Volunteer Vampires

Call it Volunteer Vampires - a dilemma many of us struggle with (and feel guilty about struggling with). In simple terms, how much to volunteer at our children’s schools?


In “Sharks and Jets,” one of the stay-at-home mom essays in my anthology Mommy Wars, Washington, DC mom Page Evans reveals the angst underneath the yes-woman she presents to everyone who asks her to volunteer for anything:


YES! Yes. Yes. YES! Yes. And yes. 


For stay-at-home moms without so-called “real” jobs, volunteering becomes a social payback of sorts. I feel obligated to volunteer, to say yes, to prove my worth.  But who am I proving it to?


The problem with saying yes so often is that I’ve found myself doing more volunteering than parenting.  One day I woke up and thought: ‘The whole reason I’m not working is to raise my children, but now I’m paying a babysitter to take them to the park so I can volunteer and not get paid.’


Another view on over-volunteering comes from Terri Minsky, a New York based Hollywood writer and show-runner, who called her Mommy Wars essay “The Mother Load.”


At my children’s school, there are mothers who hold meetings with administrators to discuss the juice policy. I would put a fork in my eye if that were my life.


These days, perhaps to help parents find a happy medium between spending too much or no time at all at school, some administrators have taken to mandating volunteerism, a doublespeak concept eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984.


Parent involvement is greatly encouraged at Buckley. The library, the safety patrol, stage productions, the Family Skating Party, the Theatre Benefit, the Used Clothing Sale, the Book Fair, the Spring Art Exhibition Day and Grandparents Day provide many opportunities to volunteer. The Fathers Committee organizes annual Father-Son events such as: the overnight camping trip in the fall, a dinner off campus for Middle and Upper School fathers and sons in the winter, and a baseball game outing every spring.  - The Buckley School


Some parents wouldn’t dream of missing a camping trip or a family skating party with their kids, helpfully organized by the school. But apparently, other parents aren’t reading the fine print.  Buckley and another Manhattan private school, Marymount, created a stir last week by reprimanding parents who outsource volunteering to their paid housekeepers and nannies, with this email blast:  


“Parents are the only acceptable option for patrol. Caregivers, housekeepers, etc. may NOT walk safety patrol.”