If parents aren’t volunteering for one thing they likely are for another

The next time you’re at an organizational meeting for (fill in the blank) PTA, Little League, Boy Scouts, soccer, Vacation Bible School, swim team, etc., I have a suggestion. Pass out name tags and ask your attendees to write down all of their other volunteer commitments, right next to their names. I bet it will be enlightening.

Sure, there are parents out there who don’t volunteer, but my guess is they are in the minority. A more likely assumption is that the parent who isn’t volunteering for Girl Scouts is coaching soccer. The dad who won’t help at soccer is coaching tennis. The slacker at tennis is teaching art to 60 third-graders every week. The mom who doesn’t volunteer in the classroom is on a committee to improve the school playground. The parent who won’t ever join a committee spent six years doing co-op preschool when his kids were little.

You and I probably don’t know the half of it.

Then there are the families dealing with alternative work schedules. Dads who work all night, moms who start their commute at 3 a.m.; some parents deal with challenges I can only imagine. Just because they don’t show up to PTA meetings, doesn’t mean they don’t care.

The world at large likes to make a big deal about the supposed “Mommy Wars,” but I don’t see that in our community at all. Stay-at-home parents and working parents are all actively involved in their kids’ lives. They just show up during different times of the day.

Part of our collective problem is that a typical middle-class childhood is so hard to achieve. What could be more normal that a 10-year-old playing a sport, being a Scout and taking piano lessons? In reality, that schedule bleeds money, car time and volunteer hours — and that’s just for one kid. Add a sibling’s extracurricular into the mix and you’re really in trouble.

Of course, none of that understanding makes it easier for your fill-in-the-blank organization. You need parents to volunteer this week. Right now! You’re burnt out. You can’t do it all on your own. You need help or your program will suffer. Kids will have less fun!

So what are you supposed to do as you stare into a sea of burnt-out, over-committed volunteers? How do you ask for help from people who struggle with helping too much?

I don’t know. It’s March, and I’m all out of energy. I just spent two hours doing a Girl Scouts webinar so that I can lead a Daisy troop this fall. Now I need to update the treasurer books for the parent organization at my son’s school.

At least Little League practice is tonight. I’m just going to sit on my butt and watch.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at http://teachingmybabytoread.com.

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