Working mom finds it hard to kick the school volunteer habit

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I remember the day I hit bottom: I was a wreck. My body ached. My head hurt. I felt like I did after that college weekend in Ensenada.

Flashbacks and regrets. Shame.

My editor had a talk with me. A colleague later explained: "We're just worried about you."

My husband wasn't just worried. He was angry. "You're a mother. You have a full-time job. You're a wife. You can't live like this."

That weekend was a new low in my addiction, and I'm ready to admit it. I am a classroom volunteeraholic.

Rare is the tutoring, baking, fundraiser-hosting, field-trip-chaperoning opportunity that I pass up. On that lost weekend in June, commitments I had made with a quick "sure, no problem" months earlier came crashing together on consecutive days. I baked, cooked, organized, shuttled and ran so hard, I slept about three hours in three days. I felt so hung over that I looked around to make sure I wasn't in Vegas with a tiger in my hotel room.

So as the new school year opens for hundreds of thousands of families in Virginia, I am promising those around me that I will give up excessive volunteering, one day at a time.

And that's the last thing schools want to hear today.

From the sound of the doom-and-gloom budget battles that escalated in the spring, it seems as though our children could be heading into classrooms with dirt floors and stone tablets.

Prince William County schools cut 200 jobs this year, as did Fairfax County schools, where parents will have to pay for many activities that once were free. Most classes in Prince George's County grew by about two kids thanks to recent budget cuts, and who knows what's in store for kids in D.C. public schools this year amid the firings, mayoral campaigning and wedding planning going on.

With every school budget cut -- and they have come in the tens of millions this year -- blossoms a volunteer opportunity. Some schools have become so dependent on parent power that they've made volunteering mandatory, including a couple of schools in Prince William. It's a pernicious addiction, volunteering at your kid's school. It's hard to say it's a bad thing, because it plays into your parenting insecurities, no matter who you are. Stay-at-home-parents are often relied on too much and have work heaped upon them.

Some of my mom friends told me they feel compelled to never say no, because they somehow feel a need to justify their stay-at-home decision.

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