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Rule 31: Volunteer Your Way

Aug 22, 2008
Jan McDaniel has spent the last 25 years working in various senior management positions at some of the world's largest High Technology companies. She did this while raising two daughters.

It's important to be involved with your children's activities: school, church, dance, drama or sports. You don't want to be the only parent who meets the teacher for the first time at back-to-school night or open house. You want to make a positive impression with the important people that influence your children. You want to be able to have an open dialog at any time with these influencers, as well as with your children. The trick is to do it on your terms in a way that works for you and your family.

But any of you who have anxiously shown up for a PTA meeting or a fundraising committee know that your time and talent is too valuable for what can often be unfocused gab fests. Take charge. Pick one or two volunteer activities that put you in total control. For instance, sign up to be room parent for your child's class. This job typically involves you assigning parents to stuff folders on Fridays or bring cookies to the mother's tea. It's the one job that puts you in the driver's seat and also allows you to work around your schedule. You can choose the fun things you want to do and assign the chores to others.

Show up early for the first open house and pounce on the field trip lists. Have your calendar ready and sign up for the first and last field trips of the year. You'll be able to schedule these trips into your calendar, meet all the kids at the beginning of the year and make a great connection with the teacher. The end-of-the-year trip is always the most fun and relaxed and typically has nothing to do with the curriculum. That is purely a selfish selection that my kids and I always looked forward to.

Take the initiative. If your kids play sports that require snacks after the games, show up for the first parent meeting with a snack schedule ready to hand out to all the parents. I've yet to meet a coach who doesn't appreciate this job being handled before it gets assigned. Put your name on the snack list for the first game so your job is already done. That way, the coach doesn't assign you to something like volunteering on picture day (that requires you to stay all day on Saturday with a 1,000 players) or to making a banner or worse yet to the end of the year party (that requires you to collect money for coaches' gifts and to figure out who wants what on a pizza order).

At church, meet with the youth directors or head of Sunday school and explain that your tight schedule doesn't allow a long-term volunteer commitment, but you would like to do a few things throughout the year. After all, you aren't a total deadbeat; just a working mom who knows how to allocate her time. Provide an extra set of hands for a Sunday project, call parents, or better yet, do the snack list. Anything that shows your interest and can be done at night or introduces you to the children is great. Driving to events is often fun and gives you that chance to observe the dynamics of the group your children hang out with.

Some of the best discussions with my kids are the result of my being involved in their lives. A lot of working moms feel like they don't have the time to volunteer. I've found that I can do it, as long as I do it my way.

As excerpted from "42 Rules (tm) for Working Moms" Super Star Press, 2008.
About the Author
Laura Lowell is the executive editor and author of "42 Rules for Working Moms." She has gathered practical advice and information from working moms all over the world to share with others. She lives and works in Silicon Valley with her husband and two girls. http://www.42rules.com/working_moms/index
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