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My family's reason for the season

When I was pregnant with my first, I was all full of how it was Going To Be. We would not be Those Parents, the ones who made it all about the gifts and went overboard. We would not be Those Parents who let Santa bring all the awesome gifts and get all the kudos.

Since Christmas came only a few days after my daughter was born, how we'd Do Christmas was at the top of our First Parenting Tasks.

And once we had both of our precious bundles of all went out the window. We just wanted to shower them with things that would make them smile.

Eventually though, we realized the love we had for our kids and our desire to bring them joy made it all the more urgent to find a way to ensure other kids who might not get quite the same deluge did get joy for Christmas too. How I loved my kids somehow moved outward and made me want to protect and provide for every child. To know some children needed, hurt.

It started when a club I was in adopted a family every Christmas. Their wish lists were generally simple needs. I'd sign up for the ones close to my kids' ages and I'd get the needs (often, clothes) but I'd have to add in a want, too. A little something. Something to make the kid smile.

My passion was for helping kids. As my kids grew older, they developed their own passions. Every time something caused us pause -- maybe a little hurt, maybe a little sense of our own blessings, maybe a little of both -- we did not sit in the suffering. We asked, "What can we do to help?" And we checked.

We don't wait for Christmas. We take opportunities as they come. Natural disasters? Special circumstance? Who needs what? How can we help? Let's check.

Often we concentrate on local needs, but other times we look further. Across the nations. Further. Across the globe. We've given a pig. Adopted a tiger. Donated toys. Sent money to animal shelters. Passed along clothes. Where the heart leads, I suppose, which, I guess, is the way generosity is intended to be.

Tonight, NPR told a story about malaria and developing nations building drug resistance. On the way home from her piano recital, my daughter and I listened.

"We have a lot of mosquitos, Mom, why don't we get malaria?" my daughter asked.

"That's a good question." I said. We have city budgets to manage mosquito populations, we have prevention measures, closed windows, medicine. We talked about it.

"Isn't there anything they can do in Myanmar and Africa?" she asked, listing the place of the news story and the place I mentioned.

"Yeah," I said, "Mosquito nets are supposed to help."

"Well that's easy," she said, with the confidence of childhood.

So probably, this year, our gift will be along the lines of mosquito nets.


It so happens, my friends from Razoo contacted my recently to ask me how I teach generosity to my kids. Until tonight, I struggled with it. I spent a little time feeling guilty. Okay I spent a lot of time feel guilty and lame.

A neighbor helps her kids foster dogs -- that's really admirable and an every day good deed. Another neighbor bakes food regularly for those in need, and brings her kids into the preparation. A friend runs a toy donation drive, the idea of her oldest. Another friend adopts seniors and her daughter runs a seasonal singing event. Yet another friend and her family dish out meals in a shelter. I felt a little...lame. What do we do?

But then I realized, we may not be organized and have a habit -- such as a a ritual serving of meals in a shelter or a big donation event -- and that's okay. It's not how we roll. It doesn't mean we don't care or do it wrong. It just means we have our own way, and it may not be that obvious or attached to a particular time of year. It may be slightly disorganized or spur of the moment.

It does, though, involved a lot of heart and mind. We open both and learn about different types of needs and different ways we can be Good Citizens in our world.

So as I tried to gain inspiration, I browsed Razoo's website. I noticed a chance to vote for funds for Humane Society, so I clicked that. Why not!

Then I read this great article by John Haydon about how giving is one of the best feelings -- and he even accepted that sometimes, giving isn't that easy. Yet we still try to find a way to be generous.

That's really the deal, right? Find your own way. It may not look like others' ways or be the way most admired or celebrated in DC or Hollywood or something  

But long ago I learned to accept that I had no showy talents, like singing or dancing. It's not as if people clamor to see a book intently. That's okay. We all have our gifts for a reason.

We share those gifts in our own way. I suppose what I try to teach my kids about generosity is that it comes in many shapes and sizes, and you can let the spirit move your own way and ability.

