Front Line Stuff

Edited by Robert Peterson
Illustration by Bill Basso

Can a Leader Be Too Involved in Scouting?

When Scouter P.F. asked how to determine if he was shortchanging his family by being overinvolved in Scouting, readers suggested ways to gauge involvement and offered tips on balancing family life with a commitment to Scouting.

If a Scouter can answer yes to any of the following questions, he or she needs to reassess priorities and motives:

  • Do you spend more hours each month encouraging other Scouts and leaders than you do encouraging your own son?
  • Do you miss more than one school concert, soccer game, or family event a year because you have a Scouting obligation?
  • Does your son ever say he hates the fact that you are "spending all your time Scouting"?
  • Do you spend more than one weekend in eight at a Scouting event that does not include your Scout son or family?
  • Does your son have to be perfect because you are his Scout leader?
  • Do you ever volunteer for a task without first discussing it with your spouse?
  • Does your involvement limit your son's opportunity for independence?
  • Do you go on a troop outing even if your son is sick or doesn't want to go?
  • Do your Scouters' events take precedence over your son's Scouting events?

Scoutmaster K.M.
Manassas, Va.

If P.F.'s wife is concerned, I think there is a good chance that he is not meeting her needs. I would try to do some of these each month: (1) take her to a movie, play, or dinner; (2) take care of all three kids while she has a half-day break; (3) spend at least two hours doing something with each child (no siblings, no friends, just the two of you).

Sykesville, Md.

When was the last time you took a family vacation that didn't involve Scouting? If every vacation for the past 10 years was at Scout summer camp, try planning something different this year.

Of the last five times there was a scheduling conflict between Scouts and something else, how often did you go Scouting?

At work, do you shake hands with your left hand? If so, you definitely need to back off a bit.

McAllen, Tex.

As a marriage and family therapist, I commend P.F. for asking the question. The best barometer he can use is how his wife feels. If she feels that Scouting is his first priority, and that she and the children get whatever is left over, he definitely needs to make some adjustments.

P.F. should find out what his wife needs and what she feels the children need from him. Decide with them what he can do to meet his family priorities, so that his wife and children have no doubt that they are his first priority.

This will take time. P.F.'s measure of success will be when his wife feels cherished.

Murray, Utah

I suggest that P.F.'s wife become involved, too, possibly as a troop committee member or merit badge counselor.

Also, the family should have a monthly outing away from Scouting, and P.F. and his wife should also enjoy a night by themselves, for dinner, dancing, or a show.

Our sons, now 18 and 21, both started as Tiger Cubs and became Eagle Scouts. My husband and I have been active along with them (he as Scoutmaster and troop committee chairman, I as advancement chairman).

The hours of volunteering were long, exhausting, and sometimes expensive, but we consider it all worthwhile. It helped to keep me young and allowed us watch our sons and their friends interact, learn, and live the 12 points of the Scout Law.

Harvey, La.

As the wife of a Scoutmaster, I can tell P.F. this: If your wife is unhappy with the amount of time you are spending on Scouting, it is a problem.

Do you find yourself missing such important family events as parent-teacher conferences, dance recitals, or sports events? Does your wife have to plan her time around your absences or take on all responsibility for homework, driving the kids around, etc.?

Do your children benefit from your Scouting involvement or does it take time away from them in favor of other people's children? Finally, are you doing things that could be delegated to someone else?

Talk to your wife and come to a consensus about a reasonable time for Scouting and for family. While Scouting is a wonderful program, it should never become a priority over family.

Barnegat, N.J.

My wife had a similar reaction when I became an assistant Scoutmaster in 1987. However, the long hours I worked with my son helped him overcome learning disabilities, make Eagle, earn a college degree, and become a successful young man.

He frequently reminds me what we did together in Scouting—memories I will never forget and the benchmark I use to justify the activity.

I am now a district commissioner but try hard to limit the hours I spend at meetings and do much of my work on the Internet and during the day when I can find time.

I let my wife know what time is completely hers. It's a balancing act that never ends, and when she was ill, I almost totally cut back on Scouting activities.

District Commissioner D.N.
Fairfax Station, Va.

At the very least, P.F.'s involvement is helping to build a relationship with a most important person in his life, his son.

His wife's attitude may reflect the fact that she feels left out of this experience. He might ask her to be a guest speaker at a troop meeting. Or she might teach the Scouts how to cook, sew on patches, or make a budget.

Westfield, N.C.

Web Exclusive Responses

Here are some additional responses to this month's question ...

A good test would be the interest shown in Scouting by a leader's own children. After all, many aspects of Scouting can be enjoyed by the entire family. If family members are enthused, a leader can do great things for the youth in this society.

