A major parenting priority of mine is to raise kids who give back. To me, that means kids who not only recognize that there are people less fortunate than us, but who will also step up to help.  

The basic requisite here is that they realize how much we have, and feel not entitled, but rather, grateful. This is my mission. If I have anything to say about it, these children will know the meaning of There but for the grace of God go I. 

But how do we do this? We can make our kids say “Thank you” a thousand times a day. But how do we teach them to feel thankful?

I imagine that one good way involves volunteering. This Thanksgiving break is perfect, mostly because I have some time off. The clinic is really slow the day before and after the holiday, so I blocked those days to be with my kids.

We regularly volunteer at our local animal shelter, and they love it. But bringing them to interact with people less fortunate could open their eyes to a new reality, and I’ve been determined to do just that. 

A few weeks ago, I began researching. I looked up and contacted multitudinous charity organizations, including several food pantries and homeless shelters. But places either didn’t allow kids this young (ages four and six), or they required a regular commitment, or they were all booked up.

Hmmm. I reached out to our pastor and our congregation. I asked around at work. Finally, I stumbled across a great idea: I have several elderly homebound patients, and a few have no family. Why not arrange a home visit? This would solve several problems: I would love to see these patients who can’t come into the office, but it’s so hard to find the time. So, clinically, a home visit would serve an important purpose. To bring my peppy kids, and good food, too? We could spread oodles of cheer and goodwill! And the kids could have a hands-on volunteering experience. Win-win-win!

So I called around, and thought we had the perfect arrangement. But yesterday, the patients’ nurse contacted me to say, almost embarrassed, that the patient had changed their mind, and just wanted to be alone for the holiday. They sent good wishes, but felt like they just needed to be by themselves.

I offered to come alone, but, it was a no-go. “It was a such a wonderful idea!” the nurse lamented. “I wish she would reconsider, but, I think not… She’s kind of quirky that way.”

Oh well.

So this morning, we went as a family to the animal shelter, bearing cat treats, dog treats, and peanut butter. The kids helped to clean and feed the resident cats, chickens, dogs, and turtle. (Yes, turtle. If you’re looking to adopt a pet turtle, and you live near us, check our our local shelter!) They even helped exercise one of the friendlier dogs, playing tennis ball catch.

So, that was something. Next weekend, we’re throwing a birthday party for Babygirl and her friends, and we’re asking that people bring donations to one of our favorite charities in lieu of gifts. Her party theme is “fairytale storybook”, and so we’ve asked for gently used children’s books. The organization also desperately needs kids’ winter gear, so we’ll update that evite pronto. 

We do something like this for every birthday party, but many well-meaning folks ignore the request, and bring presents anyways. This time, we really hope to gather a huge pile of goods, because Babygirl will be personally delivering it all to the facility, and we’ll spend a few hours there helping to organize. When Babyboy has collected donations for the animal shelter, the two of them have been so proud to present it all. They feel helpful and important, which is really special. 

And, the local food pantry did ask us to deliver Christmas meals to several senior housing apartment complexes. That’s the type of activity we need to do more. 

If readers have other ideas or want to share examples of things they’ve done to teach their kids thankfulness, I’d love to hear about it!

I hope that the kids learn something about giving back by feeding the shelter chickens!