From Receiver to Giver

Friday, December 15, 2006

Posted by bloglily

There are few things more difficult and more important in a child's development than their growth into members of a community, people with obligations toward others, with gifts to give and contributions to make.

One of the best times to lead your child gently in this direction is the Christmas holiday season. Even in cultures that do not celebrate this Christian holiday, the urge and pressure to buy gifts for others is strong. As is our own desire for material things. And we all know that something has gone wrong in the giving and receiving equation -- that we often give beyond our means, that our children seem to become little engines of consumption around this time, wanting things we aren't so sure they should have. How odd and sad that this most wonderful of ways for human beings to express love should so often become twisted into a painful struggle between parents and children over what is appropriate, and how much is too much.

In our family, we have had many Christmases of almost sickening excess. As our children have gotten older, I've come to some small understandings about how to right our course, one that's no longer headed toward the Mall, but toward the stable in Bethlehem. I offer them to you as examples of what one family does to make the holidays more about giving than receiving:

  • Model generosity. Your children learn best from what you do, not what you say. But you cannot do this until you have examined your own feelings about giving and receiving and gotten your house in order so you can be the most outward reaching person you know. That might mean toning down your own desires for things, slowing down so you can find time to give, thinking hard about your own history of finding comfort in material things.
  • Show your children how many places there are to give and then give with all your heart and means. Give toys to the toy drive, food to the hungry, warm coats for the warm coat drive. Bake for the neighbors, put up Christmas tree lights for the woman who can't get out of her house. Ask your children for their help. Start them off with easy things like: reminding you to bring that bag of toys to work, or drizzling glaze on the spice cookies. In general, make sure there is some role, no matter how small, in everything you give, for your children.
  • The children should be in charge of choosing, wrapping and paying for presents for significant people. We started this small: my children buy gifts for their siblings and for each parent. Some years they use their own money, other years they have a budget. It doesn't seem to matter how the gifts are financed because this exercise is really more about teaching children the pleasure of giving. And there is nothing more fun than giving a gift to someone you see every day and keeping it an absolute secret. There is something about the anticipated joy of the recipient that children really respond to.
  • Show your children how small things can be wonderful. When you describe what you want for Christmas, tell them about little pleasures. Lavender soap, new fun paper clips, a set of measuring spoons to replace the bent up ones you're using now. Let them feel your excitement about small new things. Don't insist that this is how it should be for them. Over the years, it will surely sink in.
  • OOOO and AHHHH. We have a tradition in our family that every present has to be opened one at a time. The recipient looks the giver in the eye and says something about it. We've got this thing we do where everyone says "OOOOOOO" and "AHHHHH" when the present is revealed. It's silly and fun. It slows things down. The children like it.
  • Be involved in holiday activities that are about something other than yourself. We sing in the family choir at church. There is no better time to let your children feel the sacredness of the holiday than on a quiet Thursday night in a hushed church suddenly filled with the sound of voices singing about miraculous things. If you are not religious, you can still plan a caroling evening with your neighbors. Or you can have a tradition where you read a story every evening to your children, a story with a holiday theme. There are lots of books that are not so much about organized religion as they are about the goodness of people. Choose them and read them. Ask a librarian for help if you're not sure.
The main point I want to make today, then, is that you cannot tell your children to be generous. You simply have to be that way yourself, asking only that they help you in your chosen way of celebrating the holidays. As they grow older, your children will show signs of this kind of generosity as they -- like you -- discover the generous person inside themselves, the person who truly understands that it is far better to give than to receive.

This Post was written by BlogLily from the TiffinTin.

5 comments:

"You simply have to be that way yourself, asking only that they help you in your chosen way of celebrating the holidays"

This is so well said by you bloglily!!!!! I enjoyed reading this post. Your kids are a lucky bunch to have a mama like you :)

rooma said...
December 18, 2006 at 10:35:00 AM GMT+1  

Just perfect. A wonderful sentiment and a great way to bring the tiffin kids. I especially like the idea about each one being responsible for getting a gift. As a matter of fact Soeren came home and hid something under his bed from me saying it was a present he made for me and I would get it at Christmas. So, this could be a start of a new tradition. Thanks for this one!

Meeta said...
December 18, 2006 at 7:08:00 PM GMT+1  

I love seeing my children evolve from being very much about themselves, which is entirely normal, to being people who're aware of those around them and the needs of others. Children are naturally generous -- it doesn't take much to harness that generosity.

bloglily said...
December 18, 2006 at 11:26:00 PM GMT+1  

Lovely post! Truly enjoyed the sentiment you expressed about happiness being in giving more than receiving. My son is very young right now....but its never too early to start on this pleasure and tradition of giving to other people and taking pleasure in thier happiness. Lovely.

Anonymous said...
December 21, 2006 at 5:06:00 AM GMT+1  

Tharini -- Thank you! Your little boy si adorable, by the way. Hope it's a happy holiday. xo, BL

bloglily said...
December 23, 2006 at 12:36:00 AM GMT+1  

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