Back-to-school is one of my favorite times of the year. I loved school supply shopping as a kid and now, as a parent, I love taking my kids shopping for their school supplies. Watching my daughter choose from the colorful folders with her supply list in hand is too adorable for words. I genuinely enjoy attending the back-to-school nights, meeting my children’s teachers and learning about their curriculum for the year. But guilt often overshadows that excitement when the teachers try to rope parents into joining the parent-teacher organization.
It’s usually the same spiel every year; the teachers tout the benefits of having parents volunteer in the classroom. They talk about parents and teachers working together to enhance the educational experience and about the greater bonding experience between parents and children when the parents are directly involved with the school. And they’re not wrong. I very much want to be involved in my children’s education. I know it benefits them on the individual level and it’s important to see their family acting as part of a larger community. The problem is that I struggle to find the time.
While some families are able to sustain with one working parent and one stay-at-home parent (my hat’s off to y’all), that reality is becoming less achievable for many people. The rising prices of most everything, from gas to groceries, coupled with stagnated wages across the board have made two-income households the norm. Taking time off work to spend the day in your child’s classroom is a privilege that not everyone has.
As a small business owner, my income is directly tied to the number of clients I see. If I’m not with a client, then I’m not making money, but my operational expenses stay the same regardless.
My husband has a more traditional job with paid time off available, but taking PTO to volunteer in the classroom means one less day banked in case of emergency (and with two little kids, unexpected sick days are pretty common). It’s a delicate balance between needing to make money to provide for our children and being present and involved in our children’s lives.
I know this phenomenon is not new to millennial parents. My mother had to walk the same tightrope, being selective about which school events were worth missing work for. I don’t begrudge her choosing work over my elementary school award ceremonies, but I also hold dear the memory of her accompanying me on the fourth grade Hoover Dam field trip. I remember the picnic lunch in Wilbur Square like it was yesterday. I’m well aware how important our presence is.
So where does that leave working parents who want to do more but feel stretched too thin? I don’t have the magic answer. My current, possibly untenable, strategy is to take on any school-related task that fits in our schedule. We attend the weekend events when we’re able and volunteer to pick up the bagels for the teacher appreciation breakfast. We bake cookies as a family to supply the school bake sale. If nothing else, I want my kids to see that I care and am involved to the best of my ability.
I’m also going to put some onus on employers; give your employees some paid volunteer days. Even if that’s just one day per semester, allowing employees a paid day off to volunteer in their child’s classroom (or any other volunteer organization they’re passionate about) bolsters the community and is also great for employee morale and retention.
Boulder City may have a stronger sense of community than its larger counterparts in the valley, but a strong community can only survive if people have the time and energy to invest. If we want to teach our children civic responsibility, then our classrooms are a wonderful place to lead by example — but we need the time to make that happen. As my own employer, I’m going to try to take my own advice and include volunteer days in my budget planning.
The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.
Kayla Kirk is a lactation educator in the Las Vegas Valley. She holds degrees in psychology and perinatal education from Boston University and the University of California, San Diego. You can find her hanging out in the local coffee shops or hiking with her husband and two children.