Someone recently asked me how my wife and I raised sons who are what they deemed as “givers.” Keep in mind, our family is flawed and faces many of the challenges all families face, but when asked this question I had to agree that giving seems to be a lifestyle for our boys. Later, when I told my wife about the conversation and asked her what she thought the key to living a giving lifestyle was she simply replied, “Kids can’t become givers until they stop being takers.”
Her sentiment stuck with me for days. Our current society is definitely one which breeds “takers.” It is fostered; it is championed; it is cheered. Thoughts of self quite often supersede thoughts of others. When it comes to parenting, I feel as if I am a broken record. But raising selfless, generous kids – kids who think of others before they think of themselves – takes teaching, training, exposure, and as always, modeling. When my boys would fight (yes, siblings sometimes fight) and become upset over not getting what they individually wanted, I had to ask myself about the kind of example I was setting. Was I griping about my job? My coworkers? The fact that I wasn’t being heard, or promoted, or lauded, or compensated, or served? And if all of this grumbling was indeed taking place in my life, was it taking place within earshot of my children? Conversely, were they hearing me speak of the needs of others? Were they hearing me make plans to donate to those less fortunate or to serve, in various capacities, my community? Were my children hearing “they” more than “me” come from my own mouth?
For years, I thought generosity was most difficult for very young children to understand. However, as my boys grew, I quickly realized that while some people seem to naturally be more “giving,” training our sons and daughters early on in the ways of generosity helps break the cycle of “me-ism” that will certainly bombard their world in their tweens, teens and beyond. Take a toddler to visit lonely “grandparents” in the nursing home. Let a preschooler tag along as you ring a neighbor’s doorbell to deliver goodies. Help a first grader make a “bank” out of an old 2 liter pop bottle, and then challenge him or her to fill it up with change to donate in order to provide blankets for the local homeless shelter.
Over the past couple of decades, all sorts of innovative ideas have surfaced regarding how to give. Everything from “you purchase a pair of shoes, a shoe-less person in another country gets a pair of shoes, too” to “buy a goat for a family in a far-off village for your Christmas” have brought awareness and “care-ness” to homes all across our country. There is no shortage of things that can be given, just a shortage of parents willing to take the time to make sure their kids get the opportunity to give.
In this season of giving, I am inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Jr. and Winston S. Churchill. May you be inspired as well.
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation—either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
-Winston S. Churchill