At the start of every school year my mom tells me, "Now, Lee, don't sign up for all those things you usually do; it's way too much." She's right. Every year I seem to find myself in a needlessly stressful string of to do's and activities. So I'm giving myself a pep talk about not overextending myself (and my children!) and sharing some things I've learned over the past few years.
When my daughter first started preschool, I was an eager beaver mommy, itching to volunteer for all sorts of school things and ready to sign up her for soccer and ballet and whatever I else I thought you were supposed to do at age three.
I think a lot of moms are like this for their oldest child, especially the super women of my generation. Many are ready to be part of a community, to get to know other moms, and to figure out their place in the world for the next 12-15 years.
But after several years of signing up for too many things - for both my children and myself - I have come to these conclusions:
1. There are moms out there who really thrive and get a lot of joy in being the PTA president or the chair of the Spring Carnival, but I've learned I'm not one of them. If you are like me, don't let your guilt complex run your life and sign up for things your heart isn't in. Trust me, it's a disservice to the people that really want to be involved. There's no shame in signing up for the smaller jobs.
2. Volunteer jobs that are so-much-work-you-probably-should-be-getting-paid-for-them-jobs should not fall upon mothers of young children, many with babies at home. I once met a mom in a hospital waiting room who told me she was so irritated that her child's elementary school encouraged moms to spend 8-10 hours a week at her child's school, serving lunch, working the library, monitoring play time. She was fed up because she had a one and three year old at home and was always dragging them up there or having to pay for sitters.
I feel like working moms get an (understandable) pass from a lot of volunteer jobs, but the moms who have babies and toddlers should, too. They made a choice to stay at home with their children, not to work for free and be needlessly stressed out all the time. It's kind of like the time I planned the preschool auction while caring with a baby who had severe medical needs...it was totally my decision but, looking back, probably not the wisest one I've made.
In my opinion,if the PTA needs to cut some parties or extra events in order to relieve the burden of young mothers, so be it. A mother's time is be far better spent with their children than hours and hours on some of this stuff. (Unless she just wants to, then by all means, it's her prerogative!).
3. There is a season for everything. Expanding on point #2, don't feel bad if you can't do what other moms are doing. The moms that are up at school everyday might not have babies and toddlers at home or they might have full-time help. It might be a better season for them.
In a few years, when all of my children are in school, maybe I will want to take on a HUGE job and spare some some stressed-out, toddler-weary mom of the feeling that maybe she needs to fill in that spot on the sign-up sheet. For now, I am happy to bring muffins to a teacher breakfast or address invitations at home.
On that same note, one day my children will be in middle and high school doing activities and homework until dinner time. Now is not the season for that either. I want my children's free time while I can have it. Which is why we don't' overload on activities (see #6!).
4. You're probably not going to meet your best friend on a school committee. I've learned that those meetings are the type in which moms just want to get in and out and check it off their morning to do list. It's all business, very little lingering. I've found the best way to cultivate friendships is organizing a meet up at Starbucks or the park after morning drop off, joining a Bible study, or starting a supper club with parents of school friends.
5. When you do volunteer, choose a job that's not what you normally do. Just because you know PR doesn't mean you should do PR for the school. You burn out easily and will probably get irritated having people tell you how to do a job that you probably know how to do better. Most of these jobs aren't rocket science, so jump out of your comfort zone and try something new - might make for a more interesting job!
6. The "one activity rule: never really works. Whether it's for me or my children, I don't really like to place broad rules on us. I tried the "one activity per child" rule and then felt like a failure if I didn't follow it to a tee.
My middle child, for example, will only be going to school three days a week this year so the other two days she will have more time to rest and be at home with me. So she will probably do ballet and soccer (the latter which is only 6 weeks). However, I usually let her do more than my other children because her doctor bluntly told me to put her in as many physical activities as I can to help her muscles...but I digress.
My point is that I just use common sense. And as their mother I can sense when they are doing too much, when they are quick to tears, irritable, etc. I know that their schedules might be overloaded. Maybe one semester they don't need to do any activities.
And this applies to weekend family time as well. Because my husband often works on the weekend, I try to protect our family time together and this means just one day or night of planned activity if possible. If this means turning down a birthday party or dinner at friends' that's okay. We also try to leave Sunday evenings open because neither one of us likes to be scrambling on Sunday evening trying to get ready for the week ahead.
Bottom line: if you think about the women you admire, they probably have a quiet confidence about them that is so appealing. They don't feel the need to be the room mom for every single one of their children to gain any feelings of worth or importance. They can enjoy life because it has a steady, comfortable rhythm to it; they aren't burdening themselves with an endless supply of to-dos. (My mother was like this!).
I can say this: the times when I do not over scheduled my family are so much better; everyone is all around more pleasant and fun to be around. So I am aiming to do less this year. And also because, let's face it, there's nothing attractive about a frazzled, stressed out mother!