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I Finally Said “No,” Because It Turns Out, I Can’t Do It All

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I just spent the last hour in the kitchen doing the juggling act that is cooking dinner with a toddler underfoot. It would’ve been a rather idealistic experience — letting my son stir the noodles and crack the eggs while dancing to some T. Swift — had it not been 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Try convincing a 2-year-old to help you cook dinner and then drop the bomb that it’s not actually time to eat it yet. So why cook in the middle of the afternoon instead of playing in the beautiful November sunshine? Last fall I listened with baited breath to an elderly woman speak about what it was like to be a female volunteer so many years ago and the importance of making sure — no matter what — that your family is taken care of first.

She specifically said that meant they had a home-cooked dinner before she peaced out to fulfill her volunteer obligations for the evening. OK, she probably didn’t say “peaced out” given she was in her late nineties, but you catch the general sentiment. You make sure your family is taken care of first. Though it may sound selfish given volunteering typically means you’re taking care of something or someone less fortunate than yourself, it’s of the upmost importance that your family doesn’t sacrifice because of an extra obligation you’ve chosen willingly to fulfill.

At the time, it didn’t mean all that much to me. I had an 18-month-old that was still breastfeeding and was über aware of making sure he had meals ready at all times given his allergies, regardless of whether I was home or not. Mostly, it didn’t resonate with me because my son had no idea I was gone during the times I’d go volunteer. It was really the perfect set-up: I needed the time out of the house and my son needed time with his dad. But now, at nearly 3 years old, it’s a different story.

My son knows exactly what’s going on and when I’m there and when I’m not. I’ve spent the last several weeks wrestling with the role I want my volunteer gig to take in my family’s life. I was asked by an organization I’m deeply involved with to take on an even bigger role in the upcoming year. After thinking, stewing, freaking out, and yes, shedding a few tears, I did something I haven’t done in a long, long time — maybe ever. I said “no.”

It wasn’t because I didn’t want to do it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t willing to do the work or honor the commitment. It wasn’t because I don’t care deeply about the organization and its mission. It’s because my family comes first, and right now, at this precise moment in time, that means having mom home at night. I wrestled with my decision more than I should have, but it only took one unsuspecting phrase from my husband to realize what truly mattered. He simply mentioned this would be the year that our son could start playing little league. If I was off volunteering, I’d miss it.

It cut me to the core. Sure, my son should be OK without me around every single hour of the day, but the thought of voluntarily missing such a big “first” just didn’t sit right with me. The real kicker was hearing my son yell at me through tears that night, “No mommy, you can’t go to another meeting!” And aside from this, I knew if I was gone so many nights for meetings, I wouldn’t have the chance — logistically or due to guilt — to ever have a moms’ night out, a girls’ night, or heaven-forbid, a date night.

Was it worth the trade? I can argue every which way that it would be the “right” thing to do — to keep volunteering at such an involved level. It’s an important part of our community, and it’s a value I want my son to understand and emulate. But at 3 years old, he needs his mom home more. There are other ways for me to continue helping our community without missing out on things at home or feeling like I’m adding another egg to the ever-teetering basket. Perhaps in a different scenario, it would have worked out, but with a husband that travels 75 percent of the time, I couldn’t make myself feel right about leaving my son home with a babysitter instead of family.

That’s when I realized the true cost of volunteering was missing out on time with my son, putting more weight on my husband’s shoulders, and taking on the mental energy of wearing yet another hat — as if motherhood alone doesn’t have enough. I never truly appreciated the sentiment that “for everything there is a season,” but motherhood has taught me it well. Not only the meaning of the phrase, but the importance of truly embracing it. This is not my season to take on another role. This is my season to be Mom.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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