This is one of my rare guest posts, written by my friend, fellow 40-something working mum Karen Finn.
Like so many of us, Karen is concerned that we’re raising our children in a protective bubble. Obviously we want our children to be happy and that means being as far away from hardship, poverty and war as possible. But most kids in our pleasant suburban neighbourhood have no understanding or appreciation of how lucky they are. Karen felt her children were becoming spoiled and were demonstrating a worrying sense of entitlement.
She has spent the last six months showing her kids (aged 11 and nine at time of writing), that there are many people less fortunate than them, encouraging them to volunteer for good causes and broadening their horizons in an attempt to make them better citizens. She documents her challenges and successes on her website MyKids4Humanity.
I really admire this project, I hope you do too. Here is her lesson in un-spoiling the kids:
My project to “de-brat” the kids: What I’ve learnt in the first six months
As our summer full of overindulgence comes to a close, it’s the perfect time to pull out my “brat-o-meter” and see how much damage has been done over the holidays (admittedly, by me, mostly in an attempt to keep my kids from killing each other, or me from throttling one of them). It’s also a good time to rewind to July, which marked the first six months of MyKids4Humanity, a project I started at the beginning of this year to try and ‘de-brat’ my pre-teen kids and get them thinking about the world around them by doing hands-on volunteer work.
So far on this journey, we’ve:
- mucked out animal poop at a city farm;
- toured Battersea Cats & Dogs Home and donated money to them via an eBay sale;
- raised £300 doing a 5K run for Great Ormond Street Hospital, where one of the kids’ school mates is recovering from a massive stroke;
- sent much-needed stationery to underprivileged families in the Philippines as part of micro-volunteering day;
- organised a local post-festival litter clean-up, with support from the Mayor of London’s Capital Clean-up project;
- and visited a Roman cat sanctuary (still deciding which cat to adopt from afar).
I’ve also made a concerted effort to inspire compassion in my kids on a daily basis.
We’ve had a range of experiences, from excessive whinging to full-blown feelings of pride, but overall I’d say the project is having a positive impact.
Here are some of the things I’ve learnt along the way:
- Consistency is king. It’s amazing how fast the kids can slip back into their materialistic, electronic device-driven ways given the smallest opportunity. Being altruistic is kind of like looking after your health ‒ for real, sustainable results, you need to make it a lifestyle choice, not just a crash diet.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of small acts of kindness. The way we act in our everyday lives is just as important as the larger gestures. Example: When driving, my kids often comment that I’m a kind and considerate person because I let other cars go in front of me and always wave a ‘thank you’ when somebody lets me in. It’s such a small thing, but they actually do notice. (They also notice when I slip up and shout “D-ckhead!” at the truck driver who won’t let me into the next lane. Hmmm. What was I saying about consistency?? Hey, I’m doing my best. Nobody’s perfect.)
- Keep it relevant. Volunteering and fundraising activities can teach children an important lesson about helping others, but ideally the kids should really, REALLY understand who/what they’re helping. They should have some kind of emotional connection to the cause.
- Make it fun. Though the kids initially grumbled at the idea of litter picking, once armed with their shiny new litter-pickers (provided by the Mayor!), they were like warriors on a mission during our post-festival clean-up. We had a contest: who could pick up the most litter in an hour. They were off like a flash, with no further complaints out of either of them.
- Be creative. There are so many charities that are desperate for volunteers, but kids under 16 are vastly overlooked. Maybe this is due to health & safety rules. We’ve tried volunteering at a local soup kitchen. We’ve offered to help a charity with disabled kids. We’ve volunteered to help a number of local environmental conservation groups. So far, no joy. Nonetheless, we’ve come up with a number of ways to help out by organising our own meaningful activities. For example, Battersea Cats & Dogs Home only takes volunteers that are age 18+, so we visited the home and then raised money for the animals via an eBay sale. My daughter says she wants to start volunteering there as soon as she turns 18.
- Actions speak louder than words. There’s a reason this saying has stood the test of time. I’ve gained a new level of respect for those who try to get the community together for any kind of volunteer activity. To be blunt, rallying people to get off their arses and help out is bloody hard work. I started MK4H as a personal project for my own family because I felt like my kids needed some serious perspective and less sense of entitlement. But when I told other parents about it, much to my delight, they were incredibly eager to join in. People continually ask me to organise volunteer activities, but the enthusiasm suddenly wanes when I try to pin them down for a specific activity. It’s not my style to be pushy and I know people’s lives are busy, so at the end of the day, if I’m getting more compassion out of my own kids, that’s great and I’ve achieved what I set out to do. I just find people’s behaviour slightly perplexing.
This is a learning process and as frustrating as it can be at times, I feel like we are making some great progress, slowly but surely. The results may not show up for another several years, but hopefully as my kids grow into teens and then into young adults, I will have planted a seed that will keep them paying it forward for years to come.
Please join Karen’s My Kids for Humanity Facebook community to keep up to date with ways children can volunteer.