I have spent alot of time volunteering, because I coached two of my boys in a program called Odyssey of the Mind (OM). Google it if you’ve never heard of it; it’s an amazing experience for students. There were times that I was resentful of what was required of me. Meetings were held at my house, I spent many hours each week preparing for meetings, I ran the majority of the errands for the team and bought most of the supplies, I did most of the coaching alone and my house was often trashed. So yes, there were times I wished I wasn’t coaching. There were times that I complained, both about what was expected of me and what little other parents contributed. For the most part though, I loved coaching, and I felt privileged to do it. I loved the kids, the challenge, the problems they solved and the impact I had on their lives.
While I was coaching OM there was a mother in my neighborhood who was also coaching a team. Every chance she got, she’d grab me to complain. She complained about all of the things I just listed; legitimate complaints. The difference, though, was that was all she did – complain. If there was any part of the experience she enjoyed, I missed it. I can’t remember ever hearing her say something positive about the experience. She became a martyr.
The flip side of this are the parents who complain about those that don’t volunteer. So much of what our children do now requires voluntary participation of parents. Most of the community activities would collapse were it not for parent volunteers. My ex coached most of my children’s baseball and basketball teams, and enjoyed doing it. Sitting in the stands, though, there was never a lack of conversation directed at those who weren’t “pulling their weight”, like spending hours in the snack bar, or carpooling to away games.
I’ve always prided myself on 2 things in reference to volunteerism:
- I try to minimize complaints when I have volunteered, and
- I try not to judge others when they don’t volunteer. I believe that, for the most part, we are all doing the best we can, and those who don’t volunteer can’t. There are times when I can’t, and I hope not to be judged at those times.
Once it is no longer about our children, where is the line? At what point do I feel more like a martyr then a contributor? How do I prevent myself from becoming the perpetual martyr, and a relentless complainer?
As I write this, one thing becomes clear to me: doing unpaid, volunteer work for a for-profit business makes me angry. I guess for me, that’s the line.
I think some find it easy to ask me to “help out”, since I don’t have a “paying’ full time job. Not many of them know that my full time job is keeping myself alive. My job can make the difference between 2 more years with my children or 10 more years. This is true for everyone, of course, but for me it is imperative. Cancer, immune issues, allergies, copd thyroid disorder, celiac and asthma all conspire to crush me each day. My job is to care for a body that is fighting me every step of the way. My job is to take my medications diligently and mindfully, use my inhalers every day, visit my Doctors’ often, and go to the relentless tests every year. While I do all of that, I still have to take care of my children and our home, while trying to get divorced. So do I have a full time paying job? No. Does that make my days easier then yours? No. Does that make me less valuable then you? Maybe. Does that mean that I owe voluntary work to for-profit businesses, though? I think the answer is No.
So for now, I’ll say No. Will people judge me harshly? Maybe. I won’t be angry though. I won’t be the Martyr. I’ll take care of myself, which is, for me, a full time job.
For me, my life depends on it. And my life is more valuable then any for-profit business out there.