A recent New York Times article discussed that moms of kids in public school were under a great deal of pressure to volunteer their time at the school. What tends to happen is that the moms who don’t have “jobs” or who who work at home end up volunteering enough to equate to a part time job in the very least. While it is nice to have the extras that volunteering moms provide, from classroom parties, to awesome decorations, the result is also frazzled moms with little time or energy to take care of the family.
These overworked moms of public school children are not alone. As a homeschooling parent I can vouch that I am still sought out regularly to use my talents for the greater good. I work 18 hour days for a pittance every election day. I decorate at my church. I have a required amount of volunteer hours with my kids homeschool drama club too. To top it off, because i am home and my kids don’t have a “schedule” (as people like to say) I seem to be on everyone’s emergency list for picking sick kids up from school to doing random “favors” that seem to come up. So just like the moms featured in the story, many of whom have gone on strike from volunteering, I have learned to reclaim my time.
Here are my rules for volunteering, or not:
If you are going to volunteer your time, make sure you enjoy the task. As an artistic person, I am generally called on to do visual jobs from decorating to painting. This is what I prefer. Doing such tasks generally feels like playing, and when done in moderation can be quite enjoyable.
Don’t volunteer to take on the whole job by yourself. The biggest mistakes some mommy volunteers make is to chair a committee. When my kids were in public school, I actually had a PTA leader hang up on me because I refused to chair a festival committee, but instead wanted to help. If, like this abrasive woman helping is not good enough, then they can find someone else. I tend to look at the size of the job required and if I know it is too big for me to do in a few hours work, I tell the person asking that if they find a person or two to help me, then I will be glad to work on the project. I never take on big jobs solo thinking I can find people to help me. If you do this, you may find yourself bogged down for a whole week or longer.
Beware of paid volunteer positions. I realize that “pay” and “volunteer” can be a bit of an oxymoron. After all, if you are getting paid, then it is not volunteer work, right? Wrong. I have spent two solid weeks time (plus prep time) volunteering for a club activity in exchange for a tuition discount. After the work was done, I did the math, and found that the money that I saved was only a quarter of what I would have made had I not taken time off from business. Likewise, with my elections job, when you count all of the training and preparation for election day, I am making below minimum wage for the work done. I don’t do it for the money, I do it as a public service. Choose these situations carefully. I chose to continue doing elections as it takes only about six days a year. I have declined to do a job that will cause me to be unable to run my writing business for a week or two at a time.
Don’t let volunteer work interfere with home life. If your laundry goes undone, you find yourselves eating pizza from a cardboard box, and calling babysitters, then you are probably doing too much. Evaluate your obligations to figure out where you can cut back.
Plan a maximum number of hours you can volunteer for the year in advance. I basically allot myself one day a month for volunteering. That is almost 100 hours a year (96 to be exact). Keep track of your hours when agreeing to do tasks, and as you complete the volunteer work. This way you will know if you are agreeing to more than you should be doing. At this point, you may be able to bow out of doing some volunteer work that is expected of you, or at least not volunteer for so much next year.