Teaching our kids to care

If I get to the end of my parenting journey and can say my child is kind to those around her and to the world in general I will feel like I have succeeded. I may be being totally naïve but for me that is one of the most important lessons I can teach her. Most days I will ask her if she has been kind, if she has looked out for people in the playground who perhaps are not always included in the games and who do not naturally have lots of friends around them – she has now reached the age where I receive an exasperated response along the lines of “yes I know and yes you have told me enough already”. Educating the heart is just as important as educating the mind (stolen from a cheesy American website!!).

As part of some research I was doing for work I started to think about engaging children with charity and helping them to learn about our responsibilities as human beings to help our neighbours and those in the world around us – I think in schools it is taught as being a good global citizen.

I guess when it comes to parenting there will be different schools of thought about what we tell our children about the pain and suffering in our world. As parents our natural instinct is obviously to protect our children, and not cause them harm or upset. I personally though am a big believer in being real with them, because the realities of life will at some point affect them personally and I wanted my child to have the tools to cope and I also want her to learn compassion and kindness to reach out and help people around her who are struggling and who are in pain. It is for that reason I have never shied away from letting Lucy visit family members in dementia homes, she has done that since she was a baby and likewise my Dad spent 3 years in and out of hospital for his cancer treatment and she spent a lot of times in those hospitals and maybe witnessed things that she was too little to see – I don’t know. When my Dad died there was no question she would come to the funeral, even though she was only 6 at the time, and we talked openly and honestly with her about the process and what would happen and let her be part of the discussions with those leading the services, allowing her to give her memories and share what she loved about her Papa. My hope is that these experiences will make her more compassionate, will give her understanding and will equip her with tools to take into later life.

I don’t though just want it to be about sensitising my child to pain and suffering in the world but I want to empower her to make a difference, to know she can play her part in making the world a better place and to teach her about the importance of giving so that she grows up to be generous.

Not only that but when I look at what my child has I sometimes feel a little bit sick – Christmas morning in the past has verged on the obscene side and that is without me having spent more than £30 – my child is lucky she has lots of people around her who love her and want to show her that love by giving to her but I want to move away from that “me me me” “I want” expectation to one of giving and generosity.

So I took to our good friend Google to come up with some ideas about how we as our little family can together engage in charity and here’s what I found:

  1. Children learn best by example – model everyday acts of kindness to them. Share your values with them. Whether it be financial giving or smiling at someone on the street, holding open a door for someone else or visiting someone who is sick.
  1. According to a United Nations Foundation study talking to our children about giving is one of the most effective ways to encourage philanthropy and increases the likelihood of them giving as adults by 28%. The study is quick to say though that the way we talk to our children is the key – be specific, don’t just say we give because it is a nice thing to do but talk to them about how their actions affect others and frame it in a way that can relate to. Allow the subject of giving and charity to be part of your every day conversations.
  1. Allow children to be part of the decision making process of who as a family you give to – allow them to hear about different charities and causes and let them make the choice – let them direct the process. The greater their involvement the more they will learn. Make it fun!
  1. When it comes to pocket money (and I am rubbish at this – I so want to teach my child good financial skills but find it a rather overwhelming subject so often put it off!!) give them 3 jars and explain that they can have some to spend, some to save and some to give away. Giving cash can be an abstract concept to children, especially when these days it is often simply an on-line click so think of ways to make that giving practical. Is there an old lady who lives on their own who would be blessed by a bunch of flowers, or could they go with you to the supermarket and use the money they have saved to buy some money for a foodbank?
  1. Create family traditions. We try and every year to make up a box for Operation Christmas Child – we go to the shop together and pick out items, and I let Lucy chose and think about what another child may like.
  1. Set your children challenges – ask them to do something nice for 3 other people every time someone is nice to them – to teach them the importance of giving back.
  1. Giving is not just about money but time too – could you as a family go and do something which will help or bless another person.
  1. Partly because I am marginally OCD before every birthday and Christmas I make Lucy go through all her clothes and toys and decide what she wants to give away – some go to friends others to the charity shop.
  1. Sponsoring a child in an overseas country – that makes it more relatable – one child engaging with another where letters can be exchanged.

Those are just a few ideas that I am going to try and be intentional about implementing but if anyone else out there has other creative ways I would love to hear from you.

A lot of my working life has been about “legacy” and what people leave behind and I have seen plenty of the bad as well as lots of the good but I passionately believe we have a responsibility to teach kindness, generosity and respect to our children. I don’t get this stuff right all or even most of the time but I like to think of it as a work in progress!

