Know Thyself: The PTA Volunteer Dilemma

I have to deal with something I don’t want to, and it’s taking entirely too much of my energy.

Before starting this blog post I was working through various tasks — household stuff, other writing projects, planning the week out in my head, moving through my morning.

But I was having trouble focusing on anything because of this annoying, nagging voice in my head that kept reminding me of a situation I need to handle.

You might think that with all the energy it’s sucking out of me that it’s a huge, enormous, monumental task.

It’s not.

I need to return an email to the VP of programs for the PTA  — a lovely woman who puts in oodles of time making my children’s school phenomenal.

And I mean that with the utmost sincerity, sans snark. She’s truly wonderful, and I like her a lot, which is a big reason this is all so damn difficult.

Here’s another reason:  Mom Guilt

Bear with me as I break this down and work through my freaking anxiety.

 

**********

 

Let’s start at the beginning.

 

I received the following email from…let’s call her Dana, nearly two weeks ago:

 

Hi Viv, 

Hope you guys are doing well and starting the new school year off with a bang. I always find the first few weeks of school energizing and exciting! I’m sorry we never got together this summer. We stayed on the go more often than I expected, and when we were in town we hung by the pool more often than the beach.

I am actually contacting you on behalf of the PTA. I’m serving as VP of Programs this year and was hoping you may be willing to help by chairing or co-chairning a committee. We have a few different opportunities available. I thought of you right away for co-chairing the Yearbook Club or The Five Senses Art Program/Contest. However, we also need a chair for the School Beautification committee. 

I can discuss what each of these entail in more detail if you think you may be interested. I would enjoy working with you through the PTA. Just let me know if you have any interest. I look forward to hearing from you. 

Dana

 

You guys…

I have zero interest in chairing any PTA committee, and I should have said no, no, and HELL no the moment I got the email.

But what did I do?

I let the Mom Guilt get to me.

I replied in a timely manner and told Dana that I did want to be more involved this year but wasn’t sure I’d be able to chair or even co-chair a committee, but that I’d be happy to talk to her about these “opportunities” and I provided times I’d be available to chat by  phone.

It was true.

But it was also soft and left too much space for me to be talked into a committee chair position when inevitably the “opportunities” are still unfilled.

I also never should have volunteered to discuss any of this by phone. I HATE talking on the phone. HATE. IT.

 

 

**********

 

 

Between the time I sent the message and Dana’s phone call, I got quite clear on all of it: Hell to the no — no way am I in a place to head up anything resembling a PTA committee at this time.

Just NO.

Why did I not tell her this in the first place?

She didn’t call initially, and then she did.

At the exact moment I was pulling out of my driveway heading out of town for a weekend getaway with some friends from high school.

I could have answered, but I didn’t want to think about PTA so I sent her straight to voicemail – the place where anxious people’s messages go to die.

I told myself I’d return her call first thing the following Monday morning — and it’s now been exactly one week plus one day since, and I’ve yet to call Dana.

UGH!!!!!!!!

Now I not only feel guilty that I’m going to tell her no but also because I haven’t returned her call.

Compounded guilt.

And I’m certain she knows all of this. I’m not the first mom to dodge the PTA officers on the regular.

Guilt, guilt and more guilt.

 

 

**********

 

 

Here’s the thing. I am happy to volunteer. I’ll work concessions at the fundraisers. I’ll hang out at Barnes and Noble on a Saturday morning when it’s our school’s Portion of the Proceeds Day. I’ll sign the whole family up for the weekend Fun Run. I will BE more involved this year.

I just DO NOT want to be in charge of people, students, or responsible for coordinating and organizing.

I CAN NOT keep all that shit straight.

And as much as I don’t want to tell her I can’t do this, I REALLY don’t want to take the job and screw it up.

This isn’t me being a perfectionist.

This is me…off my focus meds…recognizing that I live with compromised executive functions, and that I’m at capacity with getting people to school on time every day and making sure the folders are signed.

That’s simply reality.

It’s not the case of IF I’ll screw up, it is WHEN, and it’s only a matter of time. Everything in me is screaming DON’T DO IT.

 

 

**********

 

 

Ultimately this all comes down to guilt over not doing enough at their school.

