A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells All

Tricks volunteer coordinators don’t want you to know.

Earlier this week we discussed some creative ideas for how to avoid getting roped into excessive volunteering. If you missed it, click here to get the low-down. It’s mandatory reading for anyone who wants to protect their free time and learn new ways of saying “no.”

Here are some highlights to help you review:

  • Expect that you WILL be asked to volunteer.
  • Be mentally prepared for these requests and have a well rehearsed way of saying “no” (or “no thank you,” or “AW HAYLE NO, Beeyotch!”).
  • Avoid eye contact with anyone wearing a name tag or carrying a clip board.
  • We all have a right to say no. Flex those “No Muscles!” Saying no gets easier the more you do it (so I’ve been told).

I can tell by all the wonderful comments from my last post that this topic really touched a nerve. So glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this issue!

Today, let’s continue the conversation and address some specific strategies people use to trick or coerce us into volunteering. Knowledge is power, my friends! If we can spot a manipulation tactic in play, we’ll be better able to flex those No Muscles and make a speedy getaway.

The most prevalent strategy of course is guilt. If you have a Jewish or Catholic mother, you are already well aware of this time-honored tactic. It works. Volunteer coordinators are experts at making others feel sorry for them and/or ashamed for not doing enough to help. Learn to recognize a guilt trip when you see it so you can protect yourself from being manipulated.

Some typical mannerisms associated with guilt-trippers include heavy sighing, slumping, and a general aura of disappointment or disapproval. They like to play the victim role. Woe is them!

Don’t buy into it! Or as my Mama says, “Not mine.”

Sadly, easier said than done.

The other day I was attending a meeting (mistake numero uno) at one of my kids’ schools when into the room burst Valerie Volunteer! She was clearly under duress. She had that look… like a cross between a deer in the headlights and a ticking time bomb. Crazy like a fox, that lady. So there she sat, lip slightly quivering, a catch in her voice, and asking for volunteers to please help her facilitate the upcoming Fall Festival. I know I should have averted my eyes, or looked busy, or pretended I just sharted, but I was completely glued to the unfolding drama.

Long story short: what has a filthy kitchen floor, unwritten freelance assignments, two gigantic thumbs, and spent two hours last weekend wrapping 32 shoe boxes to hold silent auction raffle tickets for the Fall Festival? This gal:

Live and learn, eh?

The next volunteer manipulation tactic we should be on the lookout for is flattery.

This one is tricky for those of us who are starved for attention and praise. Volunteer coordinators know this! Nine times out of ten, if someone praises you, it’s a red flag that you are about to be ambushed into volunteering! Put your feet in the ready position…this is a fight or flight scenario, folks.

I recently received phone calls from the leaders of two ministries at my church who were seeking my involvement. I can’t prove this, but I suspect there’s an underground Vatican-based training for church ministry leaders because their approaches were absolutely identical:

1.) THE COMPLIMENT: They told me how impressed they were with my ______ skills. (Insert whatever works here: writing, child-wrangling, chainsaw juggling, whatever.)

2.) THE NAME DROP: They casually referenced someone of importance: “Father Felipe and I were talking and your name came up as someone who would be great on our committee!”

3.) THE LIE: They told me the time required to participate in their ministry would be nominal…”whatever you want to make of it!” or “no more than 45 minutes once a month.”

4.) THE APPEAL TO MY SENSE OF DECENCY: They asked if I would join their committee/ministry so I could share my ______ talents with our parish. (underlying message: don’t be selfish!)

5.) THE STAND-OFF: They stopped talking and simply waited for me to fill the awkward silence with my inevitable guilt-ridden “YES!”

Evil. Genius.

Both times, something deep and primal within me wanted to say “Sorry, but no,” or even “OMG, Gotta go! My hair is on fire!” But both times, I was so surprised and flattered by their attention that I caved like a California mudslide. They wanted me? ME? Iris Beard? The notorious recreational canine scat enthusiast?

The phone calls caught me by surprise, the flattery lowered my defenses, and my No Muscle was flabby. It was the trifecta of doom.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the newest member of the Stewardship Council AND the Unit Leader for my daughter’s scout troop!

Any you wonder why I drink.

Look. I’m not saying NEVER volunteer. What kind of world would we live in if everyone only looked out for themselves or their own families?

All I’m saying is choose your volunteer duties wisely, don’t get pressured into over-committing yourself or doing tasks that suck the life out of you, and remember to put the needs of your own family above the needs of others.

And don’t worry. The work will get done without you.

Did you ever hear the one about two friends walking in the woods who come across a bear? One friend turns to the other and says “I don’t think we can outrun that bear!” And the other friend says “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun YOU.”

