There was a recent article which statistically highlighted something that I, like many other involved fathers, have anecdotally noticed. The number of parents who are willing to volunteer is declining and those of us who participate are being stretched increasingly thin. The result is that we’re having to continue running activities after our own kids depart lest they collapse and this is leading to some hard feelings.
I’ve been a cub scout leader for eleven years, starting in the program with my oldest son as a den leader and then continuing when Youngest came along. Along the way, I also became the cubmaster when that person left as her son moved on to boy scouts; it was my intent to do the same last year when Youngest moved up to boy scouts and indeed, I stepped down as cubmaster last winter. Despite more than year of notices, entreaties and warnings however, no one stepped up to the position for the remainder of the cub scout year. The pack committee chair also resigned when her son decided to quit scouting and as late summer progressed, it appeared that the pack would fold. No one else took the positions and scouts left the pack as it flirted with folding for lack of volunteer leadership. When another scouting mother – who was also an assistant scoutmaster with an Eagle scout son – stepped up to the committee chair and asked me, I returned for a one-year gig as cubmaster, where we’re still awaiting someone to take over as cubmaster. My expectation/plan/desire/hope is to leave that slot and step up to become more active at the boy scout level where Youngest now resides.
But somewhere along the line, the cub scout gig morphed from being a temporary stint with my son to the apparently permanent job as Cubmaster. This change was brought home by an encounter at the grocery store last week when I passed a woman whose son is a new cub scout; we glanced at one another in the doorway and each of us muttered a perfunctory hello when she did a double take and blurted out Oh it’s you…I didn’t recognize you without the uniform. And I suddenly was in an alternate DC Comics universe in which a simple change of shirt hid my identity as Lord Baden-friggin’-Powell. This isn’t an isolated situation as it’s a scenario playing out across activities and areas. There are other cub packs and boy scout troops in similar straits and the Girl Scouts are literally dying for want of leadership – on top of the whole interest problem. The local little league is looking for coaches and the list goes on.
When you review the BLS article, what stands out is that those in the prime parent categories – ages 35 – 44 and kids under the age of 18 – remained strong at 30.6% and 32.7% respectively. There are plenty of parents who step up but still plenty more who don’t and when you talk to the organization folks at the regional levels and higher, what they’re seeing is that fewer younger parents are stepping up; my suspicion is that this is the early cusp of a trend that will be reflected in the BLS in future years.
One of the comments that I’ve heard repeatedly across years and activities is I don’t know anything about that stuff. I respect the concern because no parent wants to look like a flaming moron in front of their child but the reality is that we’re all confronted with situations in which we have no real experience. We do our best and let the chips fall where they may. But the other reality is that the kids really do appreciate what their folks are willing and able to do for them and as they age, are able to show some graciousness when our team doesn’t do well or something goes awry at a scouting event. For the kids, it isn’t necessarily how much you know about something as your behavior and manner in dealing with it and that’s the lesson that we need to teach them as they in turn grow into adulthood – it isn’t necessarily what we know at the outset, but how we learn and then act as we move along.