I’m not doing enough quickly turns into I’m not enough in my head.And that’s not a place I need to go right now.

Last school year was completely nuts for us as a family.

We had just moved to the area, so I used the legitimate excuse that I was getting settled which, in hindsight, was the understatement of the century.

Two kids in a new school, moving and unpacking (we closed on our house two days after school started), work (I was still finishing up some contracted projects at my old job), and we still had a lot going with our old house that we still haven’t freaking sold.

But I swear,  every time I was up at the school (which wasn’t all that often; elementary schools bring on loads of anxiety for me — hives, sweaty armpits, racing heart, all of it. Not my safe space by a long shot…but that’s a story for another day), I felt like I was never contributing enough.

Parents are EVERYWHERE at this place.

They’re volunteering in the front office; they’re making copies; they’re planning all the damn parties; they’re greeting the haggard moms like me in the car-rider drop-off line.

And they just seem so damn blissful. Like…these women (and of course there’s not a dad in sight) are entirely too happy at 7:30 in the morning.

The snarky devil on my right shoulder has to ask — What kind of meds are they on, my god?! And… Oh, there’s no way there’s just coffee in that Starbuck’s travel mug. That smile on her face is screaming BAILEY’S for breakfast!!

I did what I could. I sent in the normal party stuff, contributed money for the teacher gifts, wrote check after check after check it seemed for all the freaking fundraisers, and chaperoned a few field trips. I showed up for special meals with the kids, attended class parties, bought whatever they sold.

But I still felt like it was never enough.

You’re not enough, Viv, the voice whispered.

I became overly sensitive when I did volunteer. I’d be chit-chatting with the other moms (ALWAYS the moms) and I’d get this vibe, a quiet assessing — looking me up and down as if to say WHO is that? I’m at every PTA function and I’ve never seen her before.

Now likely that’s not at all what they were saying (though I HAVE heard various mothers whispering among themselves about other moms who are out of earshot), but I absolutely believe that’s what some were thinking. I was blessed with a sixth sense for this sort of thing. Seriously.

I always think that I’ve reached a point of not caring — I’m a born rebel who never gave more than a few damns about most things that others seem to get all wrapped around the axle over. It’s just never been me.

That is…until I became a parent.

I never want my children to be viewed negatively or less than because their mother is…a royal screw-up different from the more conventionally-minded parents.

Additionally:

I want to support the teachers and administrators.

I want to support the PTA at my kids’ school.

I want to want to head up various committees.

I also want to meet and work together with people in my community — it’s not easy, especially since I work from home and have no family in the area. I’m definitely adult-company deprived these days.

I also want to be authentic and live from a place of truth.

I want THAT more than anything.

I want to model for my children that it’s okay to not be like everyone else.

 

 

**********

 

 

I just wish I had already called Dana back.

It bothers me that I told her I’d talk with her about these “opportunities” and haven’t. I feel like I’m ghosting her. That’s not how I roll.

It bothers me that I wasn’t able to respond authentically and truthfully the moment she messaged me.

Why didn’t I just say from the get-go:  

Thank you so much for thinking of me. I DO want to be more involved this year and hope to do more volunteering through the PTA. However, I am not in a place where I can commit to chairing or co-chairing a committee at this time. 

Why is that so difficult for me? I have my suspicions, but again — that’s another post.

I could have spared myself all this angst by saying that up front — like THE day she emailed me.

It’s okay to say no.

It doesn’t make me a bad person.

It doesn’t make me slack.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my children or that I don’t support their school.

It means that I know my limits and am living truthfully.

It means that I am not building up anger and resentment.

It means that I’m putting my kids and my family first by ensuring that I’m not running myself ragged recruiting volunteers and organizing Clean-Up-The-Grounds Saturday.

It means that I know myself and that I know that I could be a pleaser and say, sure I’ll do it, but that I’d be resentful and end up putting off important tasks AS the committee chair because deep down I DON’T want to be doing it.

And, I DON’T have the capacity to do that job well and do my other jobs well (being a mom to Piers and Wallace, a partner to Gil and an employed writer.)

Acknowledging that fact and saying the words is okay.

It’s adult, and it’s emotionally and psychologically healthy.