That’s the attitude you need to take when you are faced with a high pressure volunteer situation. You don’t have to outrun the chick with the clipboard, you just have to outrun all the other people pleasers in the room.

Lace up those running shoes, bitches.


PS – Have you voted for The Bearded Iris yet at Babble.com’s list of the Top 50 Mom Blogs? I’m gaining on the top ten! Help me get there and I’ll do all your chores for a month.


© Copyright 2011, The Bearded Iris.


  1. Fiveogrrl

    I am totally axing you to babysit, housesit, bakesale, sew me a leisure suit from one of those cut out ready patterns in the back of MomJeans magazine, and anything else I can think of that you would be able to use your trannyhands for. Pffft.

    • The Bearded Iris

      OMG, trannyhands! You’re just jealous that you can’t diaper your baby one handed.

      • FiveOGrrl

        I am jelly. If I could change a diaper, toss a pizza, dig like a honey badger, paddle a row boat, with well hung fangers such as your oven mits, I would be very popular with my wife. Pffffft.

        • The Bearded Iris

          OMG, it’s so true. Between my facial hair and my oven mitts, I would be SO popular if you ever invited me to one of your “Black Panther Parties, Jen-nay.”

  2. Anne A.

    Okay, I was nervous I would be on your list. I clearly need to bone up on my tactics!

    • The Bearded Iris

      SHIT! I forgot that some of my best friends are also ministry leaders and volunteer coordinators! I’m educating the enemy!

      Okay (deep breath), let me see if I can implement some of my new strategies. Y’all tell me which one of these is most believable:

      1.) “Oh Anne, I’d LOVE to come to Haiti with you and wash all the children’s feet! Yes! Sign me up! Oh wait, when is it? Damn. That’s the week I’m having my labioplasty! Maybe next time?”

      2.) “Absolutely! I just need to clear it with The Gatekeeper, the Local School Council meeting schedule, the Stewardship Council agenda, the scout meeting schedule, my Thursday Folder Mom rotation schedule, my sponsor, and my parole officer. I’ll get back to you with my availability.”

      3.) “You’re pretty. Can we share a sleeping bag?”

      4.) “Do you think it would be okay if I bring my toenail collection?”

      5.) “SHIT FUCK PISS WHORE DICK BITCH growwwwwwwwl.”

      Still want me to come to Haiti with you? 😉

      • Anne Alexander


      • Mary Lou

        Number 3!!!!! Yeah! THAT should work!!!

        • Mary Lou

          Or not. # 3 could you on call lists you didn’t know existed.

  3. Martha (MM)

    You are so right on their tactics. I think they train them at the same place they train car salesmen! When my kids were young I got sucked into not only volunteering but usually heading or at least took responsibility for chairing an area of everything they did. It took me 2o something years but I finally learned. These days I won’t even show up at open house at school!

    Now I take the role of showing up early to things and asking what I can do to help instead. They always need those kind of “OMG we don’t have enough people to cover things” kind of volunteers too. I get to do my part, am more appreciated because I step in to save the day, and get asked to do things like scooping rice onto plates for an hour. Are you kidding? I love scooping rice onto plates – and so would anyone else who has had to be in the position of pulling it all together!

    Seriously though, I love being involved and volunteering but we have to be very careful and selective with what we allow ourselves to be sucked into!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Brilliant! You skip the Open Houses, avoid signing up for things, but still get to LOOK like a committed volunteer because you attend events and help with easy menial tasks? You rock my world Martha.

    • JD @ Momagement

      I can look committed and involved and really not be? This strategy is pure GENIUS! Love!

  4. Julie @ mamamash

    Ugh. I wish I had read this two weeks ago. Now I’m in it up to my nostrils.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Well at least we can commiserate.

      Perhaps I need to write a third installment about how to extricate ourselves from sucky volunteer commitments! I will experiment with it myself and see if I can garner any good tips to share. Wish me luck!!!

  5. Allysgrandma

    OMGosh I needed a good laugh. Tomorrow is our 35th high school reunion and I swear I have an ingrown second toe I was just soaking and pouring hydrogen peroxide on….I was about ready to cry because if one part of my body doesn’t hurt….my left second toe does!

    Plus we ran into an old friend who drove over from Nevada for the reunion at our Costco, she is as cute and tiny as ever. We chatted a while….and she drove by and waved in her Porsche sports car……I had my new wig on and parked in the disabled parking area…….

    Really funny though I pulled alongside my BIL who had not seen me in my new wig. I rolled down my window and smiled at him. He did not recognize and gave me a big smile back, then I yelled at him and he started laughing….he wondered who the little “hottie” was….hahaha….maybe I do still have it….but at least my kids are all grown and I don’t have to worry about volunteering…..I’m disabled…hey you could use that excuse. I use it all the time now!

