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Volunteering at Your Kids' School: How Much is Too Much?

A stay-at-home mom feels the volunteer system at her school has become coercive. What would you do?

A friend recently expressed her frustration with mom volunteers in her elementary school, which will go unnamed for fear that doing so will fire up this group even more.

First, a little background. My friend is a stay-at-home mom of three children. The oldest and youngest children have medical conditions that put them in the emergency room more than their mom would like. She's accustomed to waiting on the edge of her seat for the next catastrophe and has little time to unwind.

When her two oldest children started school, my friend was happy to participate in the mom volunteer program when time permitted. Originally, volunteers were asked to sign up for art presentations in which they would go to the classroom on a certain day and teach the kids about an artist. Then volunteer requirements became more stringent.

In addition to "art moms," volunteers were asked to be "flashcard moms" — they would pull children from their classrooms and review math facts. Then there were the "reading with feeling moms" whose job it was to teach children how to infuse their reading with emotion. Odd considering the math flashcards and emotional reading seem more appropriately done in the home with parents. There also was a "copy mom" who would serve her time at the copy machine. Each task was a three-hour time slot.

Things went south when the head moms decided to keep a scorecard.

Lines were drawn and those moms (my friend was one of them) who didn't live up to the expectation of a select few were sent snail mail letters and emails asking them how they intended to "live up" to the volunteer standard. The new expectation was that each mom would volunteer at least twice a week, for a total of six hours, doing any of the designated tasks.

Some moms chose to cave to the pressure and volunteer more of their time rather than stand up for their free time.

My friend contends that she's worked hard for whatever down time she has and what these volunteer moms are asking her to do is equivalent to a job for which she gets no compensation. Unless you count peer acceptance. She wants to participate in a capacity that suits her lifestyle. After all, isn't that what volunteering is?

What would you do? Should these parents take the issue to school officials?

Donna Brazas-Reynolds August 11, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Unfortunately, with my own ears, I've heard derogatory comments made about people who don't volunteer. This group at my daughter's school was why I stopped attending the parent meetings. A former president once said "I don't see what the big deal is. EVERYONE can take one day off of work." I had to remind her that even in Orland Park, not EVERYONE even has sick days. Some people don't work, and they don't get paid. Or maybe they're saving their sick days for when their kids or they are SICK. I was fortunate enough to volunteer a significant amount in my son's school during regular hours, but I would save the parties and such for parents who could only volunteer those days. When my daughter attended the same school, the curriculum changed, as did my work life, and I wasn't in the classroom as much, so I traded in for volunteering as a scout leader. Volunteering should be all about what we can fit into our lives to make it richer for our kids AND us. The act should reflect our interest and our commitment, not a sense of drudgery. I'll happily pick up a little slack for those parents who cannot volunteer. I kind of feel it's my obligation to do so because I can, but I would never judge someone else because they can't.
Heather Blackmore August 11, 2011 at 06:31 PM
Hi Kate, after reading these comments, I realized there was a key aspect I should have included. There was no expectation that working moms should be held to the same standard as SAHM. Because they were employed outside the home, it was understood that this system would not fit their schedule. So it seemed to be that there was a mindset among this group of volunteer SAHM moms that the SAHM had more time to give and should be willing to give it. My friend was put on the spot and felt pressured to explain why she was unable to give the 6 hours a week. It was an all or nothing volunteer system. As for the truthfulness of my story, I have no desire to make false claims, just an interest in how others would perceive this situation as told to me by a close friend. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Jamie Paicely August 11, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Mr. Fattore, I do not mean to imply that your wife or you were not working and sacrificing your time as well. I was simply saying that some of us (working moms, stay at home moms, and work at home moms all included) do not have the gift of three hours to spare. I'm not saying that because you may be a stay at home mom you do have that time and I'm not saying that because you're a working mom, you don't have that time. I wish I did have the time to volunteer more at the school and help out on the field trips, however, due to my work hours; I am unable to do so.
Good Days August 15, 2011 at 07:56 PM
Want to volunteer outside our your kids school? We can always use your help! If you are looking to help those in need, Good Days from Chronic Disease has a ton of volunteer opportunities. Help us help chronic disease sufferers! http://www.gooddaysfromcdf.org/
Lulijeta Jibolby June 25, 2013 at 12:46 AM
It's sad but alot of mom's who volunteer are domineering and will use their position to gossip about other moms they don't like, make sure the parents and their child are outcasts, lie about parents they feel threatened by. Competitive and promote one uppance. In other words, narcissists. Schools need more funding and less mothers and fathers with ulterior motives. Maybe volunteers should take a class if they wish to be in the classroom?

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