If you’re like me you checked your budget for the holidays and made a noise somewhere between a whimper and a groan. The money just doesn’t stretch as far as we’d like. It’s an inevitability that parents want to give their kids what they didn’t have, so trying to decide what to cut when faced with those excited little faces can be an impossible task.
This year, as I cinch my belt a little tighter and look for another corner to cut, I decided to give my daughter a gift she can’t open but will cherish and hopefully nurture through the years. The gift of generosity.
Although I’ve always instilled the need to help those less fortunate, this is the first year that my nine-year-old seems truly aware of how money works and how much it affects her directly. Instead of making this the Christmas she remembers as the year mom said “we can’t afford that” 359 times, I want her to enter 2012 with the knowledge that we are always better off than someone else, and why not share that?
We started discussing it a few weeks ago and have already begun our giving efforts with success… maybe a little too much success.
After making a trip to the huge store that will remain nameless, but is commonly known as the one where souls disappear along with large amount of cash, I assigned my daughter with two giving tasks. There was a Toys-for-Tots bin at the front so I allotted her $10 to spend on toys for other kids. Would she be able to choose something without being sucked in by all of the coveted items on her own wish list?
A few years ago, this probably would have been impossible, but she admirably moved on after a few oohs and ahhs, choosing several toys that all fell under the $10 limit. I was sure to let her separate them out and deposit them in the bin herself, feeling the warmth of giving without seeing the end result.
Her school is sponsoring a food drive for needy families, so I also gave her a canned food budget, allowing her to choose several for the cause. Her overflowing generosity backfired a little when I found her backpack stuffed full of all our canned goods from the pantry.
While money is tight, these were small expenses that I could take from somewhere else without too much pain, but to young children it was the joy of helping that was priceless. I also think it’s important to help a child choose a charity by keeping their vested interests in mind.
While it’s true we’ve all struggled these past couple of years, you may be surprised and pleased to discover that people still give, in spite of tough times. According to a report compiled by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel, generous Americans still gave over $307 billion to their favorite causes in 2009. Figures for the number of youth in that amount weren’t available, but you can bet that many adults who give learned it as a child.
A few easy — and inexpensive — ways to share the gift of giving with your child are:
• Sign you and your family up to help serve at a local soup kitchen
• Make extra cookies and holiday treats to leave anonymously for your neighbors
• Bring goodies or homemade soups and breads to the local nursing home
• Save change all year in a jar, then give the entire amount to someone less fortunate
Raising a generous child — even if she does try to give away all of your own food — is worth the effort, the time, and the money. It’s a gift they will pass on to their children in the future, and even lead their peers by example now. The best part about the gift of generosity is there’s nothing to wrap, tape or hide… just give it with all your heart.