent and teacher volunteers in order to keep costs down… and I definitely don’t want to discredit how valuable and useful volunteers are.

However, for those of you who feel really overwhelmed with the amount of volunteer work you might be asked to do this coming school year, I hope this post lets you breathe a sigh of relief and realize you do NOT have to do it all!

When Dave and I were first married, we lived 1 mile from his school, we had no children, and had lots of discretionary time. We did an enormous amount of volunteering and extracurricular activities for his school.

Dave coached 3 sports (he did get paid a small amount for this), he helped out with student council, he sometimes did the scorebook for the home boy’s basketball games, and he proctored ACT exams on specific Saturday mornings (to name a few). I officiated many of the high school and middle school volleyball matches, donated items (and my organizing services) to the school auction, and participated in many “special” days for the school.

Together, we attended more sporting events, plays, musical concerts, staff parties, fundraising dinners, and “extra” events than I can even begin to count…

And then we had Nora!

We tried to keep doing everything, but we just couldn’t. Dave eventually quit one of his coaching jobs and I quit almost everything I was doing. Dave quit another coaching job after Simon was born, and finally dropped the last coaching gig after James was born.

For the last 2 years, we’ve hardly made it to a staff party (other than the ones we’ve hosted) let alone all the other activities and events we gladly attended prior to having children.

Interestingly enough, many of the staff members who had young children when Dave first started teaching (and weren’t nearly as involved in extra events) are volunteering and participating in more school functions now that their children are 10 years older and not quite so “needy”.

Dave and I are both hopefully optimistic that we will be much more involved in school functions and events once our children are a bit older as well.

Switching gears, I’m now the mother of a kindergartener — and if you know anything about elementary schools, you KNOW they need lots and lots of volunteers.

I’ve been dreading the whole volunteer situation this year, wondering how on earth I’ll be able to contribute anything with a newborn, a 2 year old, and a 3 year old; and then it just hit me…

I don’t have to!

Nora has several kids in her class who are the youngest child and those parents have already eagerly offered to help with many of the volunteering needs. One mom, who I know from mutual acquaintances, even said to me, “don’t worry, you know you’ll help out more once your home life is less busy.”

And she’s right — I have no issues helping out at my kid’s school, but I’m also not sure it’s worth the amount of stress it would cause me to drag 3 extra kids around with me, or try to align childcare for Simon and James and take the new baby with me (although Nora already told me she wants to bring her sister for show and tell!)

Thankfully, Nora’s teacher seems to understand that all parents might not be able to volunteer in the same ways. 

She has 3 different “volunteer lists” posted on her class website.

  1. volunteers for physical help (room parents, craft helpers, recess monitors, Friday lunch duty, etc.)
  2. volunteers to purchase supplies (snack items, art supplies, random lists of things they need in class)
  3. volunteers to help from HOME (stuffing envelopes, cutting out projects, gluing things together, even a couple sewing projects)

Isn’t that GENIUS!

I might not be able to drag 3 extra kids around so I can do recess duty or be the “room mom”, but I can easily pick up a few extra craft supplies and snack items and send them to school with Nora… and I can certainly find a little time to help out from home.

As with everything, there are seasons of life — and right now, this is NOT my season of life to spend extensive number of hours volunteering for Nora’s school (or Dave’s school).

That time will come again, and maybe I’ll be the seasoned mother assuring the mom of 3 or 4 tiny people that she doesn’t need to feel guilty for taking a year (or more) off. Her time will come eventually too!

If you are in a very busy or full season of life — with many little children to care for, elderly parents or a spouse to look after, a new job to learn, a chronic illness, a new community, or any number of things, this might not be your time to accept every great opportunity that comes your way.

I know there will always be people who seem to “do it all” even with little children, aging parents, a new job, chronic illnesses, etc. etc. but I promise you, there is something you do that they don’t do (maybe several things). Either that, or they live with a large amount of stress and anxiety (and probably get very little sleep)!

Volunteering for our schools, our churches, our community, or wherever is definitely something I feel is important; but I also think there are seasons of life when we can volunteer more easily than others.

There are plenty of school years left for me to be the ever-present room mom and recess parent 🙂

For this year, I’ll be sewing and gluing from home, and sending snacks and craft supplies to school with Nora. I’ll be less stressed, I will enjoy helping without feeling so much pressure, I’ll be more available for my family, and I’ll hear all about the fun things Nora does once she gets home.

What are your thoughts on volunteering? How do you find the right balance?

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32 comments

  1. Rhonda

    09/12/2017

    I offer help to the teacher at the beginning of the year, and always let him/her know there are things I can do at home or to check with me on help at school.

    I don’t take on volunteer opportunities that are going to create extreme stress for me. I do offer on days/occasions I know our child’s school could use the help.

    It’s taken a bit for me to get over some guilt, yes. But my children’s school is a great one, and they’ll just call me if they need something to see if I can help out, so it’s a nice relationship. A friend of mine once said, after hearing about all the volunteer hours needed at her son’s middle school: “I’m a volunteer parent, are others getting paid?” 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    This is a great way of handling volunteer work — thanks for sharing!

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  2. Sharon W.