Alpharetta, Ga.

I am the wife of a Scoutmaster so I can empathize with P.F.'s wife. Scouting is time consuming, but our family considers it time well spent.

I encourage P.F.'s wife to become involved in Scouting, too. I am the mother of a Boy Scout and a Webelos Scout, but I am also a Cub Scout leader in a pack where most of the leaders are moms.

We appreciate the values, skills, and friendships Scouting has given us. We are also grateful for the other volunteers who give their time and talent to help today's boys become tomorrow's men.

Southlake, Tex.

P.F. should use the "family barometer"—let wife and kids tell him if he is overdoing it. While one's family is their most important commitment, a Scouter should be able to compromise enough to serve Scouting and still spend needed time with the family.

I have been in Scouting since 1987, usually serving in a pack or troop with one of my four sons. Later, as unit commissioner and assistant district commissioner, I made sure to keep tabs on my time away from home and family.

And I'm still involved in Scouting, now in Canada. My 12-year-old son is a Lone Scout and wants to get his Eagle Scout badge, following in the footsteps of two older brothers. I'm sure that he would not love Scouting so much if he felt I had neglected him for my Scouting duties.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

There is probably some element of self-satisfaction in volunteer work, but things can get out of balance and the family can suffer.

To avoid this, my wife and I periodically conduct "reality checks" of our outside commitments. Part of this process involves trying to identify our motives.

P.F. should communicate honestly with his wife, do some soul searching, and even ask a buddy for his perspective. Being over committed can be damaging, both to family and to the Scout unit. It is better to achieve balance and remain fresh than to try to be a "Super Scouter."

Gettysburg, Pa.

P.F. should keep an account of the amount and quality of time he spends doing family activities as well as activities with Scouts.

Is he teaching his children life skills, as he no doubt does for his Scouts? Does he talk things over regularly with his wife, as he no doubt does with other Scouters?

If he puts family first and is an involved husband and father who takes family responsibilities seriously, his Scouts will someday follow his example.

Scouting is a wonderful organization that benefits many people, but no organization is more important than the family. P.F.'s talents are much needed and appreciated in Scouting, but if his family is suffering, his successes in Scouting will be empty.

Sugar City, Idaho

His wife's concern with his level of involvement in Scouting should be telling P.F. something. His marriage and the well-being of his family should come first.

By scheduling time to spend with his wife and planning "family dates," he can manage to stay involved in Scouting and also give attention to his family.

Chino Hills, Calif.

Scouting is not just about one parent and his son or sons. It's about getting the whole family involved. If the children aren't enjoying themselves or talk about quitting, listen to them closely. If they aren't happy, then perhaps you are involved in Scouting more for yourself than for them.

Fairfield, Iowa

A wife's concern may not mean she thinks her husband is too involved in Scouting, but rather that he's not devoting a fair share of time to his family.

I'd suggest that P.F. ask the open-ended question, "What would you like us to do together to strengthen our relationship?"

Kids are a bit tougher, because they have trouble verbalizing their feelings. You might have to invent reasons to be with them, but the key is to be one-on-one with each child for some time each week—reviewing homework, having a seemingly offhand chat, or practicing a sport.

Phoenix, Ariz.

Spending more time on Scouting than with one's family is a good indication of over involvement.

P.F. should consider some compromises. Cut down on the time spent on Scouting by assigning some responsibilities to other volunteers. Invite the family to share the joys he experiences in Scouting. Include them as much as possible in Scout meetings, projects, and outings.

When I am leading Cub Scouts, my 2-year-old is always in tow. I spend time with him, and he is learning core values and other valuable lessons.

My husband also volunteers with me, and the whole family has a great time together.

Assistant Cubmaster A.B.
Ivanhoe, Calif.

P.F. should hold a family meeting and ask his wife and children to express their feelings on the issue. The result may be that he'll have to compromise and cut back on some Scouting activities—or maybe find more ways to include the family in Scouting events.

P.F. also has the option of serving in a different Scouting position that allows more time at home, or in a leadership position in which his wife can participate with him.

Brookhaven, N.Y.

Perhaps Scouting is something P.F. pursues for his personal needs, kind of like adults who are into cars, model trains, woodworking, or golf.

What do P.F.'s kids honestly think? Does his family share his enthusiasm? Does he do a lot of Scouting activities without his family?

P.F. should examine such questions with his family.

Livermore, Calif.

As an Eagle Scout and a child and family therapist, I suggest that P.F. use his wife and children as barometers.

What specific reasons do they have for their concern? Ask them how much more of his time they want, then problem-solve and compromise.

Family comes first; anything you give to Scouting should be after you give to your family.

Louisville, Ky.

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