This piece was originally published on the Hands Free Mama blog penned by Rachel Macy Stafford. A former special education teacher, Stafford now is writer and mother of two girls (but not in that order). Her blog was inspired by her decision to go “hands free”–to unplug herself from the distractions to tune in to what really matters, her children and family. Through Hands Free Mama , Stafford shares the lessons learned along her path of intentional parenting.
To introduce final part of my series on raising socially responsible citizens (Part 3: In the Home), I am sharing this appropriate post that speaks to the role parents play in raising children to be caring and socially aware. In this particular entry, Stafford reflects on the experiences that nurtured her youngest daughter’s generosity.
By Rachel Macy Stafford
My blog post, “Giving a Gift That Matters,” was recently published on DailyGood.org. The editor of Courageous Creativity saw the article and was intrigued. She contacted me in hopes that my nine-year-old daughter would be interested in writing a piece about her uninhibited gift-giving practices.
As I read the editor’s message, the nine-year-old in me became giddy. Although I wanted to respond with a whole-hearted yes, I knew that would not be appropriate. Just because this would have been my dream as a child, it may not be my daughter’s. I hoped she would accept this unique opportunity, but I decided I would not pressure her; it would be entirely her decision.
That evening, as my daughter was preparing for bed, I told her about the email I received from the editor ofCourageous Creativity. As casually as I could, I asked, “Would you be interested in writing an article about why giving gifts makes you happy?”
Suddenly the head that was lost in a sea of flannel popped out of the hole in her pajamas top. “Published … like in a real magazine?” my daughter asked excitedly.
The word “yes” barely escaped from my mouth when my child jumped straight into the air and screamed, “Yes, I would! I would!” Without missing a beat, she eagerly asked, “Can I get started right away?”
Although it was close to bedtime, I was thrilled by her enthusiasm. I offered her twenty minutes to write. My excited little author ran to get a pencil and paper then positioned herself next to me on the floor. Although it is my inherent nature to instruct, guide, and make suggestions, I said nothing. This was her story, not mine. Therefore, I knew the words must be hers, not mine.
So there the two of us sat in the peace and quiet of my child’s lemon yellow bedroom, each of us writing the stories on our hearts. My daughter wrote “Giving from the Heart,” and I worked on a blog post.
The twenty minutes flew by quickly, and soon it was time to call it a night. Reluctantly, my daughter agreed to work on her story a little more the next day.
After one more twenty-minute writing session the next evening, my daughter announced that her piece was ready to be viewed. I was given the honors.
Within the first paragraph, the teacher in me spotted a clearly stated main idea and thoughtful organization. I made a mental note to thank her teacher for the exceptional job she did teaching my child how to write an effective narrative.
I continued to read on, thinking there would be no surprises. After all, I was there that day my big-hearted child wrapped toiletries and used books in hopes of bringing cheer to homeless people in our city.
But as I continued reading, I realized I didn’t know everything.
And what I learned changed everything.
My daughter described driving into the heart of the city. Her story picked up where we saw hundreds of homeless people gathered for food. I remember exactly how I felt in that moment. I was scared. I wanted to protect my children, cover their eyes and spare them from seeing such despair, desperation, and hopelessness. I remember thinking: This was a bad idea.
But as much as I wanted to beg my husband to turn the car around, I didn’t. And now with my child’s profound words staring back at me, I was given confirmation that proceeding into that heartbreaking scene was the right choice for my child. In that moment, fear was the farthest thing from her mind.
“We were in the downtown area of our city when we drove past something I will never forget. Many homeless people were crowded around this broken-down truck. A man on the truck was holding up an orange saying ‘Merry Christmas’ and throwing out the orange for someone to catch. When I saw people pushing each other to get to the oranges, that made my heart drop. They were fighting for a piece of fruit. That is how little they had.
Beside the truck, I saw an old man, maybe in his 60s. He was eating a sandwich with an orange and I thought to myself, “I want to help this man.” I quickly hopped out of the car, gave him a gift and said, ‘Merry Christmas, Sir.’ Earlier, he seemed so gloomy, but as we drove off, I saw a smile. I felt so good!”
Suddenly it all made sense. After that momentous day downtown, my child’s giving practices intensified. In fact, suddenly there was nothing my child owned that couldn’t be given away. I would find packed boxes of her most prized possessions in the closet. She would explain the boxes by saying, “Next time we go to the Autism Center …” or “Next time there’s a tornado ….” I also noticed that after the oranges experience, my daughter made a point to carry dollar bills in her purse if we were going into the city. As we walked the busy streets, her eyes searched for a cup or hat in which she could place her hard-earned dollars and make someone smile.
I remember when she called me to the computer one day to show me a video of a child and his mother who had to walk for hours to get water—water that was contaminated and dirty. As tears dripped down my face, my daughter consoled me. “Don’t cry; there is a way we can help.” She proceeded to tell me all about “Water of Life” as if she was their smallest (and most convincing) spokesperson.
Now that I think about it, my child has always gravitated toward the world’s suffering—always been one to want to know the world in its truest state. Starting when she was very small, the recurring question at our nightlyTalk Time was always: “Mama, tell me something bad that happened in the news today.”
I looked into those somber brown eyes knowing full well if I didn’t tell her, this resourceful child would find ways to know what was out there. So with reluctance, I explained in words she could understand about the atrocities that many faced, the dangers that lurked, and those who had lost so much. And then I stood by and watched her digest every troubling morsel I offered. Time after time, I worried that it was too much, too overwhelming, too disturbing. After all, the problems of the world are vast and insurmountable. At least that is what I used to think.
But thanks to the heart of a child, now I know differently.
That day when we drove into the city my daughter saw with her own two eyes the world her mother spoke of—the one that could be cruel, hungry, desperate, and cold.
But she was not scared.
Oh no, she had been waiting for this moment, dreaming of this moment, when she could do something to help.
You see, her eight-year-old eyes did not look at that scene and see daunting global issues like poverty, violence, hardship, and hopelessness. She saw one man whose entire day could be brightened by a mere piece of fruit. A mere piece of fruit.
And when you see something as painful and as beautiful as that, everything changes.
My child walked right up and stared directly into the eyes of suffering. She watched in awe as tears of joy collected in a man’s eyes simply because of her unexpected presence on a dingy city street on a cold day in December. And from that moment forward, this child became a full-fledged giver.
Because when you have the most important things in life – like love, faith, and family – there is nothing you own that you can’t give away.
Sometimes it is hard to allow our children to see pain and suffering or learn about the dark sides of life. Yet, by being the instrument in which they can turn to for difficult truths and information, we become a trusted resource. I have decided I want to be the one my children turn toward for things unknown, therefore the difficult truths must come from my lips in language they can understand. And perhaps by offering up these troubling issues, their hearts will lead them to help or perhaps they will realize they are not alone in their own struggles. Many hopeful options open up when you face life side-by-side with the people you love. If you have something to share about this topic, your comments are welcomed and cherished.
Read the original post on the Hands Free Mama blog here.