    • The Bearded Iris

      Oh Cheryl. You still got it, honey! Don’t let the sore toe and the wig get you down. That friend in the Porsche probably looks so good because she is addicted to stimulants and can’t sit still long enough to eat anything but a can of Boost now and then. And I bet she’s leasing that sports car with money she borrowed against her reverse mortgage. People like that are NEVER what they seem. She’s hiding something dark. Believe it. You just keep watching Suze, planning your next sound investment, soaking your toe, making beautiful quilts, playing hide-the-Sopressata with your Italian Stallion, and hanging out with me. XOXOX

  6. Michelle

    I just recruited a…..wait for it…….Volunteer Coordinator last week! I am surely going to Hell. Maybe I should forward this to her so she can bone up on her tactics. Thank you Iris!

    • The Bearded Iris

      NOOOOOOO! Michelle – you’ve gone to the dark side! Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.

  7. Livin In Duckville

    I recently said ‘No’…. I have been involved in Scouting since I was a Girl Scout. I have been on numerous committees & have been a leader for Bigfoot’s scout troop & am still the leader for the Princess’ scout troop. I LOVE scouting. I love when ‘my girls’ get together & talk & laugh & plan & volunteer & camp, etc. They have amazing ideas & fresh opinions. What I was hating was the administrative crap. I dreaded it. So after more than 20 years of being involved in the administrative part of scouting, I said NO. No more. Just this last week was the first night of a meeting that I was NOT required to be at. It felt sooooooo good.

    I still volunteer, but only for things I WANT. I am still a Girl Scout Leader (& will be for 2 more years until ‘my girls’ graduate high school). I have volunteered to be on the committee to find a new superintendent for our schools. I have volunteered to reorganize the Book Room in our middle school. Things that I WANT to do.

    My response is, ‘No thank you, right now ‘my plate is full.’

    • The Bearded Iris

      Thank you, Sue. Well said!

      I’m enjoying the scouting thing too… which is why I think it is so important for me to clear my plate of all the other crap so I can do a good job with the select things I am discovering that I am passionate about.

  8. Liza Martz

    Ha! I once offered to volunteer at a large foster care facility working with the kids (reading, creative writing, etc.) After submitting three referrals attesting to my moral character then having a background check, I was in. First gig, invited to volunteer at a garden party fundraiser. Once I paid my $35 admission (?!?) into said party, I was glared at by the lady with the walkie-talkie (another sure sign of the Vol-in-charge) who snappishly said they had too many volunteers and did not require my services. Needless to say, when they invited me to pull weeds the next week, I declined. (I am sure I would have had to pay for a weed-pulling permit.)

  9. AlexandraFunFit

    1. Did you know you can only like your blog once on that contest site? I finally figured that out today, after clicking many times previously.
    2. I really want you to do all my chores anyway.
    3. I have perfected not volunteering at things that sound horrible to me. I say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me, but that particular opportunity doesn’t match my skill set.” Every time I sign up to bake I get asked to also be the “mom snack coordinator.” Ick. So I say, “I’m a good baker, not a good organizer. Thanks so much for asking.”
    4. I am saying this after spending more than 2 years on the Board at our congregation. So I deserve to say no.
    5. Not sure what kind of thumbs I have.

    • The Bearded Iris

      1. Yes. And bless you for trying to vote numerous times! You can vote one time from each of your devices…phones, computers, etc. Feel free to swing by the public library and rack up hecka votes…you’ll up the chances of me doing your chores.
      2. I’ll do it. I’m crazy like that. Don’t think I won’t. But I need about 60 more votes first.
      3. I’m going to tattoo that phrase on the inside of my wrist. It’s perfect!
      4. You definitely deserve to say no, and also, Jesus loves you. He loves you long time.
      5. I bet your thumbs are fun and fit. Just sayin’.

  10. Kristen Kotrlik

    “Oh, I’m sorry, I have to recruit new Jehovah’s that day/week/night/”. That gets you out of everything.

    • The Bearded Iris

      Brillzy. You could also say “Would love to, but my husband just bought me a new box of Nads Face Wands and I promised him I’d try them out before his boss comes over for dinner and sees what a hairy beeyotch I am.”

  11. Susan S

    I reached a point in my life where I volunteered for so many things in our small town, my then 4-yr old son said, “Momma, do we have to do EVERYTHING in this town?” Shortly after that a friend wrote the word “NO” on a sticky note and told me to put it on my top life if I truly felt I could not just say “No”.

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