This time of year is hectic. School is back in session. Orientations, open houses, meeting the teachers, and the chaos of back-to-school shopping are all behind us. You are almost through the transition to the school year routine when it happens. You see the PTA Mom. You are maxed out, and 100% sure you cannot volunteer or join one more thing. Let’s be honest; a part of you, at this moment, is longing for the sweet comfort of your car. If your first instinct is to run the other direction, I am here to help you navigate this sticky situation. And don’t worry, you won’t be sucked into a volunteer vortex or drive away from the school riddled with guilt.
Full disclosure: I am a PTA Mom. Before dealing with your real-life PTA Mom, we need to deal with the PTA Moms you have met in movies. Pop culture has a very specific stereotype of what a PTA mom is: It is not altogether inaccurate, and it is laugh-out-loud funny; but it is misleading. The PTA Mom stereotype is always some peculiar mix of Stepford wife and political ninja with militant organizational skills and an inexplicable love of scrapbooking. Perfectionists of the highest order, these moms are portrayed as people not to be tangled with. I remember heading to my first PTA meeting and witnessing the organization and structure of the moms and dads involved. It was intimidating. I worried that I didn’t have enough to offer. My schedule can get crazy. What if I simply could not help? Everyone seemed to have long-standing friendships and knew exactly what was going on. I did not.
Thankfully, we have an absolutely amazing volunteer coordinator who helped me find my fit and realize the value of being willing to serve even when I didn’t have it all together. I was welcomed, bumbles and all. And, believe me, there were bumbles. You are talking to a mom who accidentally brought 48 muffins a week early for a teacher appreciation breakfast. In the movie version of that story, everyone would have been horrified. In real life, everyone got a good chuckle and teachers got an extra day of treats. So leave that stereotype on the silver screen. That PTA Mom heading your way may be on a mission, but her goal is likely not world domination. She has her own real story, real struggles, and a passion to enrich your littles’ schools.
Now that we have dealt with those pesky stereotypes, let’s talk about surviving that first PTA Mom encounter. The key is preparedness. You need to do a little re-con. It doesn’t take much work to learn about the PTA situation at your school. Almost all PTAs have either a website or a Facebook page. Do a simple web search for your school PTA. Once you find their page, explore it. Most likely, you will see upcoming general meetings dates. You will find a list of ongoing work or volunteer opportunities. As you look over that list of volunteer opportunities, think about your skill sets and your schedule. Write down some things that interest you. Volunteering for the PTA does not have to mean that you become a permanent fixture in the school building. There are lots of opportunities to help during off-work hours and at home. Boxtops is a great example of a valuable job that brings money right back to your school. When you have an idea of what you can offer, it will make saying “yes” and “no” much easier. If you want to be a superstar, complete your Volunteer Background Check, and consider reaching out to the Volunteer Coordinator about your areas of interest via email.
The Volunteer Vortex is real, and it is perfectly reasonable to be terrified of it. We have already covered the key to not getting pulled into a volunteer vortex. That inventory of your skills, compared to the needs of your school will prevent you from wasting your energy. The second key is to not compare yourself to other volunteers. It is easy to feel less than when you look at the efforts of someone else. Don’t do it. We are all unique and so are our schedules and talents. Eyes on your own paper. Part of the reason PTA Moms have morphed into that high intensity stereotype is that there is so much work to be done. It is so easy to see all of the need and want to work on it all, but you simply cannot. No one can. Truly, it “takes a village,” and over-committing yourself is the quickest route to burning out. This reality is even more pronounced in schools that suffer from volunteer shortages. If everyone took the simple step of finding the best area of need that matched their skill set, most likely there would be less burning out among volunteers and fewer schools with great shortages in support.
Join and stay informed. It is enough. Sometimes you take a peek at your schedule and find there simply is not a fit. That is okay. Taking the simple step of simply joining your PTA helps your school qualify for awards and provides additional support. Staying informed by reading your newsletter and reading meeting minutes will help you advocate for your school and may well help you find additional ways to help out.
You matter. Your PTA doesn’t need a carbon copy of every other PTA member. It needs YOU. It is vitally important that PTAs reflect the schools they represent. They can only do that if everyone steps up. I understand how intimidating it can be look out at a meeting room full of people you don’t know and with whom you may not immediately identify. But I promise your efforts in working to support all the students in your school will not be a decision you regret. There is no “one size fits all” PTA member. We are moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and community members. We are a diverse group of people. Yes, there are event-planning wizards, bulletin-board magicians, and fundraising gurus, and even the occasional rousing debate involved in the effort, but we get out so much more than we give.