As soon as my firstborn started kindergarten, I couldn’t wait to volunteer at his school. I was a SAHM, and I really wanted to make new mom friends and be with women who were going through the same stage of life I was. I was also nostalgic because he attended the same elementary school I did, and they still put on many of the same events, like a Halloween parade and special fall breakfast.
For six years, I volunteered for almost every event. I was always on the set-up committees and on Tuesday afternoons I went in to help the art teacher.
When my kids entered middle school, there were still opportunities to help but not as many. And honestly, they weren’t as fun. But I still went in once a week and helped my kids’ teachers with things like making copies.
Then, I went through a divorce.
I didn’t have as much free time and I needed to focus my attention on other things. I still got asked to volunteer, and I tried to make it work, but it depleted me in every way. I was juggling everything on my own and felt like I was running from one event to the next and doing a half-ass job at everything.
Something had to go, and volunteering was what I gave up. I felt guilty for a long time. I’d duck my head during class meetings. I’d make excuses when someone would reach out about helping, instead of simply saying no. There were times I felt judged by other mothers, but when I reflect I think maybe I was the one judging myself. Most of the time, anyway.
Last year, a group of parents asked me to help with a big project they were doing. When I declined, letting them know I couldn’t take an entire day off work to help which was needed, I got a little push back. One woman said, “You work for yourself, can’t you swing it?”
It bothered me for an entire week. And then, on the day of the event, I started to drive by all the hardworking moms while picking my son up early for an orthodontist appointment and took a detour to avoid them. And I realized how ridiculous I was being.
Ultimately, we are all grateful for those who can volunteer when they have the time. But not everyone is cut out, or has the time, to volunteer for school functions, either. I believe the time our kids have in school is important and volunteers are needed. But there are other things parents can do that make a difference, like to see what school supplies teachers need.
As my kids head into their final years of school, I want to soak up all the time I can with them while they are still home, so I won’t be volunteering, and I won’t be apologizing for it either.
Diana Park is a writer who finds solitude in a good book, the ocean, and eating fast food with her kids.