Giving What I’ve Got

(Originally posted May 27, 2013)

In my last post, I wrote about being ambitious, taking risks, and pushing boundaries. This week I remembered how important it is to also respect those boundaries.

My son’s school is asking parents to serve on the PTA Board. I’d ignored the emails asking for volunteers, but then I went to a meeting for parents of incoming 1st and 2nd graders. Their plea was compelling. The school does rely heavily on parents to raise money for school materials, field trips, and even some staff. Still, I felt okay deciding to wait another year. Both of my children would be older and need less of my time and attention.

Then I stopped to talk to two moms I know. One of them may be moving away, but she said if she decided to stay in the area she would definitely serve on the PTA. The other mom expressed confidence that I would do well, going so far as to call me “leadership material”. I felt both moved and embarrassed by their encouragement and their commitment.

I thought about how much I should volunteer. Part of me felt that if I were going to volunteer, I shouldn’t do it half-assed by doing the easiest job. This is from my inner Perfectionist. If I really want to help and make a difference, I should do the most challenging, time-consuming, and beneficial job, right? And then I would get accolades from other parents about how selfless I am, and I would practically be a hero (cue the confetti and me doing the princess wave while wearing a tiara).

I had half-convinced myself to volunteer for the Fundraising position, which is the biggest, hardest job. Then I wondered what my husband would say. He’s my sounding board for a lot of things, and even though I resent when he tells me not to do something, he’s usually right. I pictured how tired, frustrated, and terrified I would be, trying to organize and motivate people I didn’t know to give their time and money. I remembered how badly I treat my husband and children when I am tired, frustrated, and afraid.

I realized I’m simply not capable of giving that much time and energy. I looked through the open positions and chose to volunteer for the Hospitality position, which involves buying stuff and setting up for PTA meetings and events. It was in fact the easiest position available.

I wrote an email to the two moms I had spoken to earlier, explaining my choice. I confessed that part of my decision was based on the fact that only 3.5 years ago, I was hospitalized for planning suicide. I had not attempted it, but I had made a mental shopping list and chosen a location. At the time, I was pregnant, exhausted, and had totally unrealistic expectations of how to be a “good mom”. But I still have the passing thought that life would be better without me. I know that that isn’t true, and that it would devastate my family and friends, so I let the thought pass and accept that I just feel overwhelmed sometimes.

Still, after I sent the email, I cried. That really hard, ugly cry. I cried because I’m sad that I can’t give more to my son and the other kids at school. I cried because I felt again that fundamentally “I’m broken” or “damaged” somehow. That I’m less than emotionally stable, mentally balanced people.

The two moms wrote back really compassionate, understanding, and kind responses. I felt relieved. I still worry that some people who read this will think I’m just being a crybaby and a slacker. I heard or read a quote that I can’t quite recall, but it was something about understanding and accepting that each of us has a different container that holds our capacity to give. Some of us have a gallon container, some of us only have a cup. I’ll still give more than I think I can, but not as much as I think I should.

Please note in the comments your thoughts and experience about how much you give to your neighbors, your church, your kids’ schools, etc.

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