When I ask people what they’d like to spend more time doing, volunteering lands on the list almost as frequently as exercise and reading.
People would like to contribute to their communities. They know they’d probably enjoy doing different activities, and maybe tapping different skills than they do during the work day. They’d like to meet friends and neighbors who are also committed to their communities, or to important causes.
But in the middle of work and family obligations, it can be difficult to make another commitment. And even if people know they might be able to volunteer occasionally, taking on the sort of leadership roles where they might truly make a difference seems like a big leap.
So Sarah and I were excited to welcome Rachel Unger to the podcast this week. No, that last name is not a coincidence; Rachel is Sarah’s sister-in-law, and they recorded this episode while sitting together in the Miami area, where Rachel is an elementary school teacher, mom of two, and a leader in her temple’s social justice efforts.
You’ll need to listen to the episode to learn about all of her work, but let’s just say it’s extensive. She might have meetings or events three nights per week (in addition to the normal weekend religious activities). How does a working mother make this all fit? A few tips, and things to keep in mind.
Seasons change. Rachel stepped up her involvement in recent years as her children have gotten older and more independent. I know from my time diary studies that women with children under age 2 have significantly less leisure time than women with older children. I haven’t studied fathers specifically, but I imagine many of the same time pressures come into play. While people with babies can volunteer, it might help to remember that life and time will look different when the children are a little older.
Parents are people too. Many modern parents would not bat an eyelash about a child having three nights of activities per week. While you’re scheduling the children’s karate classes and piano lessons, you can think about building your interests into the mix as well.
Kids should have lots of adults in their lives. Rachel served as her children’s primary parent when they were younger. Her community involvement simply means they now spend more evenings with her husband. Or her extended family. The whole clan lives relatively close by. Another consideration: the upside of being involved in a religious community is that such groups are often welcoming of the whole family. Rachel’s children sometimes come with her to meetings, and their own house of worship is certainly a familiar place to hang out.
Time is time. You want to go into any commitment knowing what it will require. But even extensive commitments might be fewer hours than you think, and certainly the number will be reasonable compared with other things people spend time on. Let’s say Rachel’s community work takes 10 hours per week. Plenty of people in the Miami area have 1-hour commutes. She does not; she works, lives, and volunteers in the same neighborhood. You could find the time for involvement right there. Or consider how many people watch 10 hours of TV per week. Or spend 10 hours on social media! Screen time is effortless fun; volunteering is effort-ful. However, effort-ful activities tend to be more meaningful in the long run, and seem to expand time both as it is happening and in the rear view mirror.
Meaningful work is energizing. There are a lot of causes out there. The best approach is to only commit time to ones that you are truly passionate about. If you say yes to activities that don’t energize you, you won’t be able to give your best. So change your mindset. Saying no doesn’t mean something isn’t a worthy cause. It means that it’s so worthy, you don’t want to be disrespectful by making a commitment you won’t be able to keep.
How do you make time for volunteering or community involvement?