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Benign 'Neglect' of Our Children?

For six years now, I've been volunteering as a high school coach at Cleveland High School. For the first two years, the head track coach coordinated some sort of honorarium for me -- a lot less than the salaried assistant coaches make (somewhere around $1,000 a month for roughly 20 hours a week of work, plus more for some weekend meets), but it was something! In the past few years, I've been coaching cross country, and the booster club hasn't seen it in their mission to bestow funds upon we running volunteers. I don't go every day -- last year it was only two or three days a week, because I was parenting my three boys solo and often didn't get home from school pickup until it was almost too late to catch the kids before they were off on their run.

My husband just left again last week for more overseas Army duty, and I have somehow wangled a great babysitter who can watch the boys for me -- I'll be able to go almost every day and meets too, and since the season only has six weeks left in it, I estimate it will cost me $500 or $600 in child care. Yes, to volunteer, for no pay whatsoever.

This has been a big point of contention for my husband. He has never been very supportive of my coaching; as an abstract thing, it seems great, but in reality he sees it as "ignoring my family" "for strangers." If I have to pay for the privilege? All the worse! We're locked in an unwinnable battle of wills. The way I see it: I'm giving back to the community that brought me into the running world (I ran track for Cleveland in the early 90s, and was nurtured by a wonderful woman, a mother herself, who even bought shoes for me when my cheerleading shoes gave me shin splints -- her son is a lead designer for Nike, so it was a bargain, but still!). I'm doing something I love -- working with high schoolers -- that I don't have the patience to do for a career (I would have gone into teaching if investment banking hadn't come along and stolen me; I have little patience, though, with school bureaucracy, and would likely have lasted this long as a public school teacher). I get to run four or five days a week; something I never do without the support of daily practice, and makes me happy, fit, and healthy. Most of all, I feel that I'm making a difference for these kids. Most of the coaches are men, and it's a co-ed sport; the girls tell me often that they appreciate my support and my conversation. It feels like the right thing to do and I always come home from practice and meets in a glow.

That glow does not extend to my husband's point of view on the matter: in his perspective, I'm leaving my children with a babysitter, spending family money unwisely, and neglecting my duty as their primary caregiver to do something that's benefiting other people's kids. Of course, I'm the parent on the ground, to use a militarism, and I get my way. But leaving aside the personal details of our argument, how do you negotiate this sort of balancing act? Is it ok (in your opinion and situation) to "neglect" your children if you're doing good work for the community -- volunteering for the neighborhood organization, the PTA, a blog that supports a needy community that perhaps doesn't directly help your children? How about support groups and church outreach? Political causes and extremely low-paid non-profit work? Co-operative projects and buying clubs and knitting circles? When you're doing something that doesn't directly, immediately benefit your own children, how do you suss out the justification for this benign "neglect"?


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Your gift of time helps other people's children. Other people, at other times, will give of themselves to help your children. That's what community is about. We can't sit down and balance the books on love and caring given and received, but if we are miserly with it, we can only expect to find a world barren in return.

Plus, your boys benefit from playtime with other people. So as long as you can afford it, it seems like a win all around.

From my perspective, I can see several "values" to your volunteer work. You are setting a wonderful example to your boys. Perhaps your husband's family did not have a culture of giving back? And that's okay. Volunteering isn't for everyone, but probably your boys will seek out those opportunities as they grow up. It also sounds like you get some exercise while coaching. Huge value there of course. And you get some "free" time away from your single parenting. It's worrisome to describe time spent away from children as neglect. Especially when it's applied to mothers who already feel guilty and judged. If you did not arrange childcare, then it could be called neglect. :)

Great work you're doing!

It sounds like coaching helps you "fill your cup." I don't see it as any less valid than any other activity or hobby that you would spend money on. Some mamas spend money on a babysitter so they can go to a yoga or knitting class. You coach. You are good at it, you enjoy it and you are entitled to pursue that which you love. It does not make you a neglectful mama, it makes you a better mama.

It sounds like you benefit from it as much as other's do. That being said it's your me time. Would he be OK if it fell during a time when he could watch it? Is it just about the money? (I think while he is gone you probably need it even more) Some woman need me time that cost's money. Like weekly nail appointments ect or massage. If you had your nails done at $20 a week. That would be $1,040 a year. You are giving back at half the cost of what it would cost if you did something just for you. It sounds like a steal of a deal to me. Your talking care of your needs by helping others with their needs it's a win win. I mean if you left the house to do something that costs money beyond a sitter would he be OK with that? There are some times when couples have to agree to disagree. If you have it, your kids are safe and happy, then I say do it.

We have this kind of discussion at home quite frequently, how much time away from the family is necessary, how much indulgent, and how much too much. I've always been a strong proponent of making sure a certain amount of time is available to keep mama doing something besides just mothering and working. The key is finding compromise on how much and when. My husband takes very little time away because he is already gone so much for work. I've always worked only 10-20 hours/week, so find I need a little more time away since I spend so much time at home. It's been a struggle for us to have a meeting of the minds because he just doesn't understand I have a greater need than he does. But I also know I have had to say no to many things I would love to do because it crossed the line into too much. Here's hoping you both can find some space in the middle.

I don't know...is it "neglect" that your husband chose a career that takes him over sees for days, weeks, months at a time while fathering small children? How is your desire to serve your community any different than his to serve his country? If it's just about the money, surely he could find a job closer to home, but if it's about something greater and less tangible than just bringing in a paycheck, then perhaps he should be more understanding of your motivation to altruistically invest this time and energy outside of the home.

