does a corporate wife = a PTA mom?

In a word, “probably.”

When we first learned that we’d likely relocate to Europe, my husband asked his employer’s relocation liaison whether the company had any support for spouses seeking employment. He described my past employment history, my current endeavors; it was really quite nice to hear him talk me up a bit.

But the liaison said, “Relocating requires a tremendous amount of time on the part of the trailing spouse, especially in that first year. Most spouses dedicate much of their time to volunteering at the children’s school.”

There you have it.

The school our children would attend is one of the best in the region; children do well there. That is to say, one would not volunteer at the school to help the children. One would do it to help herself.

Now, there are schools in the United States that will definitely benefit from the volunteer hours of parents. Schools can be desperately underfunded and understaffed. Volunteering helps the school, and is worthy. When you help the school, you reduce a certain amount of stress on the school, and the school has more energy and resources to devote to its students. Wikipedia is so handy sometimes:

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life. It is considered as serving the society through one’s own interest, personal skills or learning, which in return produces a feeling of self-worth and respect, instead of money. Volunteering is also famous for skill development, to socialize and to have fun. It is also intended to make contacts for possible employment or for a variety of other reasons.

But then there’s this. I agree with Bruce Feiler’s position that it is, in fact, “okay to skip that bake sale.” And he is absolutely correct that in some schools, “Volunteering has become a status symbol of sorts.”

At our children’s current school, a sweet, well-regarded, high-achieving, public elementary school, I’m on the PTA. I help the school as much as I can. It’s fun. I get to meet people, think about ways to raise funds to help the school, keep myself busy, and have an impact. I volunteer at the school because I like to feel smart and effective. (I also, admittedly, like to see how our local tax dollars are spent, and if I can help maximize or offset them with our fundraising efforts, yay!) Most of the parents seem to operate under the same premise.

But there’s something that can happen to a volunteer. A volunteer can start to feel entitled, and worse, like a martyr. I’ve heard, if a parent feels slighted: “After all I’ve done for this school…” Or, if a parent feels tired with all their volunteer hours, “Nobody helps at this school.”

It’s unbecoming. Or, it’s just a sign that those volunteers want to find paid work.

What do you think?

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