Volunteer? No Way!

Anne Tergesen

Working parenthood is famous for its conflicts. As the school year winds down, the no-win dilemmas really pile up. Sports day, the class picnic, the year-end recital, the championship game—no parent wants to miss them. But when they conflict with meetings and deadlines, well, let’s just say you’re screwed no matter what you do.

Still, there’s a silver lining to being a working parent. When it comes to requests to volunteer for these and other events, I use my work as an excuse-—sort of like having a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Hardly a day goes by without a friendly email from the class mother of one of my sons’ classes. They’re full of requests for my time: Can I spare a half hour on Monday morning to stuff envelopes for a school mailing? Do I have a few hours to work at the multi-cultural fair? Can I clean up after the fund-raiser? Can I bring cookies to the class party? To each email, my response is swift and ruthless: “delete,” “delete,” “delete,” “delete.” It’s not that I don’t want to do some of these things. In fact, I would love to make cookies for the class party. But quite often, I’m overwhelmed enough by what I have to do just to meet my deadlines and keep my kids in clean clothes that optional activities feel like luxuries I just can’t afford.

Another way to say this, of course, is that I take advantage of others who have more time, generosity, and energy—-or who just aren’t as skilled at saying no as I am. I plead guilty. Still, I’m not a complete slacker/free-rider. I am the class mom for my youngest son’s nursery school class. I fell into the job in part because no one else volunteered. But I also took it on because I figured it was a good way to meet the other parents and get involved when school is at its most fun—-before the homework and tests kick in.

My hope is that once all three of my sons are in school full-time, I’ll have a little more time and energy to devote to volunteering. Once I’m able to see a request as something more than a burden, I’ll stop hiding behind my working parent status. Until then, though, I’ll continue to “delete,” “delete,” “delete.”

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