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I’m a full-time working mom, I’m sure many of you can relate. We work long hours before coming home to make dinner, chauffer to practices, help with homework, tuck everyone into bed and then collapse into bed ourselves. Then we wake up and do it all over again. We long for a restful weekend, yet they are filled with laundry, sports, birthday parties, tutors, yardwork and household chores. There is so little time and a never-ending to-do list.

Volunteering at your child’s school no longer feels optional; it almost feels like a requirement for parents. I’m going to take it a step further and suggest that there is an unspoken value that has been assigned to how much (or how little) we are willing and available to pour into and sacrifice for our children. It’s become a competition. Whomever does so much for their kids that they run themselves completely into the ground WINS.

I also am perplexed at the over the top expectation for how things are done. I remember volunteering our family to decorate my son’s class pumpkin to be auctioned off at the fall festival fundraiser. My husband excitedly delivered what we considered to be a fantastic Frankenstein pumpkin, and I vividly remember the phone call I got from him after he saw our competition. These pumpkins were perfectly executed, Pinterest quality pieces of art. They were really impressive, but when did Pinterest perfection become the expectation?

Despite my own demanding schedule as a working mother of 3, volunteering is something that I make time to do. Are there weeks that I feel over-committed and days where there aren’t enough hours? Absolutely. But I continue to volunteer because it’s important to be part of something bigger and its benefits are endless. It’s essential to my own life and a lesson that I work to instill in my children. Here are the five key things I’ve learned about volunteering:

1. Find the Right Opportunity

Your time is precious. If you choose to devote your already limited time to something, be sure it’s a good fit. Look for opportunities that utilize your strengths and talents. Look to participate in things that you enjoy or that you are interested in learning about. Finding the right volunteer opportunity makes the experience more meaningful and enjoyable. 

2. Be Realistic

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Demands on your time ebb and flow over many different seasons in this parenting journey. Before you commit to a volunteer opportunity, be sure to honestly evaluate whether you really have time to do it AND maintain sanity. It’s important to take a close look at your overall schedule and time constraints before devoting additional time to something that you may not have.

3. Learn to Say No

This is an important one. The expectation to volunteer brings a lot of pressure to say yes. With that, you can feel really guilty when you need to say no. I can assure you that it is ok – even recommended - to say no if a volunteer opportunity isn’t a good fit. You can’t do all of the things all of the time. If it’s an opportunity that isn’t meaningful to you or you truly don’t have the time to do, say no.

4. Embrace Good Enough

Although it may feel like it, know that perfection is not expected. There is no need for things to be perfect. What’s more important is that you showed up, gave of your time and contributed. I promise that your children won’t pay attention to the details but they will remember that you were there.

5. Support One Another

It’s been said that parenting is the toughest job in the world. Instead of judging one another for how willing we are to volunteer, can we start supporting one another? We’re all doing the best that we possibly can. If someone needs to say “no,” let’s respect that it doesn’t work for them and leave it at that. We are all in this together and together we will get the job done.

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