I love Carol Weisman's book, Raising Charitable Children. And it always springs to mind during the December shopping frenzy. What follows is an excerpt of the Conclusion to the book, entitled "They're Always Watching." Thanks, Carol, for letting me share it here.
Whether we're conscious of it or not, we all have a philosophy of giving. Do you give money to panhandlers on the street? Always, never, sometimes? Gloria Steinem, the great feminist activist, has said that she always gives money to homeless women on the street. Her mother had schizophrenia, and she believes that, had circumstances been different, her mother could have very easily wound up on the street like them.
My older son, Teddy, always gives money to Hare Krishnas when he passes them on the street. When he was backpacking through Europe a few years ago, he was without funds for a couple days while waiting for a check to clear. The Hare Krishnas in Amsterdam fed him a meal while he was down and out - something he will never forget.
I have a client who belongs to Alcoholics Anonymous; he never gives to the homeless. He believes that doing so is just enabling the drunks to get drunker. He does, however, donate directly to homeless shelters.
Let's say you are the type of person who does not believe in giving money to people on the street. You probably have a very good reason why you choose not to. But when you're out with your child and he or she sees you walking past a homeless person without stopping to help, all your child sees is that you just ignored a person in need.
This is what I call a "teachable moment," and in order to make it into a learning opportunity, the first thing that you should do is stop. Take a few minutes and find a place to sit down. Get a cup of hot chocolate with your child if you can, and say to him or her, "I always/never/sometimes give to people on the street because..." Explain your philosophy. And remind your child that someday he or she will have the opportunity to develop his or her own philosophy of giving.
You may also want to talk to your child about workplace giving, to which a child is rarely privy. When we use payroll deduction at work to give to the United Way or the Combined Health Appeal or the Women's Fund-and even when we write out checks to these and other groups while paying the bills at home-our children have no idea that we are involved in supporting our community. But they will take notice when there is a charity telethon on TV and Mom and Dad aren't calling in to make pledges. Again, take time to explain when and how you give, and why you choose to give to certain charities over others.
As I've said throughout this book, giving money is terrific, but the gift of time is equally important. After my kids' former babysitter, Liz, retired, I used to have lunch with her once a year. One year, after Liz's husband went into a nursing home, the next-door neighbor began mowing her lawn for her. She tried time and again to pay him, but he absolutely refused. Liz's husband, Johnny, had always lent this neighbor tools and helped him out whenever he needed it.
One day Liz looked out the window and saw her neighbor's son mowing her lawn. She went outside and asked, "Where is your dad?" The son replied, "He had a heart attack. He's in the hospital, but I think he's going to be OK." Liz said, "Wait right here, I want to pay you." The 14-year-old replied, "I'm sorry, ma'am, but I can't take your money. That's not how we do things."
Liz was floored by this boy's honorable stance. She put on her hat, went to the store, and picked up the ingredients to make his family a [dinner]... This young man had taken over where his father had left off. This young man, who had seen his father voluntarily mow his elderly neighbor's lawn, knew that following in his father's footsteps was the right thing to do.
What more could a parent ask?
The above is quoted with permission from Raising Charitable Children by Carol Weisman (St. Louis, F.E. Robbins & Sons Press, © 2006), pp. 107-10. Hard cover copies of the book are available at http://www.carolweisman.com/newsite/onlinestore/store.shtml#RCC and e-books are available at https://www.energizeinc.com/store/raising_charitable_children .