Family Life


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Volunteers and Their Children

Other kids benefit when you volunteer to coach a team, lead a club or help out in class, but how does your kid feel?

Volunteer 1 - volunteers and their childrenIf you have a school-aged child, you’ve met The Volunteer. Perhaps you volunteer. Perhaps you coach a sports team, volunteer in a classroom, teach Sunday School or lead a Cub pack. You, and all your cohorts, keep almost all our kids’ extracurricular activities up and running. And it’s no small commitment in either time or money. You probably gravitate toward what you know and like to do, as I do. It’s a bonus to be able to spend that time with my child while, at the same time, helping out in my community. Organizations are struggling with meager resources and need parent volunteers more than ever. And we volunteers do it to help, teach, encourage, motivate and have fun. Well…that’s why we do it. But have you asked your kids what they think of their volunteer parents?


 “It’s pretty good that my mom is a Girl Guide leader,” says Louisa*, 9, of Medway, Mass. “I like seeing that the other girls really like her; I guess she’s pretty fun and doesn’t act too strict or anything. Sometimes, though, it’s annoying to be the leader’s daughter. I have to go early to every meeting to set up and stay late to clean up and I have to go to every single event, like everyone expects me to be the perfect Guide all the time just because my mom’s the leader.” There’s definitely pressure on a child to perform better and be ‘the best one’ when their parent is the coach or leader. It’s not only the desire to please the parent, but the need to show the other kids that you’re not there just because your parent is the head of everything. A kid wants their friends to know that they deserve to be there on their own merit.

Volunteer 2 - volunteers and their children“There’s no favouritism on our team,” emphasizes Vanessa Gudgin, 13, a star soccer player from Whitby, Ont., whose dad, Steve, coaches her team. “If you don’t try, you sit, but if you put the effort in to show that you actually deserve to be out there, you play. I’m equal to everyone out there when it comes to that.” “I think it’s important that she’s treated the same as everyone else,” says Steve. “Parents turn on you pretty quick if you’re unfair. To anyone.” Any complaints, Vanessa? “Well…he does talk a lot to everyone after the game. I just want to go home, so I’m waiting by the car, and my whole team is gone, but he’s still on the field talking and talking to the other coaches. I know it’s just coaching stuff; that’s what he does.”


 Seems the coach-kid favouritism issue has deeper emotional undercurrents in hockey. “We had a coach a couple of years ago, not well liked, with a kid playing much higher than he should have been,” says an anonymous post on Network54, an internet chat forum with an astounding number of hockey threads. “The kid had never had to try out for a team. Then the dad wasn’t the coach anymore and the kid has to do a tryout for real. That kid’s gone from AA to house league in one shot.” The thread continues: “C’mon coaches. Wake up. The game won’t last forever. Sooner or later your kid will realize what’s going on. Will they respect you for what you’re doing? I guess it depends what type of a parent you are, and what type of person you’re raising your kid to be.”
On the other hand, there are many parent coaches who are very hard on their own kids. “Oh, I’m hard on him,” says Tim Hill of Brooklin, Ont., who coaches his 9-year-old son Jacob’s soccer team. “He’s definitely at a disadvantage in some respects. The standard for him is always high. If anyone’s going to sit, it’s going to be Jacob.

Other little things, too, like he’s not going to be the one to get picked for an award or some other recognition. He’s just not, because he’s my kid. And he’s aware of that. It’s definitely a burden. Other parents think I’m a fair coach. I work hard at that, but it’s always a challenge.” “Sometimes he picks on me,” agrees Jacob. “But I really like having my dad as my coach. We go early to games and practices and kick the ball around. I get to know stuff ahead of time, like tournaments and where we’re going. I like learning about coaching, and I can show kids at school how to do things because I watch my dad coach and I know how.” Tim acknowledges that “It does take up a lot of time, and it’s tough on my daughters that I’m Jacob’s coach. They don’t get as much time to do the things they’d like to do because I’m coaching Jacob. It takes time away from the family, for sure, because I take the coaching pretty seriously. But our daughters are always there to watch the games and practices; it’s a real family thing. And the time that Jacob and I have been able to spend together has been really significant.”


The favouritism pendulum swings in the opposite direction, too. Oksana*, 45, remembers going to Ukrainian School on Saturdays when she was a child, with her mom as a head teacher. “First of all, I had to get there so early because my mom was in charge of things, and I always made a fuss about missing the Saturday morning cartoons all my friends were watching. For sure, I was favoured; my mom had such a strong personality and all the other teachers just did what she said. I think they were afraid of her. “There was a reading contest once. I read lots of really short easy books, real fluff, but they were the ‘right’ books chosen by my mom. My friend read fewer books, but they were way more advanced. I won the contest. “I won a lot of competitions, actually, but I could never really take pride in it because I often felt it wasn’t deserved. From a parent’s point of view, I think it was easy for my mom to keep an eye on me, but I felt I was always being watched. There was definitely more pressure to be perfect, and I was much more rebellious as a result, so the other kids wouldn’t hate me.”


 Bryce*, 7, of Whitby, Ont., has his own opinion. “Everyone loves my mom
and everyone sees her all the time! My mom’s the Cooking Mom! She comes
in all the time and does baking with my class, like cookies and
applesauce cake and fruit salad. “I love it when she comes in, and
everyone loves it because it’s fun and we get to eat things, and my
teacher lets me get up and hug my mom first thing.” Bryce’s mom, Helen,
says, “I think I’m in that school at least as much as Bryce. I do
cooking with his class, and the Kiss’n’Ride, the Council, the Fun Fair,
field trips and the Terry Fox Run. “Mostly, I love doing it for Bryce.
But then I think, all this time I’m spending in meetings, organizing,
picking stuff up, setting up, cleaning up, he doesn’t really see all
that. Maybe he just sees I’m spending time not being with him.” It’s all
okay with Bryce. “She does lots of stuff. Sometimes she’s really busy.
But I like it when she’s there.”

Published June 2010

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