Why Make Time for Volunteering?

It's cheap therapy, that's why!

Any stay-at-home parent is busy, busy, busy whether she has one child or more, whether all of her children are under age five or they have all begun full-day school. For me, it's the busy-ness of my life that keeps me sane. I have never held a typical 9-5 job, save for the ten months shortly after I first married.

But that doesn't mean I am satisfied with only chasing after my kids, picking up unfinished puzzles, sweeping up (for the third time) the play oatmeal from the kitchen floor. I do want more out of my life! I also want it now. But I don't want to work outside the home. My answer to this need (or want) of non-child care related activity is to make time to volunteer.

For me, volunteer work is my chance to use my skills and talents beyond that of Head-Diaper-Changer and Expert-Waffle-Maker. When my spouse comes home in the evening relating tales of office banter, I remind myself that I, too, will get my chance to interact with adults and lead groups of people when I head off to one of the many volunteer posts I hold.

In fact, that is one of the primary complaints I hear from stay-at-home parents. They don't get enough adult interaction. While it happens that one of my main volunteer jobs is as a Girl Scout leader, leading a troop of seven- and eight-year-old girls, I also invest a lot of my time and energy working with adults as I carry out my leader functions. I've found no lack whatsoever of grown-up company while volunteering.

Being a leader has been rewarding beyond anything I ever imagined. Non-paid public service has always appealed to me. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I know, first hand, the wonderful and unique opportunities which are available to the volunteer. But for a little while, I forgot what making time to give to the community gave back to me.

When I became a full-time homemaker, it felt, almost, like when I was small and had put on my mother's best evening gown, complete with high heels and a smear of lipstick. At first, being a homemaker didn't feel quite authentic, as if I were trying to imitate an ideal formed in childhood.

As time marched on, wearing that imaginary dress became a tad tiresome. It didn't fit as well as I would have liked. The pumps were way too inconvenient for mowing lawns and pushing kids on the swings at the sandlot park. The dress was a throwback to another era and definitely not my color. So when I finally took that outfit off, folding it away into the blue paper tissues and boxes of my memory, the need to get dressed in my very own "clothes" was starkly apparent.

Of the many outfits I now tried on, one that fitted best was something which I had been wearing since I was ten years old! When I was ten, it wasn't even a piece of clothing--just a small scrap of fabric pinned onto my winter coat, the first bit of volunteer work I ever did. Surprisingly, over time, instead of becoming unraveled or threadbare, the cloth had grown and changed into an entire garment. I hadn't noticed this "coat" while playing pretend in my mother's evening gown, but now that I was standing in front of the mirror, dressing up in an outfit of my own making, I once again took out the coat and tried it on. It was "me."

I think of this as my coat of community service and I enjoy wearing it very much. While my first baby was still an infant, I rarely wore it. First babies seem to be quite time- and energy- consuming. I didn't venture back into the world of serving others until my baby got too big and wriggly to sit through a worship service. I then investigated the church nursery, or rather, the lack of one. I put on my "coat" and stepped up to volunteer as coordinator of the nursery staff. Eight years later, I've grudgingly resigned from that post in order to more fully fill my other community service responsibilities.

It's been no accident that my volunteering direction has followed the path of my first born. Along with being involved with my church, I also took on a position with my local Le Leche League as the group's treasurer. I moved away from that task to help with a variety of odd jobs at my daughter's preschool. Once my child entered public school as a kindergartner, I became a volunteer Girl Scout leader.

One thing hasn't changed: The more I wear my "coat," the better it fits. When I am in service to my community, I step outside of the boundaries which exist within a home. I can be a homemaker, and at the same time, I can be a volunteer in whatever capacity I choose.

Therein lies one of my most compelling reasons for volunteering. After a long day filled with mothering and homemaking duties, I can say goodbye to my whole family for a couple of hours and immerse myself in my role as Scout leader. For two hours, I do not wear name tags identifying me as "spouse" or mother or "homemaker." Instead, the scouts see me as "leader" and the parents of these scouts see me as organized and creative and capable. Quite frankly, that's a big switch from how I am seen at home some days, and that includes how I see myself. When I return home, I am refreshed and empowered, ready to trade my "coat of community service" for my "mothering cape" and deal with my family's many needs.

Susan Budig has been married to Tom Reimler since 1988, and is mama to Sarah ('90), Karen ('93), & Joseph ('96).