Jake: Ema, I have to tell you something…
Ema: What, Buddy?
Jake: I’m really really sorry but I forgot to get you a present at the Hanukkah Hut.
Ema: That’s okay Buddy, don’t worry… did you run out of money? Were you able to get presents for all your siblings?
Jake: Well, I used all the money but, no I didn’t run out… I miscounted. I thought I was done and had $7 left over, so I bought a present for myself. But I’ll make you something, I promise. (Oh, the pain of big-family math…)
Ema: It’s okay, Buddy… Emas don’t expect presents, that isn’t the important part....It’s okay to buy yourself a present sometimes, too.
Jake: Yeah, and you wouldn’t really like the thing I got anyhow. (Long cuddly pause)...I’m still going to make you something.
Ema: I like anything you give me, but I love the things you make me more...thanks.
The season of giving brings with it the season of craziness. I love to have the traditions of candle lighting and gifting, but I worry about it being too much ‘all take’ and not much real ‘giving’ for my kids. This changes as they grow older and I know that over time my kids look forward to the Pajama night, the gift card night, the sock and underwear night…it becomes more about the time together than the actual present they receive. What is hard to know, is whether it’s because I’ve done something right with my parenting, or that children just grow into being givers. Whichever it is, here are a few ideas that I have tried or keep trying over the years…
3. As a former teacher, I love Staff Appreciation weeks. This is the week of the school year I almost always volunteer, and in doing so, I try to emphasize to parents and children that every day is teacher appreciation day. Our year round gratitude is shown in our appropriate behavior and clear communication with one another. My children’s teachers through the years are counted as some of my very favorite people in the world, finding ways to remind them of that does not go unnoticed.
4. Take your kids with you to vote… or make sure they see you vote. One of the most important ways we give back to our community and show our children what is important, is by making sure we participate in our most basic of civic duties.
5. If your child feels scared or unsure of people who are homeless, mentally ill, elderly, disabled or different in religion or ethnicity than you are, check your own reactions. Instead of informing your child how they should act, react or feel… wonder with them about why they think someone is “weird”, “scary” or causes them “discomfort”. I am big on not shying away from hard discussion and wondering with my kids… I am more often than not humbled by my kids correcting me when I am insensitive. Our kids are growing up in a much more accepting world… encourage it, they’ll be much better off if you do.
6. Make your giving visible. It isn’t the amount of money that is important, it is the act of participation. In fact, my children rarely know if I have given $18 or $180. There have been times I just could not give to the myriad of fundraisers that come home in the backpacks… but when I do, I try hard to have my children participate, with me. I want them to know we are a family of “givers” and giving is not just with money, we can give through service, acts of kindness and helping others understand certain causes better.
In the spirit of the season, I hope you'll post some of your ideas below for fighting the “angst” and creating a family and community of “givers”.