Confessions of a PTA Burnout

parent volunteers

Hi, My name is Steph and I am a recovering PTA volunteer. I know I don’t owe anyone an apology, but this is a confession, and an apology is where I plan to start.

Sorry about this, fellow parents, but you guys are going to have to take over from here.

I’m really sorry that this year, instead of hiring a babysitter to watch my kids at the spring fair so I can count thousands of dollars worth of quarters, I will be hanging out, laughing with my fellow mom friends.

I’m sorry that I don’t care about funding your kids’ access to iPads.

I’m really sorry that it made me angry when you asked me about the school’s policy on cell phones. I DO know, but so should you. I’m just a mom, standing outside of a school, waiting to pick up the kids and start my second shift of work, just like you.

I used to know all the answers: where you could buy tickets for the community building hockey game, when you could drop off donations for the bake sale, which teacher would be retiring this year. I used to be the one who could tell you how much money we made at the book fair, or when the Terry Fox run would start. If your kid was in one of my kids’ classes, I could have probably have told you what reading level she was at, because I was in the class, twice a week, reading to her.

But I’m burnt out.

I didn’t start out feeling angry and tired. I started out passionate and determined. I started out as a stay-at-home mom who was grasping at finding my own identity. I had an unrelenting belief that part of my job as a parent was to support my kids’ teachers and school.

It wasn’t because I didn’t have better things to do. It wasn’t because I wasn’t qualified to do professional things. I have a Master’s in engineering, a decade of professional experience, and for five years, I wiped knee-high tables and searched Pinterest for themed craft ideas.

And it was okay, until it wasn’t.

It wasn’t the late nights, the bank line ups, the return trips to the school to fix someone’s tax receipt. It was actually the words that started to break me in the end. It was the little things that started wearing me down. People would complain without offering to help. I would put in ten to fifteen hours a week volunteering and parents would have the gall to complain to me about the run-by-volunteers activities at the school. It was the sentences that started with “Why don’t you….” or “You should….” The words made me feel like I was wasting my time.

I was tired. And you know how we get when we are tired. Nap-deprived babies aren’t the only ones who get cranky and sensitive. That’s how I knew it was time to stop. So I did; very suddenly, very emotionally, and very immaturely.

Luckily, I learned something from my experience, and I am here to bestow my wisdom on those of you who have not yet had a temper tantrum out front of the Starbucks over a trivial PTA matter.

Volunteerism is the meat of our community.

Volunteers populate the local hospice, the nursing home, the local shelter, the humane society. Volunteers quietly plan and execute even the little things we take for granted; an event at the local community center, the church coffee morning, the college newsletter, the library book club, the online parenting community you belong to.

As moms and dads, volunteering becomes a herculean task as we manage households and kids activities, hold down jobs, and care for ageing parents. And for the most part, there are seasons of life in which we step back and allow the volunteer tasks to be picked up by the more able around us. And that’s okay.

But, volunteering at the children’s school? Who is going to do that crap on our behalf? It’s for OUR babies, right?

It pains me to say it, but it has to be us, parents. Don’t shoot the messenger.

But don’t worry, because like I said, I have wisdom. As such, I’ve made a handy list of PTA volunteer parameters (because everyone loves a set of rules).

Know your limits. Don’t be afraid to say no. This one is for the chronic volunteers. You are not the only one who can pull off a spring fair for a thousand children. Be clear about what you can do. Be assertive about your time. If you do decide to help, be clear about what your responsibility is and make sure that the PTA team trusts you enough to pull it off without a thousand meetings or forty moving parts. Unless you love meetings and moving parts. Say no to anything you can’t deliver and anything that makes you want to crawl out of your own skin in avoidance.

Don’t be afraid to say yes. If you find yourself having strong opinions about things that happen in the PTA, you are probably ready to volunteer. There are many things you can do that fit all levels of availability and ability. Ask yourself how many hours you can afford. Two hours a year? Offer to sort the lost and found. Five hours? You could update the website. Need something big to build your resume? Chair the hell out of that PTA.

Recognize your privilege (if you have it). I am so privileged to have had the time and opportunity to serve on the school PTA. Some parents don’t have the luxury. Recognize that there are parents who aren’t as privileged with time or resources or physical/mental health or even language ability. Villages need all of us; those of us who can contribute should be grateful that we have something to give.

Ignore the stereotypes. Parent-Teacher Associations have gotten a bad reputation. The stereotypical PTA parent is a pushy, helicoptering wine mom with too much time on her hands. This just isn’t true. The PTA is made up of all manner of professionals who just want to make their kids’ school a better place. There may be wine; maybe that part is true. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t know what people put in those travel mugs they bring to meetings.

Don’t cry outside of Starbucks. Don’t even cry alone at home. If you are crying you’ve done too much.

….and if you can’t volunteer at all, I get it. I really do. See point on privilege above. Maybe, if you get a chance, just say a quick thank you to those parents who do, because honest-to-god, they work really hard and the pay is absolutely terrible.

As for me? I’m in PTA retirement. The benefits package is questionable, and my golf game isn’t improving, but I’m very happy to pass the torch onto you keen youngsters.

You guys have got this.



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