Congratulations, big-hearted parents! Our effort to do good with our families is making a difference in the lives of our children.
Exciting research continues to show broader and more long-lasting benefits to teaching kids compassion than most of us ever expected. It's gratifying to know doing good has an impact on so many levels!
But during the lazy, pajama-clad days of winter break, I got a glimpse of the darker side of doing good. Well... not dark exactly. Let's call it the exhausting side of doing good.
I reached out to a few long-time folks in our Membership Circle, just to see if their experience has been similar.
As it turns out, I'm not alone. Our big-hearted parenting efforts are having a profound, encouraging, and occasionally annoying impact on our children
You know you're a big-hearted parent if you've had any of these experiences!
1. You've had to crack down on inconvenient acts of kindness.
It's a great sign of a big heart when your child pulls you into a service project unexpectedly. And really, who can say no to an impromptu card for a sick kid? For years, I've made room for the messy Magic Mail station in my dining room. But lately I've found myself making confusing declarations like "No, we don't have time for just one more petition on Change.org" as I usher my crew out the door to go ice skating.
2. You find yourself dodging conversation starters from your child, rather than the other way around.
For years you've pulled out thoughtful conversation starters at family dinner only to face two-word answers or a quick escape by your ninja-like child. Now suddenly the tables have turned. Who knew those conversation skills you worked so hard to nurture would cause challenges later? Big-hearted kids are curious. They tend to be full of disconcerting, complicated questions like "Why are people homeless?" and "Why do we have so much food and some people don't have enough?" These questions usually pop up at the end of the day when you've spent your creative energy and really just want to kick your feet up and browse Netflix. In my experience, chocolate is the best evasive tactic.
3. You have to double every batch of baked goods.
Once you've gotten the kids excited about sharing baked goods with ill or isolated neighbors, no good recipe will go un-shared again. This is a wonderful, big-hearted instinct. But what happens when you accidentally buy the brownie box that isn't family sized? I had big-plans for that little 8 x 8 pan!
4. You've had to explain to grandma why that special birthday gift no longer lives at your house.
Big-hearted kids tend to make a hobby of re-gifting. Books and stuffies, homemade jewelry, random Lego characters... I've spotted all of these on their way to -- or sometimes from -- friends, classmates, or care packages for others. I can never talk myself in to standing in the way of their generosity, but there have definitely been a few treasures I wasn't ready to part with. And I've had to establish a firm rule: you may not give away something that is not yours!
5. You find yourself on trial for the crimes of all adults everywhere.
Empowered kids have highly developed negotiation skills. Your little justice seekers keep you on your toes with an incessant interrogation: "Why do grown-ups start wars?" "Why do humans feel they can take natural habitats away from animals whenever they want?" And on. And on.
6. You know the location of every recycle bin in the city.
You may have knuckled through a little green guilt in the past, surreptitiously tossing a water bottle in the garbage when recycling isn't handy. Now that little eyes are upon you, and fully aware of your impact, those shenanigans will no longer be tolerated. You may even keep a plastic bag in your purse for those icky, impromptu parking-lot-litter rescue operations. I try to remind myself daily that this accountability to my own ideals is a good thing. Exhausting, but good.
7. You're recruited as mediator for drawn-out truth and reconciliation treaties during many sibling battles.
You've come to regret years of gentle suggestions like "Listen to her side" and "How would you feel if..." and "What can we do to solve this?" You have created little peace-making monsters. No infraction is too small to be talked through. Every resolution is a precedent. And although they are old enough to resolve most issues on their own, that doesn't save you from hearing the play-by-play minutes later.
8. You've grown accustomed to the chaos of incoming and outgoing kindness efforts.
Perhaps a portion of your house is dedicated to the mess of executing your latest service project. Or, in the likely event you're more organized than I am, perhaps you've set up systems for storing food pantry donations, greeting card stations, or supplies for your next kindness craft. Either way, incorporating kindness into a busy family routine can be a bit chaotic.
9. You know the post office staff by name.
You've helped the kids send cards and packages often enough that they now initiate projects like this on their own. Keep encouraging them, and you're likely to find yourself making unexpected stops at the post office after a snow day, lazy weekend, or long drive gave them enough time to finish a letter. This happens a lot at my house. I attribute it to my family's much-loved and often-used Magic Mail Center. Between sending cards to children in the hospital, soldiers and their families, and our book buddy, we're at the post office almost as often as the grocery store.
10. You're compelled to follow through on big-hearted goals.
You know you've been volunteering together for quite a while (my family is nearing our six-year mark!) when they remind you to start -- and finish -- a kindness project, rather than the other way around. These big-hearted kids of ours keep us honest. They keep us motivated. And if I promised my daughter we would take on a shift or two at the food pantry this spring, I had better follow through. She leaves me daily reminders!
It's true, I'm occasionally annoyed by the kindness monsters I'm raising. Some days a tired momma just wants to take a nap while the kids play video games.
And some days that's exactly what we do!
Of course, I can't help but be proud of the impact all of this doing good seems to be having, and if you can identify with any of these scenarios, you should be proud too.
We are doing our best to raise kids who care and contribute. We're teaching our children to be active, engaged citizens of their communities and their world. And our efforts are making all the difference.