Teaching Kids Compassion, Giving in the Season of Getting
For the past five years, I have been seeking to simplify Christmas and to teach my sons the real meaning behind it. Sure, we had always talked about how it was Jesus’s birthday, and how He is the true son of God, but we weren’t living it. Rather, like so many families in our culture, including Christian families, we were spending more than we had for toys the boys didn’t need in order to make them happy and show our love. In America, it’s all about stuff and who has more. I’m ashamed that we bought into this, and I should not have been shocked when I was seeing a “ME” mentality instead of a “WE” mentality exhibited by our sons.
Having sworn while my eldest was in my womb that we did not want our children to grow up entitled without compassion, love, and care for others, we vowed to teach them all of these things from the very beginning. We thought we were rock stars for pushing behaviors such as manners, sharing your things with others, and helping with small things when someone near was in need. However, what a mixed message we were sending when we would turn around and give, give, give… to them… especially at Christmas.
Yes, we donated things we didn’t want throughout the year. Yes, we tithed and talked about it. Yes, we volunteered and served where we could. But, when it came time to do for others in a celebration of Christ’s birth and God’s unrelenting love for us, we gave to our kids and not others. We were going about it all wrong, and it was making us unsettled. Yet, HOW could we fix what we had created?
Something you WANT,
Something you NEED,
Something to WEAR.
Something to DO,
Something to READ,
Something to SHARE.
The first year I thought, “This is perfect! I’m giving my kids less; they will see that less can be more because the gifts all had meaning and focus, and what a beautiful way to take the focus off of stuff and put it back onto Jesus!”
I bought for each category happily and the gifts had such purpose versus me buying things just because I thought they would love it, or they would want this too, or because the item was “cool”. However, I still felt unsettled after that year.
What was wrong?
Who gives their kids only 6 gifts? Wasn’t less better???
My husband and I grew up with a tree so filled with gifts underneath that you could not see the floor for 3-4 feet in diameter out from the base of the tree, nor could you see the bottom branches because there were SO MANY PRESENTS. Photos of friends’ trees and gifts for their kids yielded the same results. Too much was the norm, and we thought we were bucking the system. We should have felt fantastic! In fact, when friends would ask what we were getting our boys for Christmas, and I would recite the poem, they often looked at me strangely and said, “That’s all you get them?”
Yes. That is all…. but it’s STILL TOO MUCH! Something just wasn’t right, and I could not shake the feeling.
So, I turned to prayer, and God laid on my heart, “Good job! However, this method still produces gifts for them and not for MY people. You all have more to learn. SHARING MEANS TO GIVE AWAY… to give what you love and let it go for another.”
YES! That was it! Although our hearts seemed to be doing well and we were giving less than most people around us, we were not truly sharing as the bible declares.
That’s when my husband decided that their “share” gifts would need to change. Instead of buying a game for our family to play (share) together to fill that category, we were going to take that money and have the boys give to others. We already did many things as a family while others struggled to keep families intact or did not even have their own families. We really didn’t need more for us to share together.
In our adult heads, we were expecting backlash and frustration from the boys since we were taking a gift away. However, they were excited from the start and thought it was a wonderful idea! Hmmm…. maybe some of what we were teaching about giving back was rubbing off???
We began the new process four years ago, and the boys have been choosing items from the World Vision or Compassion holiday gift catalogs to provide for others around the world. Instead of buying a “share” gift for them, they choose gifts for others using the money that we would have spent for that category. They have chosen helpful items such as school supplies for kids in Africa, soccer balls for disadvantaged kids, stuffed lambs for children in crisis, mosquito nets, and medical supplies. My heart beams with pride as I see them thoughtfully consider what these children, worlds away from them, need in order to be healthy and happy.
This year, the boys are choosing fruit trees and chickens to help feed families. When asked why they chose those things, they both expressed their want of gifts that are sustainable to help these families have food for their future. The youngest chose chickens so the families can have eggs and in turn, meat, if needed. From the eggs, they can raise more chickens. The eldest chose fruit trees because he knows the seeds from the fruit can be planted to provide more trees and more food. We didn’t tell them this; they figured it out on their own, and they are giving from their hearts as God demands that we do.
Do they still get some things that they would like for Christmas? Of course! They only receive 5 gifts, but every year, they are grateful and thoughtful when making their lists for their own selves. I’ve heard the eldest say to his brother: “We really don’t need that because we already have so much” as he is helping his younger brother pen his list. As a Christ-loving mom, this is all I could ever ask for. Giving away to others blesses us more in the long run, and my boys are learning and living this. I am so thankful to God for placing that unsettled feeling in my heart many years ago. Our Christmases have blossomed into a beautiful celebration of life, love, family, and true joy… all of the things Jesus came to earth to provide. He truly is the reason for the season.