As parents, we want our children to learn to unselfishly live by the “Golden Rule,” and to grow into thoughtful, aware adults. Finding and making time to teach children about serving others can be overwhelmingly daunting, but making service a natural part of your family’s life will, over time, pay out the desired dividends.
Try to balance your family’s activities in order to make serving a priority. A wise man once said that “love is actually spelled t-i-m-e.” Service requires time. A family that is exhaustedly overscheduled will find it difficult to even think about helping out at the local food pantry - not because they don’t want to, but because they are simply too tired to figure out what theywill be having for dinner that night.
Sometimes service is like a veggie, you have to sneak it in. You don’t need to hang a banner in the living room announcing that your family will be raking leaves at Mrs. Jones’ 3-acre lot. Rather, provide suggestion and gentle coercion, then hand everyone a rake and head out. In most cases, once you are knee-deep in the project, it ends up being a meaningful experience for all involved. (I am also not above getting ice cream after.)
Service is a way of life
Serving must be more about who you are, not what you do. The easiest way to do this is simply to listen and be aware. Find a need —great or small — and work as a family to fill it. Rather than just carrying out a major service project once or twice a year, mold your family into a family who serves year round. Help someone with a dead car battery, shovel snow for your next door neighbor, or let someone go ahead of you in line. These seemingly small acts work to create the kind of change that you desire.
Plan as a family
You just might be surprised at the ideas your children come up with when given the chance. Teaching your children to focus in on another person’s needs and to be aware of others is just as vital as the actual service performed.
If you are delivering a plate of cookies to a friend, bring your children along. If you are in charge of a coat drive, let your smaller children help color the flyer, while your older children deliver the flyers and gather coats. Create dialogue as you are working together about the way you are choosing to serve.
Service is most beneficial for both the giver and the receiver when it is performed with a non-judgmental heart. Remember, the decision to serve someone doesn’t grant us the right to pass judgment on them.
Don’t assume that just because you are trying to accomplish good deeds that your children will automatically be comfortable at a nursing home, children’s hospital, or homeless shelter. The more opportunities you give them, the more comfortable they will become over time.
Praise your children
Take the time to notice and appreciate your children when they hold a door for someone or let a sibling have a turn first. Help them recognize how good it feels to live a life of service!
Big or small — it still counts
Service doesn’t have to be measured by the grand scale of the plan or by the number of people served. Mother Teresa said it best when she said, “If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”
Serving as a family can have its challenges, but the rewards and life lessons that evolve during the process will only strengthen your family and create a legacy of service. “Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.”– Albert Einstein
Heidi Dunkley is the mother of six children and can be found driving to swim/football/basketball practice in the afternoons, doing laundry in the mornings, and ninja-like freelance writing late into the night.