Growing a Giver

I know some families who, when giving their kids allowance, or birthday money, or money earned from jobs, or all three, make them divide it up: the kids have to put some aside for savings, some for charity, and the rest they can choose to use how they like.  While I do understand the reasons/values behind this (one of which is the hope that they’ll get in the habit of doing that all their life), I haven’t been of the mindset to want to force giving—I’ve wanted to encourage giving and saving, and hope my kids will do both, but give them freedom and see how the chips fall.  At my house, it didn’t take long to see the chips falling on two very opposite sides.  One child has been saving money and showing concern for the world’s less fortunate almost since she could talk, and has been giving her saved allowance to all sorts of charitable causes (last Christmas we began sponsoring a child from Africa for her from ChildFund International and she’s covered a couple of the $25 monthly payments completely on her own); my other child spends money almost as fast as she receives it, usually spending hours planning how she’s going to spend it before she receives it.  When Christmas comes around, Emmie buys gifts for many people with her own money, but for Allison, well, let’s just say that there’s not a whole lot under the tree from her. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong—she still has a giving heart.  She has a special concern for disabled people, especially those with brain injuries and Downs Syndrome.  Last year, she spent an hour every day helping a special needs student in art class at her junior high—sometimes she’d get yelled at by the student, but she’d take it all in stride (imagine that!!).  She’s spent many hours helping out at Special Olympics events, and last summer, she spent about 40 hours helping out at a day camp for special needs children and adults.  Again, she got yelled at and had to deal with some difficult kids, but she just laughed when she recounted the week’s events—“They are so funny and fun to be with,” she’d say.  She wants to work there as much as possible next summer.

But when it comes to giving gifts at Christmas, it’s not high on her list of priorities.  And it’s hard for me to relate… I remember around age 12 or 13, I was so excited and proud to be old enough to buy gifts for my family on my own, with money I’d earned babysitting.  No more gifts with tags on them that say they’re from me, when they really weren’t! I was old enough to finally be a discerning consumer.  I remember going into Woolworth’s with a friend and buying a “spoon rest” for my mom, and a heated “hunting cushion” for my dad, to sit on when he went hunting…and wrapping them myself…

I asked Allison why she never buys gifts for anyone and she said it’s because she has to pay for so much stuff on her own, like makeup and jewelry and movie tickets, that she never has anything left.  (Sorry, but a teensy weensy makeup sponge for TEN DOLLARS is not my idea of a good buy…) No, violins are not playing a sympathy symphony for her.   So this year, I decided to change my stance on “no forced giving” and try “suggested giving”.  Last week, I gave her a small empty Christmas cookie tin, and told her she should start putting aside some money in it now so that on some upcoming given date, I’m going to drop her and a friend at Target so she can buy presents for everyone in the family.  I saw a glimmer of hope—she didn’t throw the cookie tin back at me!!! But I just checked this morning, and it’s still empty…
Maybe I should stand next to it and start ringing a bell…

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