02 December 2008

Teach your kids gratitude and perspective by sponsoring children via relief organizations

I'll let Rachel's beautiful "hack" speak for itself:

I don’t know if this really counts as a “hack,” but the post about the child who hoards her toys made me think about something we do in our family, and I wanted to share it. It’s really simple, and sounds a little goody-goody, but it’s really gone a long way in helping our kids feel (and not just know) that “it’s not all about them” and how fortunate they are compared with most of the rest of the world.

Since pretty much everyone they play with has as much or more than they do, it takes a little effort, but here’s what we do: We have “adopted” kids each of our kids’ ages from relief organizations. So, our four year old boy has a four year old boy, and our 6 year old girl has another 6 year old girl. We’ve made them a big part of the “adoption” - praying for them, picking out and sending them gifts, writing them notes, learning about their countries and how they live, etc. We keep their pictures on the refrigerator so that they can have a constant reminder of their “friends.” [To find out more about how to sponsor a child, visit Savethechildren.org. -- Ed.]

Similarly, at Christmas we get children our kids’ ages from the “angel tree.” We go Christmas shopping for the kids who otherwise wouldn’t be having Christmas, and I have my kids pick out the toys for them. (I think there are several organizations like this out there.) We also have them pick out a toy to give to the Marines Toys for Tots at Christmas.

While we do these things, I gently remind them how fortunate they are that they can have so much, when so many don’t have anything. I’m careful not to lecture or preach about it, but just kind of lightly bring it up and ask them questions that make them put themselves in the place of these children.

Again, I know it sounds very simplistic, but it has transformed our children and how they view not only their things, but also their place in the world – getting them out of themselves. It takes a little work to keep it in the forefront, but it’s worth it.

It also has the side effect of making ME more grateful and practice what I preach. We don’t have all that much compared to other people around us, so it’s not like we have extra money just floating around. But, we certainly have much, much more that the families we help, and that helps put things in perspective. Am I really aware of how lucky I am compared with most of the rest of the world? Am I going to CHOOSE to be content with what I have and not buy into the lie that I NEED all the things people say I do? It really is challenging. And it teaches my children a lesson that will go with them the rest of their lives, hopefully.

I really hope this helps a family who hasn’t thought about doing something like this before! It will change your family if you make it an important part of your lives. I know that we can’t be the only ones who do things like this, though, and so I’d also love to hear what other families do out there. It would be great to have more ideas of how to help us keep things “in perspective!”

How are you keeping things in perspective this holiday season?

Your comments

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What a wonderful post. We participated in Operation Christmas Child this year, also picking a child the same age as our daughter.

We follow my mother-in-law's lead and get a child from the angel tree. My kids are too young to understand (2yo and 5mo) but I can't wait to teach them about this important part of the holiday season.

Great idea. I think the word Rachel is looking for (since "adopt" is in quotes) is sponsor.

To give a child a truly truly lasting gift, I encourage folks to consider http://www.cleftadvocate.org/ or http://www.operationsmile.org/.

What a wonderful idea! A local homeless shelter where we live has a sponsorship program for entire families and we participate in that program as a way to remind ourselves of how fortunate and blessed we are.

I do want to make one suggestion that was hinted at by an earlier commenter. Please avoid using the term "adopt" when you are talking about these programs. As an adoptive parent, the misuse of the word is confusing to my children but it is even more confusing to other biologically parented children. Adoption is beautiful, permanent way to form a family. When we call these programs "adoption" programs, we're really suggesting (to our kids) that adoption is a charity program that lasts a season or a short while and ends. You can see how this could be hurtful and confusing for a young adopted child, and equally as confusing for their friends who begin to see our kids as needing charity and only temporarily in our families. For adults, the distinction is easy and we understand the difference, but for young minds the difference is harder to see.

So please, keep sponsoring those families who need it!

For more information on this topic Adoptive Families magazine has written great articles about the issue. http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=739

Happy Holidays and Happy Parenting!

We gave to a charitable organization this year, investing in clean water and sanitation for impoverished communities abroad. I just felt a strong urge to this instead of gifts. I think in the future I would like to help out closer to home, but it seems like a great tradition to get our new family started on. Thanks for the great post!

Great hack! Really got me thinking about what we can start even though the kids are really young. Thanks Sarah & Kristen for letting us know nicely that some are sensitive to the overuse of the word 'adopt'...it wasn't anything I've ever thought about before.

This is a great idea and something my family does. We need to do better about writing to our sponsored child though. We use World Vision - http://www.worldvision.org/home.nsf/index.htm - and we were able to pick a child with the same birthday as our own. We've been able to watch (through photos) this child grow with ours over the years. It's "cheap" to us (Americans), and the money goes a lot further than it would here. Do your homework on the organization you choose!

Sarah: Thank you for shedding light on the importance of the terms we use. I'll keep Rachel's hack posted as originally written, but I've changed the title of the post.

I think that Americans are in such danger of that "entitlement" mentality. What a great reminder this post is...we are blessed...deeply blessed to have the wealth we do in this country. What an awesome way to help change our kids' (and our own) minds about this important issue. We, too, have begun to sponsor a little girl through Gospel for Asia, which focuses on the Dalits, who are the untouchables of India. My children have looked at her picture and, noticing that the clothes that were put on her for the portrait are much too big, have asked if we could buy her some clothes that fit. What a wonderful moment in the life of an American child. Thanks for this post!

If you want to help locally you can contact your local township trustees, or the like and see if they give assistance to families in your community. Ours does, and it would be a nice way to keep it local.

This year we are doing three things.
1. My son (3 ½) and I went shopping for food for "kids that are hungry" to put in the local food bank (Neighborhood House) box at his preschool. He helped pick out food he liked and that other kids might like. As he said "I don't like carrots, but some kids do. We should get some carrots." So we did. We took food to the school and put in the box his class had decorated.
2. Sponsoring a family through a work group. Son and grandma will shop with me and help package the goodies.
3. Presents for foster kids from tree at work. Son will help pick out books and cards for the kids.

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