Volunteering Kind of Sucks

As a stay-at-home mom, I was excited to give back. Until I actually tried it.

May 23, 2011 at 1:02pm | Leave a comment

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Hello, my name is Christina and I am a recovering volunteer.

A bit of background. I’m celebrating my 5th anniversary as a stay-at-home mom.  Before that, I spent five years working a series of stressful full-time jobs before enduring a tiring commute and a night comforting 2 kids who would not sleep. I was in a constant daze of fatigue.

So when I decided to stop the madness, I was really excited to get involved with my kids’ schools and some non-profits in our town. I immediately signed up to be class mom for both kids, a Sunday school teacher and the public relations chair for a local non-profit. This is going to be super-fulfilling! I thought. I won’t have to deal with the bullshit of working for a company, and I’ll have a warm fuzzy feeling from helping out with something really important.

I didn’t realize that I was trading one chaotic life for another. And in this one, I did not get paid. Or have an assistant. Volunteering is super hard!  Did I mention that you don’t get paid?

And guess what else? There are no gold stars. Volunteers are largely unappreciated. I should have remembered that. About 20 years ago, I volunteered to do the supermarket shopping for an elderly shut-in. She was very difficult. She would actually demand straight bananas. Have you ever located a straight banana? Me neither.

I’ve watched people yell at hard-working volunteers. And I’ve been yelled at myself. Girlfriend, if you are going to yell at me, I’m going to need some monetary compensation.  I’ve seen volunteers cry. All of the range of human conflict that exists in the corporate world plays out in the volunteer world.  What I am trying to say is that there is no escaping the bullshit.

Also, it turns out that being a class mom is a lot about fundraising. Note: This is a poor assignment for me. I’m very bad at making money. Money, in fact, runs as soon as it senses my presence. I have the carcasses of four folded magazines to prove it. If I show the slightest interest in a TV show or a restaurant, it gets canceled or goes out of business. Come to think of it, I’m a little worried about xojane.com, now that I’m writing for it. (But don’t tell Jane.)

Still, I persisted in my volunteer career. I respond well to guilt, and if someone needs help, it’s hard for me to say no. One year, I was on three boards: at my daughter’s nursery school and two non-profits. I was logging maybe 20 volunteer hours per week. This is hardly a heavy load compared to super-volunteers, like PTA and Junior League presidents, but I am no super-volunteer.

I don’t regret volunteering. It got me out of the house, led to interaction with smart adults, and helped me make nice friends I never would have met otherwise. But about a year ago, I realized that I missed writing. I decided to cut back on the volunteering and try to restart my career. I still volunteer, but I figured out that I like the hands-on stuff. So I help out in the classroom and the school library, lead a Brownie troop and occasionally serve at the soup kitchen.  But I’ve got it under control. I can stop any time.