These are all fantastic points! You are also contributing to making the high school a success for your future highschoolers! Do YOU think your children are neglected? Are you instilling your values in them and do they feel loved and nurtured by you? (They are growing up in a home of altruism and service--great!) If everyone's overall health is good, why change? But money is always a point of contention in partnerships and stressful, especially for men, so hopefully you can continue to respect him in his perspective. I appreciate his service to our country-- and yours!

Part of me thinks, oh, just wait until the kids are older to do something so time consuming, especially if it puts your marriage in a knot. It's not like this is the only year there is or will be. But part of me agrees with anonagain anyway. If your husband wants his children taken care of by family/for free, if those are important values to him, then he needs to figure out a way that HE can be around to implement those values. Arg. It's a tricky one.

Do what you love and the money will come.

I too, have contributed so much time and money to my different causes. One of those causes turned into an inexpensive educational opportunity -- and then my career. So, by volunteering my time doing something I loved, I now have a career without having any student loans to pay off.

My husband was home, though, and most of my gigs fell in the evening when he could watch them.

Most of my volunteering when the kids were younger was when they were in school anyway. Its only been since they both reached the middle school mark that I felt it was okay for me to take on volunteer stuff a couple of evenings a month. Dinner around the family dinner table and making sure the homework gets done.. that's been a priority for us.

But in general.. yes, helping other peoples' children helps us grow a good community and that is worth some effort and little sacrifice.

Considering that you are functioning as a single mother during long stretches of deployment, I think it's an amazing way to find time to get your run in - which you love - and give back to the community at the same time. I can't think of a better way and I suspect that you're a better mother because of it. Stick with it. It takes a village, right? The point above that "other people, at other times, will give of themselves to help your children" couldn't be more true. It's only six weeks. Go for it!

Another way to look at the situation might be to work with the age group you want as a volunteer at a community center that provides child care. Or talk to the school's PTA and see if maybe you and another mom can split the volunteer coach role and bring your children to the practice site to play while you coach. I bet there might be a student that has to stay at school while big sister runs practice, maybe they could earn $5 per practice to play with your kids while you run. Think outside the box to meet your needs and you might find a peaceful outcome that satisfies your entire family.

I wholeheartedly agree with Lisa-- it seems you use this time to "fill your cup" and everyone deserves time to do that (including, and even especially, primary parents). If it's within your means to use the funds for childcare, I think you should be able to choose what to do with your time. Your children are not neglected by having a parent who also takes time for themselves-- it teaches balance, self-respect, not to mention that they might actually volunteer in the future because of your example! I think it's actually a separate issue from whether or not you get reimbursed for your time. I do actually think it would be great to give something (however small) to volunteers for their time, but it shouldn't be a reason not to volunteer doing something you love. Certainly bringing it up with the coach or PTA couldn't hurt.

I think that what tips the scales for me is the fact that they must still be dealing with their fathers absence and now yours. That and it's not one or two afternoons a week but everyday including meets. While I agree parents need time for themselves this seems out of balance. Coaching certainly gets you more attention and pats on the back than the often lonely and thankless task of parenting but your kids need you more (especially with their father away) than other kids. It's not glamorous but true.

I doubt I'd find a way to justify spending the money, especially given how you've indicated your circumstances are more than a bit tight previously. I'd say maybe reduce your involvement or ask the PTA to pick up your childcare tab.

Bear in mind, as well, you're someone who frequently mentions feeling overwhelmed and overscheudled. While ideally one doesn't remove the items one enjoys from their "to do" list, given all the elements---that actually might well be the best place to start.

I've just been reading a book called "Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents" by Christine Carter. By doing something that you love, volunteering and modelling this to your children you are doing 2 of the first steps - "Putting on Your Own Oxygen Mask First" and "Building a Village." She also emphasizes the importance of the father in all of this both in your relationship to him and the kids relationship to him. It may be important to make sure he's getting his oxygen mask on and how he is involved in building the village. At the very least you can use this book as evidence that you are not harming your children but making them happier...

I think what you're doing is great and if the kids seem happy, you and the hub are happy then it's a win-win for everyone.

I had this same conversation with my husband. He coached basketball for 6th grade girls off and on for ten years. When we got together he wasn't coaching at the time but had in the past. A couple years into our relationship the program he volunteered for was shorthanded and asked for his help. Twice a week, for about 3.5 hour, on the other side of town. To a very wealthy side of town I might add... To complicate matters, I had a 5th grade boy at home. It was very frustrating seeing him use his skills and time (for free) and not benefitting anyone else in our family but him. The tension mounted and I'm relieved that he gave it up. Would it be possible to coach a track team for your own child or bring them along to "help"?

Aps, was your husband a stay at home or part time work at home dad? Would that have changed your feelings at all?

Aps post is interesting because I realized that I am quicker to support women doing this kind of thing than men but her post was spot on since I have friends who complain that their husbands don't spend enough time with the kids and that so much needs getting done in their lives that he isn't in a position to volunteer so much of his time with other people's kids...and I agree with them. So I guess it's the same here, especially since they are already denied one parent because of the circumstances.

As for the $500-600 cost, consider it your "gym membership" or an investment into your mental health. You get a few free hours to do something you love and exercise in the process - not to mention you're helping high-schoolers too. I'm a mom of 2 young kids and my husband works long shifts in the hospital as a 3rd yr med student. Sometimes he will not see our kids for days at a time because he will leave early, get home late, stay at the hospital overnight, etc. I find that when I don't get some time alone, I'm a total grouch and snap at my kids more. I often get up to run very early in the morning to get that time along before my husband leaves the house, but if you don't have that option, don't feel bad about paying a sitter.

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