Monday, December 7, 2009

On My Lack of Charitability (is that even a word?)

“Volunteer activities can foster enormous leadership skills. The non professional volunteer world is a laboratory for self-realization.” Mae West

I just volunteered to work at AmeriTown during my son’s class field trip. They are going to learn economics, business management, and free enterprise and I and 15 other luck parents am going to assist in that endeavor. However, this is the only event I have volunteered for this school year and it will most likely be the last. In the eight years that my children have been in school, I have averaged about one event per year per child. This year will be a low point in the self-realization department. Sorry, Mae.

You might ask why I am so stingy with my time. Indeed, I often ask the same question and succumb to the guilt of not feeling like I have an adequate answer. I know other parents who regularly volunteer. I often hear about how well my children are doing in reading and math from these "good parents". Sometimes I wonder if they know my children better than I do; my kids usually call the good parents by their first names 'cause they’re tight like that. On the other hand, my children’s classmates call me "(Insert Kid Name)'s Mom". I don’t think they know that I have a first name. But I digress (I do this often. I fear it’s the early stages of cognitive decline and I have taken up Scrabble to try to combat it. I am terrible at Scrabble and there is no hope)… The take home point here is that I am one of those parents who only attend events when forced. I have heard this referred to as being “voluntold”: a clever contraction of the words "volunteered" and "being told" (I think “voluguilt” is better, personally, but it doesn’t sound as good). I often bring baked goods for parties or potlucks but, alas, this does not carry the same weight as a personal appearance.

My lack of charitability is not limited to school events. I have not volunteered in any capacity (other than the above mentioned bi-annual school event) nor have I financially contributed to any charities in at least a year. I recently failed to fulfill a pledge to some organization or other. I was a little abrupt to the gentleman who called to remind me of my commitment when I told him that I had to retract my generous pledge in favor of paying my mortgage. I actually feel kind of bad about it. In fact, I had planned to contribute 10% of my paycheck each pay period to certain charities but we are in a different position now than were in when I made that plan, and my family is my priority. I still feel guilty about it, though.

Unfortunately, time, money, and energy are not infinite resources. I think most people can understand and appreciate (and relate to, in many cases) the lack of time and money. The energy issue is less concrete. I have a friend who described it like this: our energy is like a pitcher of water and we pour out little bits of it throughout our lifetime. If we’re lucky, we have something or someone (or family full of someones) who refill that pitcher when the water runs low. And sometimes, for whatever reason, we have commitments that require more water than can be refilled as quickly as it's poured out. My sister took this idea further by suggesting that women tend to be especially guilty of spreading themselves to thin – of giving away so much of their water than there is nothing left for themselves. She likened this to a car running until it was broken down. What good are we doing anyone when we run until we break down on the side of the road and have nothing left to give? Why is it such a crime to slow down a little?

Although I believe strongly that it does indeed “take a village” however hokey we believe that phrase to be. I want to be a good village member – I really do! But I also believe strongly that, to be a positive contributing member of society, you need to be healthy. If you’re pitcher is empty, you’re not healthy. Our family and friends should get the lion’s share of our energy and if we have enough left over (and this applies to money and time, as well), by all means, share it with those less fortunate.


  1. You have to read my friend's blog. She speaks here on the overwhelming amount of causes and gives great links of ways to help make a difference that, IMO anyone can do. (Oh and I envy your one event per kid/ per year deal. Our school requires 20/hrs per family per year in volunteering. It is easy to reach but kinda takes out the spirit of volunteering when it's mandated.)

  2. Crap. Forgot to post the link to my friend's blog.