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I Refuse to Volunteer in My Kids’ Classrooms

Japanese High School Empty Classroom

In general, I am an unapologetically imperfect mama. I don’t suffer guilt about not pinteresting my kids bedrooms or letting them gorge on gummy worms and soda from time to time—or even about not going all “tiger mom” about homework. Somewhere between the fleetingness of childhood and the laziness of me lies this happy little place where we all just kind of allow each other the space to be.

But, there is one thing that I do feel badly about. A tiny little bubble of guilt that swells up into an angry boil whenever my children come to me with hopeful little faces about another “event announcement.”

I don’t volunteer in my kids’ class.

Like… at all.

Now before you start angry-typing comments about how I’m depriving my children or letting down the other hard working homeroom parents, just hear me out. There are reasons for my decision not to volunteer. There really are. Four of them are even decent ones.

These are the four good reasons and the two lame ones that I don’t volunteer in my kids’ classrooms:

1. I work. Granted, it’s not full-time, but it’s enough so that those several hours of free time I get here and there are really precious, and, I would argue, necessary for my sanity. Often that’s the time I use to grocery shop or run errands, but sometimes I use it to read a book or explore a new town. That time that I spend on myself gives me the energy and patience I need to withstand the five or so intense hours after the kids come home from school.

2. I am a little burnt out. For the first ten years of parenting, I was full on attachment mama. Nursing my kids until they were almost three, letting them sleep in my bed, getting almost no sleep of my own… That’s what my life was like for a very long time. Sometimes I feel like I crammed 20 years of parenting into those first few years. Needless to say, I lost myself a little bit. This last year or two has been largely about finding my way back.

3. There are waiting lists to volunteer. We are fortunate to live in a middle class suburb where many women chose not to work. Volunteering in the classroom is a very meaningful part of some of their lives. Which means… there are often so many volunteers for field trips and parties that the school has to turn people away. I’d like to think that if we lived in an area that had less available volunteers, I would be more involved. I’d like to think that.

4. I do volunteer… just not in school. I’ve worked at a homeless shelter, helped immigrants learn English, and mentored foster kids… along with social activism such as attending marches and advocating for vulnerable populations through phone calls and letters. These are all things which are very important to me, and often areas that other suburban parents may not have the time to put energy towards. I feel proud that I am able to work towards causes that I believe in and glad to be able to share these experiences with my kids.

And now for the other reasons…

5. I hated school as a kid. I grew up in a small conservative town as the only Jewish kid and was bullied. Just stepping into the school makes my stomach hurt and my eyes tear up. Fortunately, my kids go to a delightful school where they are well-liked and have had almost exclusively good experiences. As much as I try to hide my anxiety about school from them, I worry that, were I to volunteer in the classroom, they would be impacted by my stress.

6. I’m lazy. It’s true. The thought of getting out of my normal work-from-home uniform of PJ’s and messy hair and making my way to the classroom where I will have to dredge up my sub-par small talking skills, fight my school anxiety, and give up an hour of my very limited free time just hurts my soul.

It’s lousy of me, I know… and every year I promise myself that I will change my ways and volunteer for at least one event. But, then summer comes along, and I realize once again, that I’ve failed.

This year will probably be no different. Somehow I’ll have to make it up to my kids. Maybe some extra gummy worms and soda will help.

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