Why am I the only parent volunteering?
Q: My kids are 6 and 8. All I hear from other parents is how stressed out and burdened they are. I couldn’t agree more. Parents are dropping from pre-pandemic activities such as coaching teams, attending PTA meetings and being troop leaders. But they’re signing up their children! Kids of these ages are behind in social-emotional growth and are playing a sloppy game of catch-up, in my opinion.
I get it; I am one of the burned-out parents. I work full time, I’m a homeroom parent for both children and a troop leader, and my spouse travels 50 percent of the time. I’m exhausted, but I’ve prioritized my kids as much as I can. Every weekend, at least one child gets to invite a friend over, and we host periodic movie nights. The parents are always grateful to have a night off or, as they put it, time working on being with friends again, but no one ever reciprocates.
My 6-year-old is trying to invite himself to his friends’ houses, which is awkward. I’m starting to get a chip on my very hunched shoulders at carrying these burdens for all of these families. Are there any polite ways to broach with other parents that everyone can’t be the “drop-off” parents? Or should I assume that these parents either don’t want to have my kids over or that no one has the energy?
I’d hate to see these kids fall even further behind on how to interact with peers and build genuine friendships by refusing to continue inviting people over. But what gives? In olden times, there were patterns to this relationship-building, and if it felt too one-sided, that was a hint to move along. Is that still in play?
A: Thank you for your note; it sounds as if you wrote in just in time. Your resentment is building, and you know that is not a good place to be when making decisions regarding your children (and other parents).
One thing is true: Every parent, child and family is emerging from the past two years differently. You have a couple of theories about these families: You assume they are burned out and have no energy, you assume they don’t want to reciprocate and don’t want to be around your children, and you assume (all?) children are behind socially and emotionally and aren’t catching up very well.
There is a sense of urgency in your letter, and I understand how you feel. Your children had their whole lives turned upside down. School, learning, friendships and all kinds of experiences that bring joy and frustration were all taken away. I understand your frustration and urgency, but they are leading you down an unhealthy rabbit hole.
You ask, “What gives?” The truth is, aside from your assumptions, we don’t know what gives. You haven’t asked them, so we don’t know why these parents aren’t reciprocating with playdates. We do know that the only person you can control is yourself. From your letter, it sounds as if you are headed straight to burnout and have hoisted too many activities and expectations upon your shoulders. Before you worry about other families, read “Set Boundaries, Find Peace” by Nedra Glover Tawwab and have a sit-down with yourself. (There’s also a workbook.) Where can you pull back? Which expectations aren’t working? Which ones are?
I am reminded of a mother friend of mine who was stressed about her son’s friend going everywhere with the family, and there was zero reciprocation. The other parents never asked my friend’s son for a playdate; the other parents never sent money or even a thank-you. They just kept sending their son over to my friend’s house. And my friend was sick of it. She had to make a hard choice: Make her son happy and keep the child around while accepting the way things were, or choose something else. Her “something else” was not confronting the other parents, because they were in their own crisis, so she decided to have the friend over a little less and accept the situation as it was. By working through your own boundaries, you will be able to respond, rather than react, to other friends appropriately.
As you admit in your note, you are exhausted. Ask yourself: “What good is my parenting hustle if it makes me exhausted and resentful?” Contrary to what you think, you don’t need to be a room parent or a troop leader; you don’t need to host playdates and work full time while your husband travels. You can’t dump these projects out of the blue, but where is there wiggle room for opting out?
There is nothing honorable about suffering to make your children happy, and, although you assume no one else will step up, you don’t know whether that’s true. But let’s say it is true. Let’s say you stop being a troop leader, and everything falls apart. Is that 100 percent your problem? Given enough time and consideration, shouldn’t leadership be able to replace you? Call it your ego, hubris or insecurity, but you are placing too much pressure and importance on yourself. You can stop. You can put it down and watch your children’s worlds continue to spin.
This time in your life is either going to teach you some good lessons to help you move forward, or you are going to become increasingly resentful, angry and unhealthy. I would love for these parents to see your struggles and offer you support. I would like for others to step up to these leadership positions. But, in my experience, when we see someone doing it all, we tend to think, “Well, they look like they have it handled,” and we look away.
Scrounge up your courage and ask for help. Email a parent: “Hey, can Ralph and Jake come over to your house on Friday for a movie? I have a dinner with my spouse.” Email troop leadership and say: “I am feeling stretched thin and would like to bring on a co-leader.” Resist emailing the teacher, because teachers have enough on their plates, but ask the other parents to step up and help. You should only send these emails once you are centered in your own boundaries and you know what you want and what you do not.
Finally, look at the panic regarding your children and your need to catch them up. It is true that many children have fallen behind and are at risk for some serious problems, so I need you to dig into that and ask: “Whose problem is this?” If your children are at risk because of learning and social-emotional challenges that predate or developed during the pandemic, that requires one response. If your children seem to be muddling along, but you seem to be the one with all the worries, that is something else entirely. I don’t know, so I can only encourage you to look at this fear and reality-check it. Good luck.
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