Confessions of a BAD Volunteer Mom

Imagine me saying something to some kid & of course saying it with loving disdain.

[Be WARNED! Dave & I only feel like I am scratching the surface of these issues. I have SO much more to say. Hopefully I say enough here and that my thoughts are articulated clearly enough for me to get the ball rolling. Would love your feedback! Thank You!]


The teacher’s back was turned to the class as she spoke with me. It took seconds, mere seconds, I tell you. All I could see was the one kid walking up to the other kid and in his hand I saw a shiny green mechanical pencil. He reached over the other kid’s head and inserted the shiny green mechanical pencil into the other boy’s ear.

As the teacher spoke, I blurted out, “SERIOUSLY! SERIOUSLY? Get that pencil out of his ear! Go sit down! Seriously. You put a pencil in his ear? Oh . . .  Buddy!”

The teacher turned around. I love her! [insert giant Snoopy Heart Bubbles here] And like I said, she had her back turned to the class for few short seconds.

“Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.”

“No. No. I am glad you did.” She said and then she immediately recommended that the pencil-holding/yielding boy walk over and spend a little time looking over the class rules.

Inside I felt a little awesome. Seriously, I did. I knew that boy was just waiting for her back to turn and, “What? You think I am not going to say anything? Little Dude, I read with you almost every week. Of course I am going to say something.”

In our overly-red-tape-bureaucratic-every-one-is-a-winner world, I sometimes feel powerless. I wonder if our kids do too.  And then depending things like a teacher’s mood or a child’s track record, instead of being able to “use their words” in the heat of the moment, these kids often have to follow all long list of steps, get parents, teachers, guidance counselors and the principle together to “really” talk it through. By the time the kids “talk it through”, I often wonder if they even understand what the problem was in the first place. And when a child gets disciplined  seems unpredictable. Somedays the lunch room is on lockdown until the Cheeto-thrower Confesses. Other days, you can trip another kid or throw food in someone’s face only to get in trouble yourself if you tell. Makes no sense!

If action is taken, there have to be witnesses and parent involvement. And then it becomes, “My kid would never do that. I know you say he punched Eli in the face, but he insists his fist merely tripped into Eli’s face and I believe him (true anecdote, by the way).” With boys, talking it through and getting seventeen different officials and parents involved is often not very effective. (I know. I wonder if it works for girls? You may hate me for saying this, but I think our society is emasculating men and the communication I see in children, especially boys, is all tangled.) Teachers’ hands are tied. If they say too much, they are met with intense pushback.  The teacher was smart to send the green-mechanical-pencil holding boy to the Rule Board.  No one can complain about making a child read, right?  At time like these I wonder, where is a ruler-to-the-knuckles Catholic School Nun when you need her [wink wink]? (Ok, hate me even more. I am not for hitting. I am for boundaries.) The pendulum has swung so far in one direction that society is paralyzing our children and I fear, or at least wonder, if we are raising a generation of kids who will struggle to function as adults.

Everyone wants to talk it through and talk it through in such detail that kids stop listening. They don’t hear you and if they want to screw around, they know that all they need to do is wait for you to turn your back. You know what? They know they can. Sure. Sure, I am sure I will hear how the green-mechanical-pencil-yielding boy is an isolated incident and all kids are awesome and no kid ever bullies and every kid is smarter than every other kid. Maybe it is all true. What I see when I go into the class, for instance, is that yes, kids get bullied and then I often (not all the time) see the kids who get bullied apply their very own “Trickle Down Economics” and bully other kids, or at least, take out their being-bullied frustrations out on other kids. It is not cut and dry. My kid is not always the hero. He can be a real pain in the butt. Sometimes he is mean and other times he cannot keep his hands to himself. And other times he gets blamed for things he does not do. That is life.

The class I volunteer in is a good, fun and super cool class. Yet, today I found myself protecting one kid from having his eardrum pierced and minutes earlier telling the same kid who almost had his eardrum pierced to stop interfering with my work.  It was annoying and I asked him to stop. Offended becomes offender. I think this is more normal than, “My kid is always picked on or my kid never does anything wrong.” Guess what? At least in this class, these kids are amazing, funny, creative and super annoying. I say this and I LOVE kids. I LOVE these kids!

So many of us parents micromanage our children’s relationships, fights and activities that maybe the only time kids can do what they want is when we have our backs turned. Just a thought.

I love volunteering and I realize I am a more productive volunteer when I call the kids on their crap. I realize that it is ok to tell that one kid who relentlessly lets me know that I should not have brought treats to my group, because it was not fair to the class, to mind his own business. I even said to him, “Hey, if you stop telling me what I did wrong and stop asking me about treats, maybe I will bring treats for the entire class. Bugging me about it is not ok.”

How about showing adults respect? Be it known that in my volunteer role I have not gone completely rogue. I did get the teacher’s permission to bring treats to the class first. Oh kids! They are kids. We can tell them no. We can hear what other people have to say. I can say to one kid who just is not understanding boundaries, “Hey boundary-crossing kid, watch this other kid. Sure, he is sarcastic, but he knows when to stop. You need to learn that line too.” It is effective. How are our children going function if we do not teach them how? If we realize that they are human and they need to learn to let things roll of their backs, fight their battles and know how to tell other kids to BACK OFF!  Hey and no explanation needed, it is ok to tell someone to leave you alone.