    09/08/2017

    My son is in 2nd grade this year. He is our only child and I am a SAHM.

    When he was in kindergarten, I was so very excited to volunteer and help at school. He had an older teacher who was very set in her ways. And also come to find out was one foot out the door to retiring, he was in her last class.

    She very rudely brought up the idea of volunteering during our parent teacher conference and basically just told my husband and me that she had no need for it and wouldn’t be having any volunteers. Well ok then. I was the room parent though. The original room parent dropped the ball and couldn’t do the work anymore, so I stepped in.

    Come 1st grade and his new teacher is awesome. I volunteered one day every week for quite awhile. I was the room parent. I really enjoyed it, but after awhile the monotony of the work wore on me and I didn’t end up feeling appreciated.

    Now we just started 2nd grade. His teacher this year kinda did what Nora’s teacher did. She had 3 options for volunteering: working in the classroom, working on projects from home, or field trips. I did mark all 3 options, so we will see what comes up. I enjoy helping, I think it is very rewarding and my son enjoys having me there working. But, I think this year it won’t be on a weekly basis. It just ended up being too much stress an anxiety knowing I “had” that on my plate every week on top of all the household, errands, dr appts, etc to do.

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    Andrea Reply:

    Good job taking a “happy medium” approach — you don’t want to burn yourself out by 2nd grade!

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  3. Meghan

    09/08/2017

    Yes! It can easily cost me $50 to have someone watch my little kids while I volunteer. I’d rather just give the organization a donation or by snacks/supplies. It’s a way better use of time and resources. I am currently keeping a mental list of all of the volunteer opportunities I do want to participate in when I don’t have small kids!

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  4. Beth

    09/07/2017

    I’m a public school teacher and I’ve never had very many volunteers. Our district is low income and most parents work full time. I didn’t even realize parents felt pressure to volunteer in the class. Maybe this is more in private schools? I’ve taught 17 years and have only had maybe 5 years where I had someone come in to help occasionally. If it makes anyone feel better, I never expect parents to come in and help and I think many teachers feel the same way.

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    Meghan Reply:

    I think it’s private school thing – my best friend sends her kids to private school, and she is always volunteering at the school. I tell her (jokingly) that she pays too much money to have to spend so much time there!

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  5. Nicole

    09/07/2017

    This is so true – I’m currently the chairperson of our co-op preschool, a roll I took on while pregnant with our 3rd. One year in, I’m constantly stressed and have a lot of anxiety over my role and all the work it involves. While I’ve enjoyed some of it as I love learning new things and believe in the preschool very passionately, I would never advise someone with a new baby to do it! Like you said it should be a mom whose ‘baby’ is at preschool.
    I’ve definitely learned that being an overachiever at volunteering at this point in my life is not a good idea!

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  6. Margaret

    09/07/2017

    Thanks for the post! Every school year I struggle with this!
    We have 7 kids ages 1-13; so the season of little ones is lasting a long time! I am thankful I have a network of friends who help each other out with daycare when one of us wants/can go on a field trip. And for the rest I need to be ok with the fact that the need to stay home with my little ones is more important than the need to volunteer here, there and everywhere! SOMEDAY my time will come 🙂

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah, your volunteer days might be limited for longer because of how many children you have — such is life. I’m sure the schools will continue to function just fine without your help 🙂

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  7. Erin

    09/07/2017

    The two children I still have at home keep me in check when I get tempted to volunteer for all. the. things. at my daughter’s school. I’ve found what I can help with from home, and I’m okay with that.

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  8. Emily

    09/07/2017

    Spot on! A hard lesson to learn sometimes, but a good reminder! 🙂

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  9. Tane

    09/06/2017

    As the main wage earner and working fulltime I couldn’t get to the school when my kids were little but I sewed library bags for about 6 years from donated fabrics.(I think the old Harry Potter curtains from the library sold out the fastest).
    It was always fun and rewarding to see these little people carrying a bag I’d made on their way to school as I drove past on my way to work

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    This is great — I love that you made all those bags. What a fun idea!

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  10. Katherine

    09/06/2017

    This is exactly why I paid more for preschool for my first three kids. The co-ops in our area are much cheaper but I paid to NOT have to “volunteer”. When my fourth comes through I will do the co-op because I will finally be available to be in the classroom. But yeah- no guilt. This is a season and in another season I will chaperone the field trips or whatever.

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  11. Erin

    09/06/2017

    Long time reader and first time commenter. I only have on child who is in high school and ever since he was little I have dreaded and honestly hated volunteering at his school. It’s not fun or enjoyable and really causes me a lot of stress and anxiety. I used to feel guilty about saying no to volunteer opportunities, but now that I am older (and wiser) I’m just honest and explain that I do not like to do it but would rather help out in some other way if needed. Often times I donate money instead of my time and that works out just fine. There have been times were other parents have made the comment that “you HAVE to volunteer” and I’ve replied back that no, I don’t, but am will to contribute in other ways. Volunteering isn’t for everyone due to the season of life we are in, or time constraints, or you really don’t enjoy it like me. It’s important to not feel guilty and look for other ways to give back and participate.

