This past summer our twelve year old discovered the freedom of biking around the neighborhood with his friends. He’d go to the pool, play basketball at the park, go to a friend’s house and oftentimes, end up at Culver’s. One night my husband asked him how much he spent there. To which he replied, “Well, I brought $10 with me, but Johnny only brought $5 with him so I gave him my change so he could get a cone with his lunch.” This typical response frustrated my husband as he is the ultimate Budget Man for our family. It killed him just a little that our son BROUGHT ten whole dollars to Culver’s, let alone came home with none left over. But, was it really that big of a deal?
Financial responsibility has always been at the top of our list of things we want our kids to learn. From the time they know how to count, we are teaching them to set aside part of their allowance, birthday and Christmas money into savings. When they get a job they get a checking and savings account and my husband helps them set up a Roth IRA. By the time they graduate high school they are investing and budgeting. It is very important to us that we teach our kids how to take care of themselves. But while doing this, how do we teach them another important lesson: generosity?
I don’t mind so much if my kid is giving his friend a few extra dollars. I made sure to have a conversation with him about WHY. Was he doing it because he wanted his friends to like him? Was he doing it so that his friends would be impressed? He wasn’t. Well, then, if he wanted to give with joy I was actually quite proud of him.
I myself can think of times in which I have been the recipient of someone else’s generosity. I remember in middle school going to an after school ski trip for the first time and not knowing that I was supposed to bring money or pack food for dinner. Someone gave me some extra cash they had so I could eat that evening. I wouldn’t have died of hunger if I hadn’t gotten that money, but I still remember how I felt because someone else saw me. They didn’t judge me because I didn’t plan ahead, and they certainly didn’t give me the money with strings attached. They just handed it over without a word.
Maybe my son’s friend doesn’t have a lot of money but he wanted to be included and go to Culver’s. It is also possible that his friend didn’t plan ahead. Either way, if my son’s initial reaction is to just hand over his extra change, should that be a problem?
And yet, even while I’m encouraging my kids to be generous, there is one area within it that I struggle. In many ways it is easier for me to give a few bucks to a homeless person on State Street or treat my friend to lunch than do an extra load of laundry for my family. I want to attach conditions to my giving for my husband and children, and maybe it is because as a mom, I do it more often. Maybe with them I want to be thanked and acknowledged for the stuff I do that they never seem to notice. Giving to my family makes me feel, at times, resentful and stingy with my time and I definitely want to avoid that. If my giving comes with strings attached then it doesn’t feel good to me or to them.
And, should giving sometimes be a tiny bit sacrificial? Should we only give generously if it’s easy? Or do we need, at times, to dig a little deeper and give a bit more, thus revealing a little bit of satisfaction for that giving? Especially for those we love the most?
I guess for me, it is a mindset that I should carry with me every day, no matter who I choose to make room for. Whether I give time or money to a charity, give $5 to my kid so he can get popcorn at the movies or I wash the soccer uniform for a kid old enough to wash himself, I should do it with the right mindset (or not at all). No matter the situation, I can learn from my kid and give with no strings, no judgement and no conditions.
One thing that I ask of you: Never be afraid of giving. There is a deep joy in giving, since what we receive is much more than what we give.