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Parent volunteering @ school

2955798602_757fe8ed22_mLike a knife through the heart my kindergartner said to me the other day, "Mama, you've only been a parent volunteer like once. How come?" Ouch. Well, son, because your dad and I arranged our work schedules to drop you off when school starts and pick you up when it ends (no easy feat) and I really, really hate to say it but there's just not much more time in our tightly-wound work-family schedule for volunteering (even though we both work 75% schedules). And if I take time off work to volunteer who'll be around to hang out with you when school is closed? Over your Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring and summer vacations? 'Cause I surely don't have that many vacation days. Not even when combined with my husband if we never took a day off together. Which sounds really fun, doesn't it?

Yes, I clearly have some unresolved issues here. How could you tell? And to make matters worse, when I spoke with my own mom about it, who stayed home when I was young, she recalled the dilemma, too, but from a different angle. That the working moms rarely volunteered and she picked up the slack. Yikes! Exactly what I fear is happening now. I hate it when other people pick up my slack, but I'm just not sure how many times I can be at school when in my few school day non-working hours I have a 2-YO in tow. You know?

I generally like the idea of volunteering in the school (that village thing), but wonder what is the 'right' amount, and how much we are just filling in for unfunded staff positions. One job our son's teacher needs covered is someone to walk the kids around the building when they are in small groups for reading, because she can't be in three places at once. Another is weekly parent envelope stuffing (my job!), lost & found tidying (me, again), and helping kids check out books during library time (just one librarian and so many kids).

What do you think? I'm new at this, and want to do it right, but feel like I'm not pulling my weight and disappointing my son, to boot. And we're only six weeks into the school year. Still time to redeem myself, right?

Comments

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If you're already doing envelope stuffing and lost and found tidying, that's pretty good given your work situation and all! Maybe there will be an evening activity you can help with?

As a teacher, we appreciate any help we can get. We know that not all parents can come in. So there are always projects that can go home to willing parents. Sounds like you are already being helpful. I'm sure your child's teacher appreciates your effort and understands your limitations.

I have been struggling with this as well, ever since my daughter started school. I am single, and have a full-time job without a great deal of flexibility to be gone for a chunk of the day. What flexibility I do have gets shot on orthodontist, doctor and dentist appointments. Vacation days? Sure, but those I use for actual family time and no-school days. And evening gigs are often no good because of homework, childcare issues, my non-school volunteer gig and ummm....I just worked 9 hours at my day job and I'd like some time to spend with my kid!

I try to do whatever from-home stuff there is on offer but, relatively speaking, there isn't much of that. When there is a request/plea for additional supplies, etc., I always do what I can there.

But you know what else I do that sounds like a no-brainer, but not all parents do (geez....esp. now that she is in middle school)? I send my kid to school every day prepared for the day. She has her supplies and books, her homework is done, she has slept, she has eaten, she is dressed appropriately. She does not have her i-Pod with her, or her DS, and she does not use her cell phone during school hours to make calls or send texts. I support the school dress code and conduct rules. I give her the time, place and tools to do her homework. I give her opportunities to play, run, swim, bike and otherwise burn off all that energy. She has access to the library and books. She has responsibilities at home and we share chores. TV, video games, etc., happen after everything else and fall into the "since we have nothing better to do" category. I know it is not "volunteering", but all of that contributes to the classroom and the school running smoothly.

As an aside, at my daughter's K-5, volunteering was (of course) encouraged. But there was a core group of maybe 20 moms did most of the volunteering and, boy, was that a tough, insular group. You did things on their schedule, by their methods, and often just the things they didn't like doing. Extreme control issues. So a word to the moms who feel like they are put upon to "pick up the slack"--cut the rest of us a break. Be friendly, be a little accomodating, and be understanding that I had to engage in some serious scheduling gymnastics just to be there to help out. We'd be more willing to be there pitching in during the school day if you'd be more welcoming and flexible.

I think that it is important to volunteer. I have always volunteered in one capacity or another since my daughter started school. As a working single mama, we often had to take a financial hit for me to do so. I know that parents who are around know more about the teachers, their kids’ friends and school politics. Also, as a mom of color, I think it’s super important to represent a group, that like single moms is sometimes underrepresented in the volunteer ranks. There are sometimes disparate treatment issues in a classroom. I like to be a helper and advocate of all the kids not just mine.

Your child may be responding to some classroom gossip. Sometimes parents that can volunteer more, get a little cranky about those that can’t and vice versa. The only folks who ever gave me grief about not volunteering MORE, were other moms. If you’re doing the best you can, I don’t think it’s a matter of “redemption”.

