The Volunteer Momfia
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Get this: 40% of moms with kids under 18 undertake unpaid charitable work each year. Translation: we volunteer a lot. This constitutes a clear sign of insanity, since there are no busier people on the planet than moms with kids under age 18. We have absolutely no rationale for giving away our most precious commodity – time – for free.
So here’s the real question, recently tackled with refreshing candor by Helaine Olen in a bracing Double X story and by Michel Martin on NPR’s Tell Me More: Why do we moms volunteer so ridiculously much?
In her Mommy Wars essay “I Hate Everybody”, Leslie Lehr – a producer struggling to keep her career alive while single-parenting two daughters -- blames “supermom volunteer vampires on a mission to suck other moms dry.” In “Sharks and Jets,” stay-at-home mom Page Evans blames herself. “The problem with saying yes so often is that I’ve found myself doing more volunteering than parenting. For stay-at-homes 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? What am I trying to prove? Do I feel pressure from other parents when I see them volunteering? YES! Yes.Yes.YES! Yes. And Yes.”
This being America, our first task is to figure out who we can file a lawsuit against for this rampant overvolunteerism. Naturally, like Leslie Lehr, we blame other moms for pressuring us. Like Page, next we blame ourselves for being so unassertive that we cannot say no. I also hear some folks blame schools for expecting parents to volunteer. Personally, I blame society for devaluing moms’ contributions so drastically that we need to prove our status by volunteering.
No matter who is to blame, it’s high time a little mental health entered the volunteer arena.
Yes, volunteerism is noble. Wonderful and often rewarding. Flexible and feel-good in a way that paid work usually is not. It can also be a great way to meet interesting people, develop new skills, give back to your community, get out of the house. You can set a fine example for your children. You can get to know their school, their friends, their world, in a new way.
However, I’d like to share a few facts, even though some moms may now avoid me like a sneezing H1N1 carrier.