It Wasn’t Easy to Say No to Volunteering

By Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser for Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

IMG_9243-300x225-1I’ve been that mom, the one who volunteers in big ways, like run the school’s development committee, including the annual phone-a-thon with a glass ceiling of ten callers. I’ve been the aggrieved organizer of that phone-a-thon, because it would seem that two hours wasn’t a lot to ask of more than ten parents, especially ones that received the scholarship dollars we raised during that two hours. Although I am not that mom any longer, I’ve thought a great deal about the equation and the motivation behind my parent volunteerism.

We parent volunteers put the time in, our skills or our willingness to do relatively unskilled tasks like the shopping for the preschool snacks or the collating of the first graders’ poetry anthologies, because we love our kids and because we respect our kids’ teachers and because we want to be involved in some way in the life of the school and just because. I have put loads of time in, hours upon hours. I’ve felt impassioned and put upon and satisfied and frustrated. I’ve felt part of the machine that is my kids’ school, whether it’s because I’ve chaperoned or baked for the high school musical. Also, I’ve wondered whether there would ever be a world for me beyond the duties parenthood opened me up to performing.

We parent volunteers jump in with ideas big and small. Over the years, I’ve raised questions about diversity, sustainability (as in, saving the earth), snacks (as in, why so much sugar at parties and why no guidelines—a provocative effort that earned me an unofficial title as “Sugar Czar” for a couple of years), homework (less, please) and high school start time (later, please—or take head, bang it against wall and still many years later it starts at 7:30 AM). Pretty much each one of these ideas came with the non-dollar price tag of hours donated in pursuit of the idea. I wrote letters, raised monies, and even attended School Committee meetings. Of the last one, I’d have to say if ever I doubted the efficacy of democracy, doubt rose alarmingly high, like a river about to flood, on nights at the School Committee meetings.

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