Why you shouldn’t take parental leave from volunteering

Why you shouldn’t take parental leave from volunteering

At Circle In we talk a lot about our different journeys through pregnancy, parental leave and returning to paid work. We all understand the challenges along the way, but holding a volunteer position on parental leave is not usually one of these. Most of us are just flat out coping with home, family, health, relationships and keeping in touch with our workplace. There’s not much time left to volunteer at the kinder, school reading program, Little Aths or the swimming club, let alone being an unpaid hospital board member. Volunteering is usually not on the radar. For most, there just isn’t enough time or energy to do it.

But Nancy Panter tells us to think again. Nancy is now the Vice-Chair of her local hospital and describes herself as ‘a volunteer kind of girl. It’s part of who I am’. She says that, when pregnant with her first child, her ‘first instinct was to take parental leave from (her) job and unpaid board position’. However she changed her mind and stuck with her volunteer role. She now says this was one of the ‘best decisions’ she made. ‘It provided me with some intellectual stimulation and it energised me,’ Nancy tells us. ‘I was doing something good and using my brain.’

Nancy’s volunteer position involves attending two meetings a month, and about four hours reading board documents. While she didn’t cancel these commitments, she did ask for special consideration. When her son, Toby, was three and a half weeks old, she attended a two-hour meeting by phone rather than in person. When he was four and a half weeks old she took him to a morning meeting where ‘luckily for me he slept for most of the meeting’. She found that the other board members were ‘extremely supportive’.

By the time Toby was eight weeks old she was able to leave him with her partner while she attended a meeting in person. ‘I felt so alive at that meeting,’ Nancy tells us.

‘I got to be me for a couple of hours. I wasn’t changing nappies or feeding. I was using my brain and providing value to the organisation that I volunteer with.’

A bonus was that her partner is ‘as proud as punch’ that he is ‘able to look after our son solo’. ‘Toby is now 18 months old and … my partner looks forward to the evenings I am out of the house so they can bond without me.’

Perhaps the message from Nancy’s experience is that, while volunteering may not be for everyone on parental leave, it can be more positive than you might expect.

Here are Nancy’s volunteering tips for new mums:

Ask for special consideration
Phone into a meeting rather than attend in person.

Set expectations and be upfront with time you have available
I will often say at the beginning of a meeting that I can attend for one or two hours only. This also helps keep the meeting succinct.

Family comes first
Don’t be afraid to cancel a meeting or reschedule due to family commitments if you need to.

Don’t check your phone every five minutes
Enjoy the time away from your beautiful baby. The cuddles on your return home are the best.

Prioritise your volunteer commitments
While I continued to volunteer on the local hospital board, I did take leave from another volunteer position as I didn’t want to over commit as a new mum.

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