Giving of Ourselves
Story by Erin Wyble Newcomb
Illustrated by Annie Dwyer Internicola
As the only grandchildren on one side of the family, my kids get treated like royalty on holidays; there are grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles who love to be generous with my children. I am thankful for this wealth of family (as they themselves are the true gifts) and their giving spirits. Yet as the winter holidays approach once more, I am reminded that giving to children generously without teaching them to give generously too is a misappropriation of our gifts. I want my children to be able to receive gifts graciously, with thankful hearts and kind words, but more than that, I want them to pass along the model of generosity that’s been showered upon them. There are a few key ways that my husband and I try to instill those values in our children.
First, we emphasize thankfulness. We teach them how to receive gifts from others, even if they don’t like the presents or already have duplicates. We expect them to send thank-you notes as follow-ups on birthday presents and gifts from distant relatives, a practice that started when they were very young. Even a scribble, a sticker collage, a short phone call or a high-five from a small child can teach gratitude and recognition of others. It’s a reminder that we’re not entitled to presents and that our relationships are at the heart of our giving and receiving.
Second, we include our children in gift giving. As hard as it is for my younger daughter to scan the toy aisle knowing that her selection will be given to her big sister instead, the practice teaches an important lesson. Sometimes it’s about somebody else. We encourage our girls to use their allowance money on gifts for each other and for friends and family members, and to choose wisely and thoughtfully, with the recipient in mind. When we take trips, my girls often want to choose souvenirs for their grandparents, an idea we encourage because it establishes their relationship as reciprocal and positions them as givers, not just receivers.
Finally, we try to streamline our own giving so that we can spend more time looking outside ourselves. If we have hand-me-downs in good condition, we give them away. We pay attention for local toy drives, food drives and clothing drives, not just during the holiday season but all year long. At one point, we picked out birthday party supplies for local kids, a project organized by a friend, and there are always opportunities at the YMCA and in our religious community. Giving doesn’t need to always be big or expensive; it needs to be habitual. We try to be intentional about giving as a way of being thankful for what we have and showing our commitment to the communities we care about.
What underlies all of our attempts to instill generosity in our children is the belief that the greatest gifts around us are not material but human. We give and we receive, but our relationships with others are the true gifts.