Why Volunteering for PTO made me Question My Sanity

5 April 2019
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As a mom of three school-age children, I enjoy volunteering for our school’s parent-teacher organization.

I had quit my professional job and threw myself into becoming a stay-at-home mother. The transition was rough. By the time my oldest was in kindergarten, I was looking to insert myself at school and use my skills outside the home. It’s important to mention here that my mother had been a PTA president. Volunteering at school was always on my radar as a worthy occupation. It was a task I looked forward to as one of life’s milestones. I had a lot of expectations going into this role. I expected:

  • To help others.
  • To share my perspective and values with the school community.
  • To partner with faculty and staff so they would be apt to give their best efforts to my kids (i.e. little naughties).
  • To meet fellow parents and arrange play dates for my kids.
  • To dust off my professional skills and improve my soft skills.

I can’t help but realize now that I did not expect challenges, but like involvement in any organization, challenges are inevitable. I am in my 7th year of PTO service have seen a variety of different challenges.

Working with members and balancing the different goals and expectations each may hold takes exceptional leadership skills. By its nature, PTO is inclusive. Everyone is welcome. This sentiment is aligned with my values and I believe inclusivity should be celebrated. But that doesn’t make it less challenging when individuals have different goals and expectations.

Workplace-Like Challenges in a Voluntary Position

Many of the tasks I performed can be transferable to the workplace. However, voluntary elected positions are taken with a different level of severity and commitment than the workplace. Volunteers include a diverse group of personalities and experiences, ranging from novice to veteran all coming together to work for a common cause. I have been both a novice and a veteran in the different roles of PTO service. Also, note the irony that one can be both a novice and a veteran at the same time!

Working together with people I don’t know to do BIG things I have never done before. This pretty much sums up my experience on the PTO board. Sometimes I’m impressed with what we have accomplished and what I have learned. But the truth is, it was daunting. The truth is I felt vulnerable. Vulnerability can feel exciting and pretty scary. It is uncomfortable. People will do a lot of antisocial things to avoid feeling vulnerable. I have come to understand that any difficulties I experienced weren’t caused by personal judgments, but more likely about an inability to cope with vulnerability.

Getting to this level of understanding has taken a lot of internal work on my part. I have felt so many emotions. I’ve been frustrated, overwhelmed, insecure, and desperate for approval. I’ve had my feelings hurt, embarrassed, and I’ve been humbled. It has been over a year since I served on the PTO board. Why was this so hard for me? That was an embarrassing thought too.

Self-Care and Self-Soothe

The solution has been self-care and mindfulness.

  • Self-care for me was about recognizing my limitations and set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries was hard for me and I had to treat it like a muscle. The more I flexed it, the stronger the skill became.
  • Mindfulness is a topic I have been interested in for a long time. For years, I have intermittently practiced the skill and read books. The game changer for me was that over this winter I took an 8-week Mindfulness Course at Clarity Clinic NWI. It was truly transformational. I learned how to be in the present moment. I became aware of some of my unhealthy mental habits that did not serve me, such as rehashing and rehearsing. It made me question my thoughts and create space from them. The goal is to pick and choose the thoughts that serve me and let go of the others.

I still volunteer at school. And now I can bring my best self, which will always be a work in progress.

Liz Rotatori, Office Manager

Clarity Clinic NWI

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