If other people get mad or think that I’m slack, lazy, insert some other adjective, then that is okay — that’s about them and I certainly can’t control their reactions and responses.

It’s also okay that other moms love running the PTA and are good at it.

For that matter, THANK ALL THAT’S HOLY THAT WE CAME HERE WITH VARYING STRENGTHS AND TALENTS and that there ARE moms who volunteer to run the PTA. I am beyond grateful for mothers who dig PTA. I am thankful for your service, bow at your feet, and am more than happy to be your worker bee.

(And while I’m at it, please run out now and get your copy of Snarky In the Suburbs. The protagonist, Wynn Bultler, delights in all things PTA. I could totally be the yang to her PTA-loving yin — or should that be the other way around? You know what I mean…I hope. I’ll be reviewing this hysterical read soon.)

I adore Dana don’t want to leave her hanging. At the same time I don’t owe her an explanation or every gnarly detail about my life.

I have the right to say no.

I need a prioritization flow-chart in front of me at all times:

KIDS — GIL (relationship) — WORK (as in the kind where I get paid) 

 

 

**********

 

 

If only Anxiety-Girl wouldn’t show up, because inevitably SHE does, and the spiral takes a different path. This time the practical is front and center.

I start thinking:

I need to meet people in this area in case I need references for jobs. 

I don’t want to be seen as someone who can’t be depended on; I need to make contacts here in case I need a better job.

I spiral further:

What if Gil dies and there’s not adequate life insurance to sustain our current standard of living without me going back to work full time at a better paying job with benefits?

Heading a committee would look better on a resume than concession-stand attendant.

Oh my god. Do you guys see how I spiraled?

But I have lived this experience and hopefully I have learned.

KNOW THYSELF.

 

 

**********

 

 

In 2011 I started going to church because I was having panic attacks at night worrying about gaps in my resume.That wasn’t the ONLY reason for my church attendance, but it definitely played a part.

I signed up for any and everything.

I chaired various committees, taught classes, ran a book club, attended board meetings, wrote newsletters, coordinated the MLK parade, on and on and on.

I burned out and harbored resentment to the point that I still don’t want to set foot back in a church.

Not because I hate church, but because I couldn’t say no.

I’m all or nothing.

I CAN run things, but I’m choosing not to at this stage in my life and that is OKAY.

I also have to look for opportunities that utilize my gifts, skills and talents.

Wouldn’t the world be a much better place if we could all do that?

Elementary school climate would certainly be more tolerable; that I know for sure.

I’m gonna stop right here and go about my day. Thanks for listening.

Oh, and as I was typing, my phone notified me that Friday is the last day to purchase school spirit wear to support the PTA.

SIGN ME UP!!!

Do you struggle with saying no?  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “Know Thyself: The PTA Volunteer Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Find the Happy | Grief Happens

  2. This is me. Seriously, another member of the PTA is coming to my house in twenty minutes to talk about a Fall Festival I was told I’m helping with. I thought we had a month. Nope! Just a week!
    WHAT THE F**K? And I’ve also signed up for choir because I can’t say no. I’m the treasurer of PTA because I felt that Mom guilt of not doing enough. It’s…yeah. I get you when it comes to this. Totally.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely have trouble saying no! I’m writing from a teacher’s perspective, I am not yet a parent. But I can’t say no, which is why I am responsible for way more things at school than I sometimes think I can handle. I’m glad to “meet” another person in the same boat and one that feels the similar anxiety that I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have a lot of teacher friends who feel like you do. I think part of it might be the climate. Teachers are constantly being asked to do more it seems. My mom was a teacher, and everyone always commented on how amazing it was that she got summers off. It’s a nice break, but no one factored in all the extra stuff teachers have to do. I have gradually gotten better at saying no. I think having kids made me realize how tapped out I was, but now…the darn PTA. I want to help…in moderation. Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  4. One day I went to back of the parking lot at a Starbucks to have a cigarette and, looking down, I spied three empty Baileys bottles, the kind one gets as an airplane passenger. Now I know who was behind these three empties on the grass – someone on her way to greet parents dropping off their kids. 😉

    In the past I struggled with no for many of the same scripts in my head. One time someone told me I looked like “death warmed over” and I responded with a sincere “thank you.” I saw it then as a badge of honor. Not only was I pushing myself to my limits, I was pushing myself past my limits. A good part of this was I lacked a decent sense of self-worth, so I could at least say I was sacrificing myself for the good of others.