While I was on the Razoo site anyway, I checked through donate to look for anything related to helping with malaria. I found quite a few fundraisers to end malaria, so we'll check those out together and choose one.

In other happy news...

Tell me your generosity teaching or learning moment and guess what? I'll give one of you a $50 Razoo Gift of Giving card for the charity of your choice (generously donated by Razoo).

Folks who know me might just need to check their stockings. I do love a good gift that does good. 


Candace said…
I recently posted a list of 25 ways to give with young children. Pretty much any volunteering or giving I do at this point involves my children...because almost everything I do involves my children *LOL*.

Every year we...sing/play piano at a home for the elderly, donate toys / stuff stockings, help feed people who are homeless on Thanksgiving, make Valentines for Veterans. Recently we have also, had a beach clean-up with our Daisy troop, organized a food drive and adopted a family affected by the Hurricane with our Daisy troop.

Later in the year, the girls will make no-sew blankets and dog biscuits for shelter pets.

We also read books about giving and talk about generosity of spirit, like saying something positive, thinking before you speak (is it true, necessary, and kind?), having gratitude, etc.
ClumberKim said…
My kids know that I volunteer a lot. I'm on a couple of boards, I help at their school and their soccer league, my alma mater, etc. I'm also VP of a foundation that is near and dear to all of us in our family, the Clumber Spaniel Health Foundation. I talk with my kids about our dogs, how the breed has some health issues that we need to research, and how that research also helps us learn more about how to fight diseases in humans, like cancer. We donate money but I also took the kids with me when our new dog had some blood drawn that went to the breed's DNA bank. The vet and I explained what happens to the blood and how it helps. They are little kids, just 5 and 7, but I hope their love of our dogs grows as they do and they continue our contributions of time, money, and even blood!
Nicole B. said…
Two years ago, we started a holiday tradition to have my son help decide where our charitable end of year dollars would go. It's gotten more sophisticated year by year, but basically he's given "money" and can choose between ~5 causes and can split the money as he sees fit. Then my husband and I decide where to actually donate the funds in his name. I think over time we will do more research together so he can learn more about the organizations. We're also a part of Big Hearted Families, which is a pilot program to try to incorporate service into our family lives once a week. My son remains a reluctant volunteer at times, but I'm hoping soon he will just realize that helping others is just a part of our daily lives.
Anonymous said…
You should never feel guilty because you don't have a "habit". The important thing is that your children learn generosity by doing it alongside you. My children started attending mission trips alongside us at age 5. we have run VBS's, built and remodeled buildings, done hurricane Rita cleanup, and many more things on these trips. But all year long, much like you, when a need arose, we did what was needed. I now have a college and a high school student who are always ready to do the smallest thing needed- from staffing a toy closet to stacking chairs after an event, simply because they love to help. My oldest is a nursing major interested in medical missions, and the younger one is considering a call to ministry. It all goes back to Show not Tell.
Magpie said…
Tonight's the night we'll sit down, as a family, with the stack of solicitations and decide who gets what. One of the envelopes in the pile is for Nothing But Nets - which, as you might guess, provides nets for mosquito control. It's an arm of the UN Foundation.
Julie Pippert said…
Candace, that is awesome, especially the open discussion about the spirit of giving.

Kim, what a neat overall bonding and caring thing. There are so many lessons and experiences in that.

Nicole and Maggie, that's a fantastic process with the kids. I guess we do it similarly, although more likely with the Internet than envelopes. And what great charities. Thanks for the heads-up on the nets one, Maggie.

Teri, such an excellent point: show not tell. I also appreciate how a childhood of lessons has proved to grow older kids willing to step up.
Cynthia Samuels said…
I wrote this for Giving Tuesday. - I also think it's a great way to think about this. Great idea to write this Julie!
Ellen said…
This year my 4 year old helped me make cookies for our neighbors. We packaged them up, invited some friends over (with good singing voices) and went caroling up and down our street. We gave a bag of cookies to everyone who opened their doors. The sheer looks of surprise and smiles was totally worth stepping out our door and knock on theirs'.

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