I’m the first to say I am no perfect parent. Ha! Not anywhere close. I personify Hot Mess Express. I am also fully aware that there are no easy answers to this topic. Adults of every generation bash the generations they don’t understand. Dissatisfaction in all generations runs rampant. The flood of negativity, hatred and division in our country can make it hard to even have hope for better days ahead. I don’t even want my children watching the actual news on television, let alone half the programming out there, and I shudder at the day when they have their own phones and plug into the great addiction that plagues all of us. How then do we raise joyful, fulfilled, compassionate children in this cold electronic divided mess of a planet? A world where teens are doing outrageously dumb things to shill for online popularity, mimicking the example we have set for them because we have all placed online presence on the great altar? (the irony that I am blogging doesn't escape me). There are so many great solutions out there – limiting screen time, being aware of what games your child is playing and who they are hanging out with, safety filters, time outdoors, etc. However, I want to throw out another solution that isn’t talked about enough, that when used as a cornerstone, will create fulfillment and purpose like nothing else I know. Giving as a family.
Find your passion. Pick a charitable organization that aligns with your passion and run towards it hard, with your whole family – whatever your "whole family" looks like (it’s perfect and whole because it’s yours!). For us, that charity we give to is Companion Pet Rescue. I can't take credit for thinking this up - I inherently knew to do this with my children by example, as my own mother dragged us kids to so many of her causes – I remember blowing up balloons for the Great American Smoke-Outs, the trips to the Humane Society to walk dogs as Girl Scouts, the visits to the nursing homes. We were always giving and doing for others, and so I raise my children to give, without thinking, because it’s who I am and what I do, thanks to my mom I KNEW that.
We all agree that “what’s in it for me” is a poor outlook, but in this age of upstaging your friends on social media, Pinterest perfect parties costing hundreds (thousands?!), and holiday loot splayed across your newsfeed every time a bunny farts or a leprechaun sees his shadow (seriously, how can your kids be excited about Christmas when Valentines and Halloween come with surprise balloons, baskets of gifts and their own special pancake shapes?) how can our kids develop any other viewpoint than one where the whole world exists to make them smile? We are in a major consumerism dissatisfaction death spiral and we are all to blame for it because Commercialism + Mom Guilt + Keeping Up with the Joneses is the perfect storm. Giving wholeheartedly as a family combats this onslaught of constant celebration because it's not about ME (THEM) at all. It’s about understanding you can and should do for others. When you are involved whole-heartedly in a charitable cause, your children see you giving back as an absolute given, part of the very fabric of who you are and thus who they must be too, and you will succeed in raising Givers.* (this is my theory anyway based on how my sisters and I were raised, as my little experiments won't really turn out for several more years - I feel pretty good about it though given their joy level despite the relative lack of themed breakfasts).
Emmett, 6, witnessed the care we gave our senior dog, and other seniors and he will always know the respect to show the elderly and weak and he will know commitment. David, 9, can tell you everything about fostering a dog and why you should do it, and will always have that sense of civic responsibility.
I know this belief system of respecting life won’t magically vanish when they are teenagers because we don't speak it, we LIVE IT daily. And I know their values will remain in their adult years.We don’t do this for the accolades, which can be dangerous in a society where we are all vying for "likes," we do it because no one else is coming for that dog we said yes to. They know this. My boys are all the better for not being praised or given a choice in it. They have the message – this is who we are. On the good days, on the bad days. We show up, we love, we give. And because we believe in this, we have met some amazing, wonderful people who are from all backgrounds, all political beliefs, all different stories and struggles and yet do as we do, for the same reasons, and my kids know these Givers as friends and role models. They see the good in giving and action and community, and they know that as truth.
Giver Kids will become Giver Adults and they will stop and help the injured, feed the hungry, build community, and this will nourish their souls and provide fulfillment regardless of what pays the bills. They may disagree politically with you or others on how to do it as they grow up, but they’ll agree it needs to be done AND THEY WILL DO IT. And that is what will fix this broken world, raising kids who give. Constant giving as a family grows love, compassion, joy, a sense of real fulfillment and purpose, and memories. Yes, there are complaints and whining at our house when the boys have to walk a dog in the rain or pick up a surprise poop. Yes, there have been tears when a foster dog has destroyed a favorite toy (or my couch). There are tears sometimes when it is time for a favorite foster dog to leave us. There have been bigger, more important tears when a foster dog doesn’t survive, like Ralphie in the above picture - oh, does that hurt all of our hearts greatly in ways I cannot express. But we do it because we inherently know it’s the right thing to do, and we learn these lessons together as a family. My boys know the value and meaning of giving regardless of hardships, and they know that every time we make these sacrifices, a dog gets to live and get a family. They understand the value of that life is bigger than a perfect house or a pricey rug, in spite of what our culture preaches at us, and it's far more meaningful than that picture perfect holiday expertly crafted in an attempt to elicit that smile we so want to see on our kids' faces. Don't trip over yourself to give them a smile; teach your children how to find joy for themselves. Let them earn that joy it through giving. By all means do the pancakes if you love the pancakes, but balance that fun with daily charitable living, so that "special occasions" don't lose their meaning.
Does your family have a cause that defines you? Do you have one that you give to so much it is in your daily life, your conversations, and when people think of you, they think of your cause? If not, get one, and get one fast – because your children will reflect who you are and how you give. It’s not enough to throw money in the plate at church or give a few cans of food at Thanksgiving. If you’re worried it will take you away from your kids - you should worry more that if you don’t, they won’t know what you’re about, and by extension they won’t know what they’re about. A family culture of giving develops soft hearts and tough mindsets.
Live your cause with your family. That’s the best part, giving together. That's the real highlight reel. Whole-hearted giving is a guaranteed path to a fulfilled life. That’s my hope for fixing this broken world, raising these joyful kids who are firmly rooted in who they are. They are Givers.
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