    In the just past couple of years, I have finally somewhat internalized (rather than just intellectualized) the notion that if I don’t take care of myself, that is, to be in some regards selfish about my own well-being ahead of other people’s needs and requests, then I won’t be of any use to anyone, including myself. Eventually I will spiral down, overwhelmed, having panic attacks, and, as they say, drop the ball.

    Yet just a couple of days ago I was having a conversation with someone just about this topic. And I believe I was talking about why it is okay for me to be selfish in this regard because I still need affirmation that it is indeed okay. All it takes is one person to get his or her nose bent out of shape because I am not a “team player” or “thinking of others” for me to question the whole notion. I have to slip into that mantra of none of us were put on this planet for the sole purpose of making this or that person happy all the time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Very wise words. I’m with you. Maybe that’s it — I have had a significant change in priorities over the past few years and I think I do a pretty good job putting self-care at the top of the list. There’s just something about my kids and their school that seems to make me lose sight of what I need AND I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that many moms wear the fact that they’re overextended like some badge of honor. Hopefully I’ve worked something out that will allow me to volunteer some in an area that’s enjoyable for me and manageable. Thanks for chiming in. It’s always nice to hear from you. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I regularly get myself in over my head with volunteer commitments, actually social commitments of any kind, and must pull back to take care of myself. You are under no obligation to volunteer with the PTA. I just wrote my membership check. I preferred volunteering in the classroom with young kids teaching art once a month in the OC burbs, and once a week when we lived in the Mojave Desert where few parents volunteered.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First of all…put down the third cup of coffee and breathe…just kidding. I don’t mean to make light of your anxiety at all. I think you are perfectly justified to say “no, not right now.” If Dana is as sweet as you say, she will understand. Forget the other moms. I don’t help with PTA either, mostly because I don’t drive and can’t get to the meetings/functions. I miss hanging out with moms too. If you feel compelled to help, have you thought of volunteering for the “behind the scenes” work? I always volunteer to do “behind the scenes” sort of things for my kids’ teachers (phone calling, making class lists, cutting paper towel rolls for an art project…all the mundane things the teachers really don’t have time for). I’m sure the PTA has things like that too. Not everyone has to be the “head” of the body. Someone has to be the legs and the arms.
    Volunteer for what you can, when you can, and let the guilt go. Sometimes “good enough” is the best we have to offer. By the way, the next time you head back to church (if you head back to church) they ALWAYS need behind the scenes help too. I used to lead a women’s Bible study, and couldn’t do it after I had my second child. I had one of the Pastor’s tell me that it was okay, and that maybe my way of serving in that moment was to serve my family.
    Hang in there. Dana will understand. And even if she doesn’t, you have to do what’s best for you.
    Hugs 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry I’m so late replying to this. Either I replied in my head or my response is lost in Cyberland — likely, it’s the former. AHHH, my life. Well, you are SO right. I need to take it down a notch. I’m not sure what’s up with me these days. I’m more amped up than usual. Good point about working behind the scenes. I actually think I found a workable solution Perhaps I’ll blog about it eventually…or not. Thank you so much for the kind words and for reading my anxiety attack — which is basically what this entire post consisted of. Hope you are well, friend. xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Holy merde, I RELATE SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much!!!!!

    Guess who has to gas up the Suburu, make a bank deposit and then darken the hallways of elementary and middle school to pick up the gals? Yep, yours truly. I’m praying that “Chucky-Girl” the bully didn’t pick on Avi today. So fat she hasn’t done anything overt, but I’m going to meet with the school dean to give her a heads-up.

    Ugh.

    I WILL be back with thoughts!!!
    In the meantime,
    (((((hugs))))

    p.s. please please please release all guilt and shame and all ickiness! You are a wonderful mom/writer/human.
    !!!! Frankly, I’d rather spend an afternoon getting a mammogram, pap smear, and dental work than co-chair anything!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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