It is so important for me to raise children with a knowledge of and compassion for the world. I imagine them in the Peace Corp or Teach for America someday. And yet, every time I think about what I’m doing to model that for them, I come up with a big fat goose egg. It is strange. I thought I felt passionate about getting involved but it turns out that when it is actually time to get involved my inclination is to stand back and wait to see if there is a desperate need for me.
Before I had children this was not the case. I was on every committee and led every organization I was involved in. Then I had kids and it seemed I could only handle the “volunteering” that came with my day to day job. I was always confused as to why I was stalled on the stand up and take part front. Then yesterday when I went to a meeting at my daughter’s school (where we are forced to either volunteer or write a check, which is a whole post of rage for another day.) to join in the discussions of the Field Day Committee, it hit me- I’m scared. See, the whole experience of volunteering involves so many skills that I am not sure I possess any longer.
First, there is the meet and greet where you have to quickly become friendly with the people involved in order to foster a good working relationship. My conversational skills are so stunted after spending so much time with small children that I often put my foot in my mouth or sit mute to keep that from happening.
Then, after you have established yourself (good or bad) you are asked to collaborate on ideas. I haven’t collaborated with anyone over 3 feet in close to eight years. At home, I am in charge. At my job, I am in charge because I work only for me. I have lost some of my talent for collaboration and yet retained all of my impatience for the BS and talky-talk that comes out of group planning.
Finally, and worst of all, I had a very limited brain for details when I was a volunteer whore, so after kids and the inevitable brain shrinkage that comes after each placenta is ripped from your body, I can’t even remember to put on shoes much less to research the best prices for helium balloons and fake gold medals for over 4oo kids. What I haven’t lost though is my inherent desire to make everyone happy. Making everyone happy becomes way harder when you can’t remember to do your job. I am still scarred by the time I allowed myself to be placed in the position of MOMs Group President. I was told the group would fold if no one stepped up. I was told I wouldn’t have to do much-because I was honest about my limited abilities. So I stepped up and as predicted, didn’t do much. The group didn’t fold, but it was no thanks to me. The only consistent action I did was write a cute little note at the beginning of each newsletter and even that was a challenge. It was sad and I felt guilty about it all year. I vowed going forward that I would never ruin a position again.
I’m not sure how I’ll get my volunteer mojo back, but I hope it comes soon. My thought is as the kids get older maybe I’ll have some brain regeneration but it seems they keep adding activities so I will have to work hard on that one.
The kids and I keep talking about serving at Lunch Break, over Thanksgiving or Christmas so I should finally get on that. My son starts a new school next year that relies heavily on volunteers but treats them as such-volunteers. I’m hoping if I’m not forced to “volunteer or pay up” then I’ll be more motivated to choose volunteering. I know from my past that I have the gene, I just need to find it in all the piles of out-grown cloth diapers and baby toys.
Then I hope I can make the world an even better place-at least my small corner of it.
This post was inspired by the Yahoo! Motherboard topic for May. That’s a group I belong to that I probably don’t do enough for! Check them out.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.
I so relate to what you're experiencing — there are certain social muscles that get a little flabby when you've been home with the kids for a long period of time. But I also agree with what April said… as you become more acclimated and get to know the scene better, you'll get those muscles back. Don't worry — they're not gone forever!
There was just an article in Glamour magazine this month about volunteering. You can go to volunteermatch.org and input your interests and zipcode to find out opportunities in your area. There is also a "virtual opportunities" box for ways to help from home. I haven't looked at yet, but was thinking about going to the website and see what it's all about.
Cristie Ritz King says
April-I completely agree. I actually help out a lot at my kids' preschool but my daughter's school just isn't a great match. Also, I am pretty hard on myself for not getting out into the community more but with three little people running around it's not simple. I am hoping as they grow a little I will start to be a better role model and be better at getting them involved too.
I'm not giving up yet!
Cristie Ritz King says
Amy-you are totally right. I spent a good deal of my working life in schools so I find myself wanting to volunteer for things no one is asking for! I will figure something out, I'm sure. I have never been good at sitting out for too long.:)
Now I wish I could write another post on volunteering because I think that some organizations make it easier than others. I have no problem serving on my youngest daughter's PTA because the parents there are amazing. I have no problem serving on the parent action committee of the girls' after-school program because I think they're amazing, but I will not volunteer at my older daughter's school because the culture there is very different and not at all welcoming. When the people involved move you, that gene will be back full force! And you'll have to remind yourself to not get overinvolved 🙂
Amy- YodelingMamas says
Cristie, it's funny you should talk about being out of practice in certain aspects of life because as I've been reading volunteering posts, it dawned on me that corporate working moms and stay-at-home/work-at-home moms seem to approach volunteering differently. Since I'm comfortable with the business world, I try to use my skills of networking, organizing, etc. when I volunteer. I'm totally intimidated by different things than you…say managing a group of 4-year olds, talking about education/school funding with teachers or even cutting out classroom crafts (I've always had a bizarre phobia of cutting). I'm sure, given your desire, that you'll find great ways to jump in and join the volunteers…when you're ready.