Every moment is a teachable moment in a child’s life. What your children don’t realize is that as a parent, you’re constantly figuring out what to do. The life of a parent is one of judgement, evaluation, and action. We have to judge the proper course, model the expected behavior, and act decisively and within the vision of our children. We learn each day how to be better for tomorrow, but more importantly, all of this introspection helps us to define who we truly want to be and to start moving in that direction.
One of the characteristics that I want my children to exhibit to a fault is a spirit of generosity. The people who I believe live the greatest lives are all outrageously generous. I also have a great deal of compassion for those families who are being persecuted abroad and those here at home who are unable to meet their material needs. Life has ups and downs and regardless of what circumstances lead to poverty, no one should have to go to bed hungry, cold, without shelter, or without the basic necessities.
The question is, how do you show a child who doesn’t understand the concept of poverty or hunger, how to have compassion? As kids, my father would always ask one of us kids to put the envelope in the collection basket, after which he’d thank us. If memory serves, we all wanted to be picked to do it. I felt special. What I didn’t realize at the time was that he was modeling generosity. Every week, without fail, he’d have the envelope. I never saw most of my parent’s giving, but I saw this giving. Based on that experience, I’ve come up with a strategy that I intend on continuing throughout the balance of my life. I get a number of $5 bills each month and carry them in my wallet. After Mass each week, I pull one out and hand it to Benedict. Then, as we leave the Church, I ask him to put it into the ubiquitous Poor Box that’s in the back of Church.
Is $20 a month going to make a difference in someone’s life? Maybe. Do I know exactly where’s it’s going? Certainly I know far less about its destination than my other giving, but that’s not the point. The point is I’m showing Benedict that part of the Christian life is to freely give to those who need it. Sometimes I’ll include an explanation with it, something like, “This is for some other kids so that they don’t have to be hungry because no one should be hungry.” A simple act, a simple explanation, and a small seed planted each week that will hopefully one day blossom into an orchard of generosity.
There’s no wrong way to model generosity and there’s no wrong time to start. Most of your giving will be in secret, hidden from your community, peers, and children, as it should be. It’s important that you regularly pull back the curtain for your children so that they can have these lessons deeply ingrained in their personality. After all, they’ll never be happy unless they live with a spirit of outrageous generosity.