Stephanie Newman Ph.D.

Apologies To Freud

Why Volunteering at School is Good for Your Mental Health

The truth about PTA duty

Posted Jun 06, 2013

Special Guest Post by Tammy Korman (with Stephanie Newman)

Why do people volunteer? One explanation is Altruism, a term often used to describe acts performed with no expectation of reward. Good deeds can range from the physical—manual labor involved in rebuilding homes and lives devastated by recent hurricanes, tornadoes and other natural disasters—to straight out monetary contributions. Do-gooding also includes anything in between, like placing gently used clothing or cans of soup in a drop box. In cases like these it’s easy to imagine recipients wearing a sweater or eating a hot meal—the donor has had a direct impact and has made someone else’s life better, if only temporarily. And giving feels good.

But does that explain why so many of us show up and help out at the local school? Volunteering in the classroom or service to the PTA feels right, but the reasons behind the glow aren’t necessarily all selfless ones. Step inside the doors of a local educational institution and there is a feeling, not just of being involved, but of having some control over a child’s education and well being, a sense that a parent’s efforts might even bring about future successes. In other words, school volunteers can feel powerful; and this often relieves them of the anxiety, discomfort or sadness routinely felt while saying goodbye each morning as the day outside the home begins. 

Whether altruistic or not, the reasons people volunteer at school are as varied as the individuals themselves. Here’s a top 10 list that explains why so many of us are beating down the doors of the local schoolhouse:

Top 10 Reasons to be a Class Parent

1. The PTA President will be your friend.

2. When you get to the counter at the supermarket, you won't have to wince at the total. You can subtract that $1.97 that you spent on paper plates for the class party.

3. Your children will appreciate it (just like they appreciate fresh veggies, early bedtimes and limited video game time.)

4. On open school night, you can choose the color of the "Hello my name is..." tags.  (Red or Blue?  This is power, people!)

5. When you type vigorously to find chaperones for the next field trip, you will burn extra calories; thereby, allowing you to indulge in that lonely donut that was leftover from the soccer game.

6. Studies show that parents who become class parents have children who perform better in school. (OK. That may have been what the study said, but I didn't actually have a chance to read it. I pulled it out of a magazine while waiting for my kids at the dentist and forgot about it. I found it a few months later at the bottom of my purse with a piece of wadded up gum in it.)

7. You won't have to worry about getting a call over the summer, nagging you about it. You know they’ll find you.

8. It entitles you to one "Mommy (or Daddy) guilt free" pass. That morning when your kid eats a Hershey Kiss and a corn chip for breakfast, you can live through it guilt free because, hey, you're a class parent. You must care a little.

9. It gets you out of PTA duty!  Yes, when someone asks you to volunteer for something else, you can say, "Sorry. I'm already booked. I'm a class parent."  (OK.  This is a downright lie. You will still be asked to volunteer...all the time...but I needed a number 9.)

10. It feels good! And this one is no joke. It does, and don't we all need a little more feel good?

Tammy Korman is a mother of two.

Stephanie Newman, PhD, is the author of Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of the Men and Women of the hit TV show, which can be purchased from Barnes & NobleIndie Bound, and Amazon.

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