Ways to Make Children Part of Your Life Beside Parenthood

From Advocacy to Mentoring, Big Brothering to Scouting

Woman reading a book to a child
When you volunteer, you help a child and yourself. AE Pictures Inc. / Getty Images

Whether you prefer to consider yourself "childless" or "child free", the term is not one to take literally. Most childless couples do want children in their lives, even if they aren't parents themselves. Finding ways to be a part of a child's life isn't always obvious. Especially if the past several years have centered on fighting infertility, you may be missing opportunities right in front of you.

And if you look beyond your current horizons, you may find even more possibilities to be part of a child's life.

Depending on your day job, lifestyle, and location, you may have many or very few of these options open to you. Some of these opportunities take only a few hours a month, others can be daily or full day activities. Many are life changing. If none of the options on this list fit, see this as a starting point, and a way to help you discover your own ideas for interaction with kids.

Note that many of these programs will require background checks, references, and some degree of training. This would be required even if you had children of your own, and it is necessary to keep children safe. Try not to take it personally.

Way #1: Become a Foster Parent

I know what you're thinking - that foster parenting is parenting. Yes, it is, but I mention it because even if adoption wasn't for you, foster parenting may be something you can do.

As you may imagine, fostering is an intense, full-time commitment, but it is also a way to make a huge difference in a child's life.

Way #2: Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate

A court appointed special advocate (CASA) is a way to help children in the foster care system without actually becoming a foster parent.

Foster children can be bumped from guardian to guardian, and so much can get lost in the process.

As a court appointed special advocate, you're the one thing that should remain consistent for the child throughout the process. You'll also help advocate for the child by communicating with the many people who work with him or her, and bringing all that information together. Learn more at the CASA website:

Way #3: Embrace Your Role as Auntie (or Uncle)

Think beyond blood relatives. There's no reason you can't be an involved Auntie or Uncle in your friend's children's lives, assuming they are open to your involvement. How can you be involved? Attending birthday parties, coming over to take the kids out to the park or to the movies, showing up at their performances or sports games to cheer (and perhaps offering to do the carpool, which is likely to be a big help to their parents!), and so much more.

Way #4: Become a Mentor, Big Brother, or Big Sister

All it takes is a few hours a couple times a month to change a child's life.

As a mentor, you may spend time with your mentee playing a sport, visiting a museum, or chatting over lunch. The mentoring you do may include tutoring, or it may focus purely on fun activities. Some mentor relationships last for a lifetime.

Way #5: Consider a Career Change or an Additional Part Time Job

Is your day job less involved with children than you'd like it to be? Consider a career change. Or you may consider working a second child-centered job on the side, depending on the time commitment required.

Jobs that involve children include:

  • child psychology and some social work careers
  • working in child care (whether working at a child or day care center, opening your own, or becoming a nanny)
  • becoming a camp director or starting your own camp
  • pediatric speech pathology
  • pediatric physical therapy
  • pediatric occupational therapy
  • youth ministries
  • education (from elementary to high school, from art to special education)
  • tutoring (whether freelance or with a tutoring company)
  • theater performance and entertainment for children
  • coaching or teaching physical education
  • working with newborns or laboring mothers (from doulas to midwives)
  • pediatric or school nursing

Way #6: Volunteer at the Local YMCA, JCC, or Other Community Center

Consider teaching a class or coaching a sport at your local community center. Many community centers offer youth groups and, in the summer, day camps, for which they may need volunteers.

Way #7: Become a Girl Scout or Boy Scout Leader

There are so many ways to volunteer with the Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, and you don't have to have a child in scouts to participate. From one day intensive volunteering to troop leading, from community service activities to camping, if you enjoyed scouts as a kid, you'll probably love volunteering as an adult.

Depending on what you want to do, you may need to join first as an adult scout or attend specialized trainings.

Way #8: Volunteer Your Time at Your Church or Place of Worship

Opportunities to work with children at your place of worship may include teaching in the Sunday School, taking part in youth group and youth activities, or helping babysit the littlest members while the parents attend services. Don't leave the fun babysitting to the teens; there's no rule that says you can't get involved, too.

Depending on how flexible your congregation is, you may be able to start your own project or program to work with the kids. Love camping? Perhaps you can start a yearly camping trip. Love to exercise? Perhaps you can start a fitness group for kids.

Don't forget to look beyond your current congregation. It may be that another place will have more volunteer opportunities, or more child-center programs.

Way #9: Volunteer at the Library

Love books? Libraries, especially the larger ones, often host a number of programs for children. Volunteer opportunities may include reading out loud to elementary age children, starting or working in a tutoring programs, leading a book club for teens, helping with the summer reading clubs, or starting a creative writing or book-based-craft class for children.

Speak to the librarian to find ways you can get involved.

Way #10: Volunteer at the Hospital

Hospitals are frequently looking for help. Possibilities may include checking in with waiting patients in the ER, visiting in-patient kids and reading them a story or playing a game, playing with kids in the play rooms, working in the hospital library or recreation room, dressing up as Santa or an elf on Christmas, playing an instrument for musical events, or helping with group art and craft projects.

Some nurseries and NICUs look for volunteers to hold the tiniest babies for when the nurses are busy and the parents need a break. Touch has been found to significantly improve the physical health of babies. Your work could actually help save a life.

Contact general and children's hospitals to find out what you can do to make a sick child's day a bit brighter. If they don't have any programs available, ask them if they'd be open to your ideas.

Way #11: Volunteer at a Local School, Preschool, or Head Start

Don't assume that only parents can get involved in school programs. Many times, schools struggle to get parents active. Educational institutions that may have programs you can help with include public schools, private schools, Head Start programs, preschool programs, and schools for children with special needs.

Way #12: Spend Your Summer Vacation Working or Volunteering at a Children's Camp

Instead of heading off to a remote island for your summer vacation, why not consider going away to camp instead? As a counselor, not a camper, of course. True, you'll be working on your vacation, but you'll also have an unforgettable experience. Don't forget to consider camps at home and abroad.​

Way #13: Volunteer to Work with Children Abroad

Perhaps you'd like to volunteer to help disadvantaged children for your summer vacation. There are a variety of programs that help children in need, both at home and abroad. Just be sure whatever program you sign up for is legit, as there are reports of "volunteer organizations" taking advantage of disadvantaged children and villages in order to make money off of volunteer tourism.

Here are a few places to find legitimate volunteer opportunities:

Way #14: Share Your Talents or Knowledge

Call up your local school or youth club and offer to come speak about your job to the children. Career days can be fun and educational for kids, and they don't only want to hear from police officers and firemen. (Though if you're in one of these professions, you'll be high in demand!)

Whether for volunteer or for pay, offer classes for children in your area of expertise, either from out of your home or from a rented room at a library or community center. Engineer? Consider offering a Lego Making Class. Health worker? Offer to speak to health classes in schools about a topic near and dear to your heart.

Consider your day job, your hobbies, and your old passions when mining your life for opportunities.

Way #15: Volunteer at Your Local Boys and Girls Club of America

Boys and Girls Club of America offers afterschool and summer activities to children in disadvantaged neighborhoods. They are always looking for volunteers. Contact a local chapter to see how you can get involved.

Not in the United States? Seek out organizations in your country that work with children. For example, if you're in the UK, you may consider Barnardo's or The Children's Society.

More on coping while trying to conceive:

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