“In lieu of gifts, please bring donation items for the food pantry.” When I recently received this note on an invitation for a five year-old’s birthday party my first reaction was, “That is so sweet. What a great idea!” My second reaction was, “Should I do this for my five year-old’s party, too?”
Lately, I’ve been in purge-mode. Simplifying. I want to spend less time picking up toys and more time playing with my children.
I’ve also been yearning to teach my daughter the true joy that comes from giving to those with needs, greater than our own. But with a 1, 3 and 4 year-old in tow, time to grocery shop is hard to come by, let alone visits to nursing homes, food pantries, and homeless shelters.
This idea to accept donations in lieu of gifts seemed like the perfect solution. I would prevent more stuff coming into the house and provide my daughter the opportunity to put other’s needs in front of her own. This would be a great lesson not only for her but also for her friends!
Except that she didn’t want to do it. “But I want to open presents, mommy!” She’s been counting down the days to her birthday for the last 364 days and now I was encouraging her to forgo the gift-giving? This was not exciting for her. She seemed genuinely concerned about the kids that didn’t have a home but she still wanted presents for herself. What is a mom to do?
I reached out to my friends on social media who provided a mountain of great advice. I soon realized the following things:
- The joy of giving is when it comes from the heart, not when you are forced to do so.
- There is plenty of time in the future for me to get my children involved in volunteer work. There’s no need to combine it with a birthday, unless my child is on-board.
- As the oldest, Aurora has always had to share her things. Something I had not considered when comparing her to the friend, who is an only child, that asked for food donations.
- I should not compare my daughter to other children or myself to other mothers. We all have different situations.
- Implement a “new toy in, old toy out” rule. Involve Aurora in selecting the toys to donate.
- Many small actions can be more impactful than one single great action. I can teach my children the joy of giving all year-long by continually donating our clothes, food, and toys. We can participate in toy drives. We can continue to pick up trash and do nice things for our neighbors, just because. There are always teachable moments.
I want to continue to be mindful about the pressure I put on myself and the possibility of me transferring that pressure onto my child. I don’t want to turn Aurora off from doing good-deeds because her “mom made her” when she was little. I want her to give because it makes her feel good. I want her to pray because she wants to talk to God, not because she fears the consequences of not doing so. And I want her to enjoy the thrill of opening her birthday gifts, free of guilt.
In my excitement to turn Aurora’s birthday into a charitable operation, I found an incredible organization. It’s called “Project Night Night”. I was going to order bags from this charity and ask Aurora’s friend’s to bring a new or gently used stuffed animal, blanket and book to her party. After the activities of the day, we would all sit down and stuff the bags to give to children in nearby shelters.
Although I don’t think we are going to do this any longer for her birthday, I think I might still organize an opportunity for us to do this with some friends. That way she can still receive gifts and we can still give to those in need. In other words, we can all have her cake and eat it, too 🙂
For more information about Project Night Night, click here: www.projectnightnight.org