I was recently banned from volunteering by the surly teenager, who has been trying valiantly since middle school to get me to stop. Intercepting notes home, etc. Bitter mama of a teenager says: enjoy volunteering while your kids still like it.

Sheryl:

That last paragraph was ON POINT! Amen and a halleujah! I was skeered to say it. I would find things that I could do one-on-one with a teacher, field trip, etc. I was at a meeting once where mamas spent the the first 20 minutes telling "my husband is so helpless, I had to leave dinner before I came . . . " stories. While my hungry kid, sat in the corner doing homework.

Because I had extremely limited time, my time had to be focused.

I used to work full time and felt the guilt over not being there at my child's fieldtrips when he was in daycare. I now work part time and have 2 kids and it has worked great! It helps when you have an employer who can be flexible with your schedule. I am not there during the day to help in the classroom but I am involved in the PTA. My kids see me doing stuff for the school in the morning and after school.

I know that they probably want me to be there but as a parent, you can only do so much. I am so appreciative of those parents that can be there to help out and give them KUDOS for doing it! Those parents need our support. I do not feel slighted by those parents for not being there since they know that I help in other ways. It should not be the case of them against you. Just support each other.

There are so many other ways that parents can contribute to their child's school. Ask the teachers for any projects that you can do at home, attend school events, go to teacher conferences, help with fundraisers and of course join the PTA. Also think about finding some parents around your neighborhood who would be willing to watch your 2 year old so that you can take an hour to be at your son's school. Swap and return the favor for those parents. Childcare swap is becoming very popular nowadays.

And remember that you ARE doing your best and that is what matters!

I've gotten the same comment from my son...I'm on the PTSA board, which I can do in the evenings, but I need the limited number of hours during the day to get other things done. I've signed up for occasional hours this fall, so hopefully that will help the guilt.

One point, though. The dads are, at least in my son's school, never asked to help in the classroom. Why? I have to rearrange my schedule to help, so why aren't the dads being asked as well?

I'd like to copy and paste Sheryl's entire post.

Seriously, I'm drowning as it is...if I get my head above water, I'll try to volunteer during the school day.

I think this question is sort of like the one about picking the kiddos up every day. If you arrange your life to be in the classroom all the time, your child would be complaining about that as well! I think everyone is right, you do what you can, knowing that you've set the priorities that are important and right for you. I don't think the kids will always understand or appreciate them but that's why we have the cognitive reasoning we do, and they don't!

As a mom who does have day times free for being involved in school, I'd like to offer a different perspective on the day time/night time availability issue, although I'm certainly not trying to justify outright meanness from others parents. I have time to do all kinds of things during daytime hours, but feel less inclined to do things in the evenings. In some ways, my evening time at home is as sacred and inflexible as time at work. That's my family time, and I'm pretty protective of it. I know we all want what's best for our children and our families, and it can be hard sometimes when we all juggle that differently. I agree with giving each other a break and not being mean about it. Understanding where each other is coming from can help. It may not be that the other parents are cutting you out or being insensitive to your schedule, it just may be that they feel as strongly about how they balance things as you do.

I want to give a quick example of an experience I had at my kid's K-5, the first year she went there. When I shared this with other parents, I gotta tell you this was not a one-off experience of mine. It wasn't a regular occurence, but certainly not uncommon.

I took an afternoon off work to set up a book fair at school. Got there on time. Signed in. Went to the appointed room. It was locked. Went back to the office. The mom in charge of the book fair had signed the key out, but was no where to be found in the school. I go back to the appointed room and hung out in the hallway with another mom who had arranged childcare for a littler one so she could come to the school to do the book fair set-up.

Long story short....mom-in-charge shows up 35 minutes late. No apologies. No attempt made on her part to contact the school or either of us other moms to let us know she was running late. Just a flippant "Oops, I double booked!"

I don't expect all volunteer opportunities to occur when they are the most convenient for me. I am protective of my family time as well (as we all should be!) However, when things like this happen--and are handled as insensitively as this was--it makes me think twice about where to spend my volunteer time.

It's great that so many of you are making the effort whenever you can, be it before, during or after school. For those guilt-ridden ones, don't go thinking the classrooms are swarming with parents. At the high school level, I don't see any. What's with that?

Just for the record, we're 9 weeks into the school year. Sorry for the grumbling, when you work with 100+ kids every day it's exhausting and you feel the difference between week 6 and week 9.