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    Andrea Reply:

    thanks for this perspective — it’s good to hear from someone with an older child who still chooses to say “no” when things don’t fit or work for you. We don’t HAVE to do anything!

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  12. Kim

    09/06/2017

    Andrea, I have no idea on earth how you will be able to do ANYTHING this coming school year, even volunteer things at home. I get tired and overwhelmed just thinking about the needs of four children …………..newborn to Kinder…………..WOW!
    A round of applause for all you moms who are in the midst of the early children years! You are doing one of the most important jobs on the planet! As an empty nester, yes, I can tell you there will be plenty of years on down the road to volunteer.

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  13. Heidi

    09/06/2017

    I work full time so volunteering at my kids’ school is pretty much impossible other than chaperoning the occasional field trip. My mom, however, is retired and volunteers there at least once a week. She’s a retired teacher so they love having her and it keeps her busy- and makes me not feel so guilty! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, there are lots of grandparents who volunteer at our school too 🙂

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  14. Angela

    09/06/2017

    I kind of missed out on a lot of the volunteering that other moms were doing when my oldest kids were little, because I, too, was busy at home with babies and toddlers. I had to let go of the guilt and realize that yes, a lot of people may have judged me for not being as visible as some others who were attending every PTO meeting, but I was doing plenty from home. I design all the school’s event flyers, because I’m a graphic designer and I can easily do that from home, on my schedule. Sure, there are a lot of moms who don’t realize that I volunteer my time that way, but that’s ok, I know that I’m contributing in a way that doesn’t cause extra stress for my family. Now that all four kids are in school (and I thought I’d have more time), of course I don’t, because all four kids are in activities, whether it’s sports, dance, choir, etc., and there literally is not a spare minute for me to attend a PTO meeting. But that’s ok. Again, I’ll do it my way. I can stop by my kids’ classrooms to volunteer to read with kids, buy extra supplies for the teachers or do things for them from home, and stop by all the class parties even if I’m not on the planning committee. It’s definitely something that involves a lot of guilt and realization that we need to do what’s best for us, and that every family’s situation is different!

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  15. Megan

    09/06/2017

    Thank you so much for this post! I am definitely in a season of life where the ideas above feel so much more doable than actually volunteering in the classroom. I already contribute snacks and supplies but offering to help with projects at home is such a great idea that I never would have thought of! Thanks again for this timely post!

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    Andrea Reply:

    no problem 🙂 And yes, helping from home will definitely work much better for me this year too!

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  16. Brooke

    09/06/2017

    Our school (private) has a requirement of 25 hours of volunteer work per family each year. Despite claiming to have at-home volunteer opportunities, I’ve never seen them materialize. If my husband didn’t have a flexible schedule, I’m not sure how we’d make it work. As it is, he volunteers at the school for an hour once a week. Because of timing this year (he can only make mornings, and our kids class has specials in the morning), he’s not even going to be working in our kids classroom. Honestly, I’m curious if the teachers even find this volunteering helpful or just another thing to manage in their classroom.

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    Janet Reply:

    I’ve never heard of a requirement of volunteering as a requirement for schools! There has often been a strong social pressure, but it seems crazy to require it, especially if you are already paying for private school!

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    Andrea Reply:

    Honestly, I think private schools need EVEN MORE volunteers because nothing is state funded and they always need to cut costs to keep tuition down. Nora’s school requires a certain number of volunteer points per family each year. You can pay a fee to get out of the points (which we did this year — just because I didn’t want to be worrying about the points).
    I totally understand that it sounds crazy (and kind of ridiculous) but the spots need to get filled each year and (as you probably know) everyone is “busy”!

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    Andrea Reply:

    We have a similar situation — I think we need “25 points” and there are certain point values to different tasks. They usually aren’t a lot of “classroom” volunteer things — it’s more things like help with fundraisers and special events at school. The teachers request their own classroom help separately, on an as-needed basis, and it’s only the parents from that class that would help.

    Also, our school has the option to pay a fee if you want to (or need to) opt out of the volunteering for the year. We actually paid that fee this year, just because I didn’t know how things would go with the new baby being born so close to the beginning of the year.
    It’s always interesting to see how different schools work!

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  17. Mary Ann

    09/06/2017

    I like when schools offer different ways to help. My school has different things throughout the year where the parents provide snacks or lunch for the teachers. Some parents love making food to bring in; some just can’t so they’ve started offering a “cash option” for certain events and a lot of parents opt for that then someone goes and buys what is needed.

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  18. Ann

    09/06/2017

    Thanks for this!
    I thought I’d be the mom with the time this year and then we got a 5 month old foster placement the day before school started. I have been trying to figure it all out but maybe I don’t have to!

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    Ann Reply:

    Many times we let SHOULD control our plans, but the truth is, it may not work for me right now, period. Taking care of a 5 month old IS important, too.

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    Andrea Reply:

    good point Ann!

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    Andrea Reply:

    yeah… I think you do enough mom stuff for all the kiddos you watch and foster. this probably isn’t the time for more volunteer things on your plate. But who knows, maybe you’ll find one way to volunteer that works better with your stage of life (maybe towards the end of the school year!)

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