Mark Twain once said, “To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.” I’m guessing Mark Twain never had three sons under the age of five.
Ah, Christmas and the American child. This season is such a mixed bag of emotions and life lessons to be learned. For twelve months of the year, we strive to teach our children that it truly is better to give than to receive, but then we come to “the most wonderful time of the year,” and the wheels on the bus of service and self-sacrifice come to a screeching stop.
It’s easy to blame the savvy marketing of large toy companies, and the endless barrage of commercials touting the wonders of the latest, hot-selling toy. But, charity really does begin at home. And beyond that, teaching our children the joy of giving begins there, as well. If the idea of our modeling the behaviors we want from our children sounds like an overused premise, so be it. What our sons and daughters see us do impact them more than we could ever know. What do they see in us when it comes to giving? Is there joy? Or, do we begrudgingly give?
Whether you are a church-goer, who believes in tithings and offerings, or a community-minded person, giving annually to your charity of choice, how happy are you about it? Do your children see you smiling as you drop the check in the plate or the coins in the Salvation Army pot? Or, do they hear you grumbling about parting with your money, or the fact that you only give for a tax write-off?
Of course, when speaking of giving, we tend to think primarily of money. But, there are so many ways for us to give and just as many ways to show our kids that it can all be joyfully done. There also are so many ways for us to give with our kids. Go, as a family, to a nursing home. Prior to going, sit around the kitchen table and make cards for the residents. Play Christmas music while you do it, eat some sugar cookies, and talk about what it must be like for those who can’t be in their own homes for the holidays. Discuss ways of making the season truly brighter for those around you.
The thing about giving, that seems to always surprise us, is that joy we personally receive from it. All of the hustling and bustling of the season becomes more than worth it when we see the delight in the face of another, and in turn, receive delight in our own hearts and lives.
May the words of Booker T. Washington live in the souls of all of us, including our children, during this season and every other day of the year: “Those who are happiest are those who do the most for others.”