“Mom? Can we give this toy to some other kid who needs it?”
I looked up proudly, thinking that my daughter had learned the lesson that I have been trying to instill in my kids since their birth; that they are lucky to be born into our family, in our town, in one of the freest countries in the world.
“That’s really sweet. Of course we can.”
“And can you buy me an Elsa doll instead?”
[Cue trombones sounding “Parenting Fail”]
I struggle virtually every day to figure out ways to keep my children grounded and teach them that their coins fell on the side of fortune when their spirits were assigned to us as babies. I tell them frequently about other people in the world whose coins flipped to the side of a much different destiny, but as much as I tell them, it is just a story; impossibly intangible for little brains that have seen nothing other than privilege. They see the pictures of other children on TV, and for a brief moment, they feel sad for these children, but the feeling of sadness passes quickly because to them, these kids are nothing more than digital images on a screen.
Part of it stems from the fact that we live in an affluent town where the reality of what is normal can easily be distorted. Their entire circle of friends is made up kids at daycare; children whose parents work and can afford super cool toys. This will eventually morph into friends whose parents can afford to buy stylish clothes, and eventually very nice cars. As a parent, how can you communicate to your child that they are lucky to even HAVE warm clothes or a car, let alone one that is labeled “nice,” when everywhere around them other kids are getting what they want? Even the things that are productive for their development and health; for example, dance lessons or music lessons, are a luxury and yet my children take it for granted.
This weekend, a group of working moms in my town got together to assemble Thanksgiving meal baskets for families in need – we told everyone that children were welcome to help assemble the baskets. I was surprised at the number of moms who brought their kids out to help, and then I realized something very important: I am not alone in my desire to bring my kids back down to ground-level. There is so much hatred, violence, and bad news floating around recently, and these moms really just wanted to give their children the opportunity to take a break from it all and just help.
And so my mission is this – rather than to just continually tell my children how lucky they are (which I will always take the opportunity to do), I will look for opportunities to show my kids how they can use their own time and talents to contribute to a larger good. I will challenge them to think of ways in which they can help; sometimes, even giving up something that they would like to have or do in order to give another person the chance to see what it’s like to be in their [my kids’] shoes. I hope that through these small efforts, their context of where they are in the world will become more tangible, and they will begin to understand that they can make a difference, if they are only willing to try.
I looked back at an old post that I wrote almost two years ago, entitled: “Keeping Our Kids Grounded.” In it, the story and the struggle was largely the same, with one small difference: at that time, my daughter threw a fit over giving away a toy she didn’t use; not fully understanding that other children can use what she does not. I guess that with the opening that I presented here in this post, whereby my daughter was willing to give away something that she once loved, I can say that we are making progress towards teaching my kids that they are more fortunate than most…one baby step at a time.