The Fine Art Of Volunteerism

by Chris Carter
Originally Published: 
A close-up of multiple hands lifted in the air representing volunteerism

For me, it truly was a guilty pleasure.

I felt much more guilt than pleasure really, because I held this terrible regret that I couldn’t and didn’t help out more. I watched these women run this swim season tirelessly from beginning to end, investing their valuable time and energy to make the team a success. Every single meet and practice, I witnessed these fine people dragging tables, food and all sorts of boxes of stuff out. I have seen them train timers, coordinate concessions, cover ribbons and placements, organize heats and events, all with spreadsheets sent out in perfect time to prepare us for upcoming meets. I’m telling you, these ladies ROCKED it.

I watched them all summer and offered my measly assistance, but I wasn’t helping as much as I could and I faced an ongoing feeling of contrition all season long. It got me thinking about this volunteer thing we face as parents. There is a fine art to volunteerism.

We all have our roles in the grand landscape of volunteer opportunities. While one parent manages to pull off an entire event, another may take a break because they just finished a year of sitting through PTA meetings. When one parent dedicates and sacrifices time to organize a special function for one child, that same parent may run a half-hour late to a celebration for their other child. As one parent runs the show throughout a season of sports or theater or Girl Scouts, I’m betting their spouse is leading other activities, ministries or organizations elsewhere.

Perhaps some parents can only dangle on the edge of volunteerism, because they work overtime to just barely cover the bills and would rather use their precious free time investing in their home life. Then there are the many parents who are worn out from simply parenting their children and have nothing left to give. It happens to us all.

With all of these considerations and possible scenarios, there needs to be a three-part rule of volunteering:

1. Do not judge or assume anything.

2. Appreciate every volunteer.

3. Do what you can and don’t beat yourself up.

As parents, we do what we can, am I right? As much as I felt horrible for not taking on more work to make it easier for these mighty volunteers, I kept justifying my lack of involvement by taking into account all of the events, ministries and activities I have carried out through the years. I dove into those waters several times in the past—just not this one (pun intended).

I have been the leader, the organizer, the worker, the sweater and the hauler of boxes and tables. I have surely had my share of arriving early to set up and staying late to clean up. There have been times I have felt bitter resentment toward people who simply show up to enjoy the fruits of my hard labor without offering to lift a hand. I have worked tirelessly through the years, offering my service and time to support many affairs. I’m guessing you have too.

So the next time you see a parent sitting and relaxing on the outskirts of a celebration, activity, ceremony, outing, event—the list could go on—you sacrificed your time and effort to organize and provide, try to reserve your judgment.

It’s safe to assume they may have worked a very long day, or just came from a spectacular event they ran themselves. Maybe they are so worn out, it was all they could do to even show up, or much like me, they may have decided it’s their turn to rest.

There is a delicate and deliberate balance to the fine art of volunteerism. Let’s all respect and honor it.

Note: I am aware that there are also those families who choose to not volunteer at all, and simply show up to these functions over and over again without offering help or contributions. Let’s assume they, too, have their reasons.

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