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Thank you little one

The other night I went for a run and I ran avoiding hills at all costs (not easy when running in Sheffield) but I found myself totally out of run and faced with a long walk home in the dark up lots of hills – on my walk home I walked along a certain road in Sheffield which always makes me think of my sister-in-law as she loves the houses along this road. I then got to think about my nephew or niece (currently at home in my sister-in-law’s belly) who will be here in 2 months time and I became a little overwhelmed and a little tearful – this little person will be right up there as one of the most important people in my life, someone I will have an overwhelming love for but yet I don’t know them, I have no idea what they will look like or what they will be like.

It got me to thinking – it was a very long walk – about how we don’t know who or what is ahead and I had a sense of excitement and anticipation and hope. Those blessings when they come can be big or small but equally life giving.

My thoughts then led me to reflect on a couple of encounters over the past few weeks – all with total strangers which were so full of encouragement, hope and reassurance and each little thing has allowed life to bubble up inside me a little more.

The other week I had to go into Lucy’s school to sort some teddies out for a charity I have been helping with a bit – I knew the task ahead of me was fairly large and that I could do with some help and after exhausting obvious avenues I put a note out on the charity’s Facebook page to see if any fellow parents could help and a lovely lady responded saying she could. We spent a lovely few hours as we sorted through literally hundreds of teddies talking life, families, and careers. A few days later I got a message from her asking if she could sponsor me for my run – it was only something small but I was so blessed by it.

A few weeks later I took Lucy to a party and got talking to a gorgeous lady I had never met before but it was totally a conversation I needed to have – to anyone listening in the conversation may have sounded slightly depressing but to me, and hopefully her, it was totally full of life – a couple of hours of chatting shared experiences, feelings, questions. That conversation felt like a real gift.

Then only on Friday I was meeting with a lady that supports the charity I work for about the possibility of her appearing in a video I am putting together. I had never met this woman before and had never heard of her before. The first thing this lovely old lady asked me was was I the girl whose husband had died when she was pregnant and I said that I was and she told me that her and her friends had regularly prayed for me and Lucy over the years – I really had to compose myself to get through the rest of our time together. I was blown away that a stranger who didn’t know me had not just said a few prayers in the weeks after John’s death but for years after had faithfully upheld us in prayer and that years later our paths crossed– I was completely humbled and massively impacted.

These three incidents were small and passing but have encouraged, inspired and lifted my spirit so much.

6 months ago I didn’t know the group of people I spend my working days with now– didn’t know that these wonderful people existed, these people that inspire me, challenge me, care for me and make me laugh (and reintroduce me to the music of Whitney – thanks Mrs W) – these people who have become lovely friends.

So little one I can’t wait to know you, to love you and to be your auntie and thank you for reminding me on a cold, dark autumn evening always to try and hold onto hope and anticipation – that the unknowns of what is ahead, big and small, are worth pushing through for.

Sucking the marrow out of life!

So I have not written for a while because whilst life is good in so so many ways there has been a big wave of grief in the last few weeks – all I have wanted is John and my dad. Quite frankly I am pretty sick of these waves – they make me angry, they make me sad, they make me feel like a failure and I end up lashing out. I am not always sure why they come when they do – sometimes there is a trigger sometimes not. I feel misunderstood and I feel very alone. To put it bluntly I become a little irrational because the pain just feels too big.

As always there are angels in the midst of it– one of my besties who sat outside in the cold with me on a Sunday morning and cried with me, my friend in another country who let me rant over text, didn’t preach at me and told me she will always be there even if I need to rant in 10 years time, my lovely boss who listened (and is probably thinking he has recruited a nutcase) and told me it was ok. I am so thankful for those who don’t judge me, who love me and hold my hand (literally and metarophically).

This time there was a trigger – this time it was going back into one of John’s environments and him being remembered by his people – it is rare he is talked about these days especially by people who were part of his life and whilst it was lovely it made me think what could have been and what might life have looked liked. That and the processing of my mother being hospitalised in intensive care and receiving one of those phone calls you never want to receive telling you to come quick (fortunately this time all ended well).

In my head I know God loves me but in my heart I am not so sure right now. I know that I have a call to the broken and hurting to love them but I personally feel a little forgotten and a little abandoned – again a sentence full of contradictions but grief often doesn’t make much sense.

Alongside all of those struggles this last 6 months have been incredible on so many levels, experiencing some amazing experiences – skydiving, career changes, travel, running a race – they have been life giving, exciting and I have loved every moment – well maybe not that final hill of the 10km!

Life is flipping weird, I feel I have lots of questions again, – the amazing sits along side the struggles but I am not giving up – tonight I have sat writing a bucket list, from big things to little things – I want to go and dance in the rain, I am going to get that tattoo, I was to stargaze, I want to turn up at an airport and get on a plane to wherever, I want to sing more, to make a difference to people’s lives, to skydive again, to write more.

So whatever your battles, your struggles let stand together and not give up- lets keep loving, and as one friend recently said to me keep sucking the marrow out of life.