Each year these few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with chances to serve our community. Preparing and serving Thanksgiving dinner for someone in need, packing food boxes, buying presents for children, singing carols to seniors, and on and on it goes. And I think the question that most parents work through in this season is: “What can I do with my kids?” We want to serve our community, we want to give back, we want to get involved in making our community a better place… and we want our children to experience this with us.
Recently I had a friend ask what local service opportunities exist in our community that were “kid-friendly.” They wanted to bring their kids along in their seasonal service endeavor but they weren’t sure which activities would be appropriate for children. While I certainly understand this impulse I want to suggest another question we should ask as we try to give our children memorable moments of giving back. Often when I hear parents talking about whether or not something is “kid-friendly” they are either talking about how easy it is to manage their children in that space, or how their kids may understand what is actually happening. Parents can worry about whether or not their children will get the same satisfaction as the parent. They worry about whether or not the kids will understand why they are doing the specific act of service.
I believe, the better question than “what can I do with my kids?” to ask is:
“What can I do, that I truly care about, to make a difference?”
The reason this is a better question to ask is because our kids often aren’t going to get their own personal “warm and fuzzy” feelings from serving their community. They are going to feel good about what they are doing if they do it with their parents. If we, as parents, are engaged, passionate and committed to the work we are doing, and bring our kids along, that will make the biggest impact on our children in the long run. Now, there may be exceptions, but as long as you aren’t really passionate about building houses or putting yourself in unsafe environments, then this rule probably applies.
(One tip to keep in mind if you aren’t sure about bringing your kids along? Call ahead and ask the organization, the church or the group you are working with how they would feel about you bringing your children.)
Remember, 10 years from now, when your kid looks back, what they will remember most is the cumulative set of experiences they had with you. They will remember how you acted, how you gave up your time, and how you went out that night in the terrible weather to go serve your community.
There is a quote I love from Howard Thurman that goes like this: “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
This time of year as we parent in the midst of the Holidays I would offer a different version of that quote: “Do not ask yourself what your child needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what your child needs is parents who have come alive.”