When our son was beginning his first grade year, I dared to approach the PTO line at Back to School night. It may sound silly, but it took a bit of courage for me. As a working mom, the lists of committees and volunteer opportunities overwhelmed my heart. Each spot was an opportunity to sign my name and have a role in making the school better. What I knew though, was that as much as I wanted to help in the library or on the event committee, I had no margin of myself left to give. My heart said yes, but practically speaking, there wasn't a feasible way to add more plates to the ones I was already spinning.
Nevertheless, I signed my name to multiple lines. I told myself we'd work it out and somehow I would find a chunk of time to give. I handed over the PTO fee. I was in complete chaos mode and I was certain that I wasn't hiding it well from the moms behind the PTO table.
I remember thinking - they can see right through me, they know I won't end up helping with any of these things and they think I'm absolutely one hot mess. Funny how we judge others thoughts about us. It's easy to assume they think the worst of us. We gather up the weight of insecurity and carry it with us as if it were something we've purchased; an impulse buy that we can't return. I assumed they were judging me as harshly as I judged myself. I carried a deep sense of sadness for what I truly wanted to be able to do and what I practically had time for that year.
As the year went on, emails came from the different committees that I'd offered to help. Each time I filed them under a to-do folder and I never came back to them. My daily lists of things that need to be done each day can be so overwhelming. The currency of time and how I spend it is often far less about what I want to do and more what's required of me and who is screaming the loudest.
Somewhere early in the fall, I became intentional about speaking to other mothers whose kids were in the class. I connected with one mom in particular who happened to be involved in the classroom and volunteered on some of the PTO committees. I assumed she thought I was a disconnected. I wondered if she knew I had a photo badge to volunteer even though I'd yet to be there to actually serve. I assumed she was as disappointed in my lack of involvement as I was.
After a while though, she seemed so nice. I carved out a few pockets of time for a play date on the weekend and for drinks at the end of the day. She began sharing with me little nuggets of gold from the class that she'd seen. I came to know the kids and some of their personalities through her stories. Every now and then, I'd hear of things I could do, ways I could help and be a part of the class even if I physically couldn't be there. I started to contribute in whatever ways I could, even if it was different than most typical PTO moms.
One day at the end of the year while I was in a meeting at work, a text message from her popped up on my phone. She sent me a note about something my son had drawn depicting who he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, "100 years from now I want to be ... myself, because I like me". My new friend knew that would be gold for this Momma's heart. I sat at a conference table, nearly 20 miles away feeling so very connected to my son and his class and my heart was full.
This mom had become a dear friend. Through her the PTO moms didn't feel so scary to me anymore. It allowed me to give myself some grace and not judge myself so harshly. It also allowed me to be oh so grateful to the moms who do serve so tirelessly on those committees each year. I saw glimpses of their hard work and dedication and I saw how many of them also didn't have an abundance of time to offer, but what they did was serve and it made the school such a better place for our little ones.
My schedule and the fast paced rhythm of my days may not always go at this speed. I may have the ability to play a more integral role in the school in the years to come. And if I do, I'll remember the kindness of my sweet mom-friend and how she made this working mom feel like she was a part of the day to day simply by sharing what she saw, helping to bridge the gap by offering ways I could serve and being an encouragement to me.
What I learned is this ... I carried bonafide working mom guilt that kept me from offering what I could. I let my "I can't" keep me from my "I could." I nearly fell into the trap of self- judgment that could've set me up for several long years of not playing a part in our son's classroom experiences. But one other momma and her encouragement helped me find a way to be ok with what I had to offer.
Just like the saying goes, "the grass is always greener on the other side..." So it goes with the dichotomy between working moms and stay at home moms. It's easy for each of us at times to wish we were in the others shoes instead of walking our own path and offering the gift of our own abilities and encouraging one another along the way.
My challenge to all of us momma's is this ... On the playground of life, let's be moms who cultivate relationships in myriad ways. We can be a frontline example to our children about including and encouraging others. We can support one another while acting out of our own gifts. And why would we want to be anything other than that? You do you, momma. And I'll do me. Together, I bet we'd make a great team.
This post originally appeared on jellytelly.com.
Follow Jess Chambers on Twitter @ twitter.com/jesschambers.