How I Taught My Sons the Importance of Giving

Each year we donate food to the local food bank for their birthdays.

Aren’t many of us entitled, to some extent, in comparison to previous generations? Most of us have indoor plumbing, a cell phone, and few of us have faced the life-risking choice of homesteading in North Dakota or Montana for generations.

Still, it’s a battle worth fighting among our peers and our children, especially as our communities are more polarized than ever, with fewer people taking the time to really understand the struggles of others.

Lettuce and Vodka by X

When we were planning his 4th birthday party, I was imagining all the little plastic toys, toys with batteries, toys that play awful music with no on/off switch, that would come along with our son’s guests. We don’t have a big house, and with a nearly two year old little brother, there were additional risks to those tiny plastic pieces. Purely out of self preservation, I asked our older son:

Did you know there are families in our little town that don’t have enough food to eat? They have to go to a place where they get food for free, and they depend on people like us to donate food for them to eat.
You know you’ll get birthday presents from me and your dad, your many aunts and uncles, and your grandparents, right? What do you think about having your birthday party guests bring food for those hungry families, instead of bringing presents for you?

He answered:

Ok, mom.

That’s it. No convincing necessary. And he willingly went with me to deliver the food, taking the compliments and adoration of the staff of the local food bank like a professional. He did it again for his next birthday, and was excited to reach his goal of 50 pounds collected on his 5th birthday.

Naturally, I decided I was the best. mom. ever. Until I asked our younger son the same question when he turned four, and his answer was:

But mom, I LIKE presents!

I had to convince him, yes, but he went along with the plan. The only difference was that he also wanted to collect food and accessories for the animals at the Humane Society. I’d call that a valuable compromise.

For every birthday after, both boys chose to collect food for people and animals in lieu of gifts.

I can’t explain why this tradition seems to have had such a big impact on our boys and our family. But I can tell you that when it’s time for birthday or holiday presents, our boys have zero expectations. They are always grateful, and often surprised, when we manage to get them something they love, no matter the cost or the size of the gift. And when we get to do something extravagant (by our standards) they are over-the-top grateful.

What works for your family? What traditions of giving do you have in your household? Are they different from what your parents did?

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