I'm an at-home mom and I will gladly pick up any slack volunteering at my kids' school for you mamas and papas who are out there in that other working world. It is a long front and I like to think that we all do what we can where and when we can. Sometimes, maybe not, but that's life. The way I see it, working mamas are still pioneers. That is, there's still lots to pioneer, so if I can help out by volunteering a little more, or taking the lead on something at school so you can just plug in when it works, that's just fine with me. And when I go back to work and get paid leave for a sick family member, or I get to breastfeed in a nice, quiet, private room, or I get paid the same amount as my male counterpart I will thank you for that.

enb,

What a beautiful thing to say. Thank-you.

I agree that if we consider, not just what we contribute to our own children, but what we contribute to society at large, that each and every one of us plays an important part in making the future a better place for all of our kids. When we have attitudes like enb's, of appreciation and cooperation, we all win. Maybe we can't all be a physical presence in the schools, but like Sheryl said, we can make sure our kids have their homework done, food in their bellies and respect for their teachers, so their teachers have an easier day. We can join the PTA, buy wrapping paper, chocolates, books for the classroom. We can support with our votes to supply better funding and support to our schools. We can carpool, swap care and cook dinner with one another, so that all of our burden is less and our kids are raised with a sense of community. We can stop beating ourselves up for not being perfect, because it's a colossal waste of time and energy.

I have been getting grief as well from my kindergartner. I can help sometimes although I work full time, it is flexible. However, I still don't have clearance to volunteer from the background check that is required. It has been over a month. I know I help less during the day than parents who don't work, but I do volunteer nights, weekends, etc.

I also wish I could just hang out and chat with the other moms after drop off and not just run to the car. I don't think they think less of me for needing to work to support my family.

Thank you, enb. What a wonderful thing to say.

It made me hope for a day where my daughter or granddaughter might look at me and say, "You mean you didn't get paid during your maternity leave? And there was no on-site daycare? You didn't have flex-days to spend with your children? Gosh, I can't imagine how hard that must have been."

Amy H, check back with the school and give them a nudge on the background check. Even though I'm sure at the beginning of each school year they have more requests than at any other time of the year, I know from experience that it takes PPS central office under 5 minutes to run one. Yours may have fallen through the cracks.

Don't beat yourself up over it. I have two kids, I work part time from home, and so I am technically also a stay at home parent. I used to feel weird/guilty when I saw other moms make time to run for a PTA board position or volunteer to chair the big charity event at school. But then I'm already doing plenty for my kids. I volunteer when it works out for me, which is about once or twice a school year.

Why is it women always feel bad that we aren't doing enough giving? Our time is valuable, but if we have some extra, we always find a way to give it to someone else -- for free. And you have to ask yourself whether the volunteering is really valuable to your child or teacher or just busybody work.

I just want to second enb's comments...I am a stay-at-home mom and I have NEVER felt I'm picking up someones slack or filling in for moms who are in different situations. I have no advice for the poster because I think she's doing an awesome job as is. When I re-enter the work force I will benefit from the pioneering work that career-moms are doing for me...in the mean time I've got your back in the classroom. How amazing would the world be if we weren't so devisive and actually came from a framework that every woman is doing the best she can with what she's given?

I just try to appreciate that my kids want me involved in their life and do what I can when I can. When I can't do something, I explain to them how we have to make choices about our time and that work is good for me and for us. And try, try, try not to feel guilty. Trust yourself that you are doing your best, and that's all you can do.

I'm with enb, as well. When I volunteer at school I'm glad I can do it, and I'm not there to resent anyone else. We all contribute to society however we can.
I think, though, that our children see other parents in the classroom, and naturally, when they're young, they want to see us, too. They're going to ask you to go to school, and I think that's more about wanting to see us and sharing the school experience together than anything else. There's other ways to take care of that need, not just volunteering at school. When my daughter was in K we used to play school. She was the teacher, and she'd show me what her day was like. Back then, I couldn't volunteer, and that was our way of connecting her school time with our relationship.

Talk with the teacher and possibly try and arrange a 5-10 min regular gig that butts up against drop-off & pick-up. You could show up 5 min early once a week to help with the end-of day routine. I bet your resourceful and beloved teacher can come up with a way to participate that will honor your tight schedule AND help put you in the spotlight with your child.

This can be a challenge for parents. At the school where I work (The German American School of Portland), we require a certain amount of volunteer effort from parents because educational success relies so much on that involvement. Still, we see the struggles that parents can have with juggling their involvement with other busy things in life. We've found a few ways that parents can manage this: projects that can be done from home, like toy cleaning, weekend events that provide child care, or allowing extended family to volunteer

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