Teaching a child to be a cheerful giver is something that I’ve still not gotten the hang of, though I’ve had plenty of time to practice. I used to think that I could teach my kids to give to others, that out of practice and habit, it would become natural and decided. But I long ago changed my mind on that one and think now that giving is an innate trait, a born gift, a little part of the person that is either there, or it isn’t.
When the boys were really young we would buy Christmas gifts and label them, To Mommy … To Daddy… from Kid 1, Kid 2, Kid 3, as if they would somehow absorb the idea that giving gifts is not only a tradition, but a part of loving. The result? I think they never knew if their name was on the gift tag or not, unless it was in the receiving column.
Then when the boys were old enough to go shopping, but had no income of their own, we would give each kid an allowance and send them out with the goal of buying for one brother. We had started drawing names at that time since a small budget trying to tackle giant prices never really teaches them to give generously. The result? Sometimes they didn’t like the name they drew – because sometimes they didn’t particularly like that brother that day. But carry on as we might, shopping and gifting happening at the Target or the toy store or wherever, – just not sure that suggesting it, scheduling it, and organizing it made it a personal priority for them. Not even sure if it was much of a lesson.
Then we tried to leave the gifting up to them alone. And depending on the person, the age, the already stockpiled collection of toys or tech or whatever, maybe a gift happened or not.
We started early teaching the boys about giving offerings at church, and dividing their money into three categories – spending, saving, and giving. We set the example of giving to them, not just out of need, but out of surprise and want and just loving on our people with abundance. We volunteered at homeless shelters, the food bank, and whatever else we could find. We gave gifts to others at birthdays and holidays – but now I think we didn’t practice enough giving just because. Just because a friend had a bad day, or a friend’s pet died, or just because we like them and think they may enjoy this new whatever.
Did I as a parent set a good enough example of gifting my time and talents just because I can and because it’s the right thing to do? Maybe we got too busy to notice the every day slipping by and then tried to fit in the giving lessons too much and too quickly in December. Or 30 minutes before that birthday party…..
6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:6-7)
But right now I think that mold has been shaped. I watch Kid 1 giving generously to his girlfriend, but that has yet to transfer to other friends and family. And I watch Kid 2 share of what he has with friends, but not quite sure if that generosity extends as far as his summer earnings. And bless him, Kid 3 has always had a heart for the needy and would give away his last shirt if a friend needed it. But try to get him to part with any of his yard mowing money or his stash earned from sneaky school candy sales, and you might get your arm taken off by a booby-trapped bomb in his secret hiding place.
What I’m working on now is getting the boys to give more of their time in volunteer efforts than giving of material gifts. A sort of starting over point in the giving category. The older boys and I will set out in January to help with the city’s efforts in surveying and counting the area’s homeless youth. I’ve recently taken on a sweet pen pal in Uganda, and am regularly sharing my time with her with my boys, allowing them to write to her if they choose, to send her gifts, treats and necessities along with the packages I send. Maybe I don’t need to worry if the boys don’t give much mind into gifting their own brothers at Christmas, as long as they learn that gifting to anyone and in any form is a blessing, not a burden.
Maybe it’s something that will just take its natural place in them one day. Mostly I hope for them to see that giving can come from so many different places, but that it has to start with them.