10 thoughts on “Confessions of a BAD Volunteer Mom

  1. Beth – I want you to volunteer in my son’s class. GOOD FOR YOU! Hopefully it makes an impact on these kids to have another adult, other than the teacher, enforce rules and call them out on inappropriate behavior.

    I honestly worry about the fate of our children’s generation. I’ve seen so much entitlement (You’re 8 and you want both an iPad and phone? How about “No.”) and parental coddling that I believe it’s warping our children.

    As a parent who firmly believes in boundaries, guidelines and clear expectation setting I’m having a hard time managing my child and sorting through the playground politics he tells me about.

    The only thing that I can do and that I tell myself and my son is take an Isolationist approach, you can’t worry about others, only your own behavior. I am helping guide him into an independent, thoughtful, empathetic, responsible person (I hope). I can’t tell what’s really going on at recess when “So-and-so is mean to me” and the only real recourse I can count on is helping my son deal with an appropriate response and focus on “keeping your own house clean”.

    I worry, a lot.

  2. Way to go.. i have to say more ppl need to not be afraid to say something when they see things like this.

  3. Sunny, I would love to volunteer in your son’s class and I would promise to kick some ass. I also LOVE your thoughts and observations. Thank you!

    I think the playground politics ebb, flow and evolve. I love what you say to your son about “keeping his own house clean.” I often know with my boys that the story is somewhere in between what I am hearing, how upset they are and how afraid they are of getting in trouble. When I hear a particular name over and over and over again, I encourage them to push back. I have gone as far as to say, “You know you can punch them.” I know. Shame on me. My kids have yet to punch anyone at school. What they feel, however, when Dave and I give them this permission, is POWER. I think kids need to feel empowered to stand up for themselves. When they feel power or empowered, other kids sense it and seem to back off (at least most of the time).

    I have also employed the “Seriously” and “Really” strategies. When the punk keeps swearing at K, I say, give him a Seriously look. If the kid keeps up, then say, “Really? Really” and raise your hands up in the air in confusion. K says it has worked. At least he feels empowered and like he has a safe way to tell others to back off.

    By the way, I am So worried about our future generations. Seriously, what are we raising?

  4. I worry too. My kid is a rule-follower and sometimes I worry he’s not empowered. I know there is a real awareness about bullying at his school and when you get down to it, he feels safe. I feel he is safe. But I also know that some kids can be mean and ridiculous. Sunny is sooooo right: “I honestly worry about the fate of our children’s generation. I’ve seen so much entitlement (You’re 8 and you want both an iPad and phone? How about “No.”) and parental coddling that I believe it’s warping our children.” It’s like some of these kids don’t think things through and realize the world is bigger than him/her. They could give a rip that when they make a mess in the cafeteria because they are lazy and thoughtless, and then the next grade does it too, then the hammer comes down on the sixth graders to clean it all up. Seriously?? (Sorry…it was hitting a nerve with me a few months ago when my new-to-the-school child was being basically a janitor because he was cognizant and wanted to be dismissed and make it to class on time.) I just wish more parents would teach their kids the basic tenet of respect. Respect other people. Respect other’s things. So simple really.

  5. I try to teach my kids several things when it comes to this issue: 1. Just because someone else says something about you doesn’t mean it’s true, 2. you choose how you will react, 3. you oftentimes can’t change the other person, 4. you can figure it out on your own. I have offered them my help in the form of talking to the teacher, the kid, and the other kids’ parents, but so far, my help has been turned down.

    In my rather limited experience with my children being teased, I found that the only thing I can do is be a happy mom who likes her children for what they are. And who teaches them that even bullies are sometimes nice people.

  6. Andrea, I think we all worry. Amen! Respect! It really is about respect and respect sometimes seems like this lost art.

    I am glad you mentioned your son in the cafeteria. That sucks and it is hard to see your children taken advantage like that. What a great kid, however. Believe me when I say that I relate to your experience. I am not sure what to do except let my boys know that home is happy and safe, they are loved and that we support them if they need to stand up for themselves. Again, feeling like your parents have your back (or that someone has your back) takes you a long way. I really did see the change in my boys when they knew we were there. I mean, really knew we were there for them, no matter what. Something clicked. Sure, it is not easy, but they feel better inside. Do I make sense?

  7. Sara, I like how you teach your kids. You have such a cool family and I know your kids know that you are there for them. I agree with you. I try to be a happy mom, who loves and likes me boys just they way they are. I also like reminding them (and me) that they deserve a space on this earth as much as anyone else does.

  8. loved your story, brings back some memories–before I just became a total renegade and homeschooled my kids! I get more daring as I get older. I felt so good, just walking away from the whole public school thing, no more volunteering, no more parent teacher conferences. Its crazy.

  9. Delia, Thanks for sharing yourself! Love that you became all renegade. I think that happens as we get older, at least, for me. I love that you walked away. I wish I had it in me. I think I would be the world’s laziest homeschooler.

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