Moms, we all know that pouring into our children’s character is important. In fact, teaching them to become caring, kind, and people of good repute is one of the biggest things we can teach (and sometimes the hardest!). So when we’re able to teach in a hands-on way, there is a benefit all the way around. When our kids witness a lifestyle of focusing on others, they too, begin to prioritize it in their own lives. I definitely don’t consider myself an expert in this area, but I do sincerely enjoy finding new ways to reach out to others and invite my kids into the process.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually learned more from my kids in this area, than I believe they’ve learned from me. For the most part, our children (ages 8, 4, 3) have been untainted by the judgements and prejudices that we tend to carry. They see people and they see the world through a loving, compassionate and caring lens. They have nothing to lose by being kind to others.
I love the quote from Martin Luther King Jr that says,
“It’s the quality, not the longevity of one’s life that’s important.”
When we live with others in view and recognize that we all belong to each other, we find meaning, but also discover our purpose.
Kindness towards our friends, family, neighbors and even strangers can have a greater impact than we realize. It can truly change somebody. It’s possible it could change their life, sure. But more likely the things we do will be small and consistent, brightening someone’s day. And these days, we can all stand for the world to be a bit brighter.
It’s impossible to turn on the TV without seeing a world torn apart, bruised and battered by war, famine, disease, natural disasters, injustice, division, riots, racism, hatred, mass violence, and death. And if we look to the news to inform our beliefs about others and the world around us, we will certainly lose all hope.
But hope can be found in people like you and your children, committed to focusing on others and spreading kindness for the betterment of all.
Hope is found when you share a warm meal with a person living on the streets.
Hope is found when you give presents to kids at Christmas whose parents are incarcerated.
Hope is found when you sit across from a refugee and offer your friendship as you listen to their struggle and story.
Hope is found when you go out of your way to help someone you wouldn’t typically help.
When we look back on history, I believe it is the everyday heroes of hope, that we will remember and celebrate most. Those who refused to grow silent on issues that mattered most, those were a voice for the voiceless, those who fought for justice and equality, those who dignified the marginalized, and those who elevated those pushed down by society.
Focusing on others is a challenge because it means helping people who are different than you in the way they look, talk, or act. Those who believe different than you, vote different than you, and live different than you.
If you are like me, then you love the idea of molding children who are others focused… but sometimes lack fresh ideas and inspiration. My aim is to give you a few tangible expressions that you can put into practice with your own family…feel free and modify or add to these below!
Ideas on how to care for others:
A year-round and ongoing project that we exercise are bags for the homeless. My kids and I will go to the store and pick out a variety of toiletries, snacks and a few necessities. When we get home we get to fill the bags with all the goodies. Sometimes the kids will write notes or draw pictures. Sometimes we include money, sometimes we don’t. But typically we include a Bible and pray for the person receiving the bag. Our daily drive gives us the opportunity to encounter a handful of people who may benefit from one of our bags
The best part of all comes when one of the kids rolls down their window to share a bag and a smile with their new friend. On several occasions it has awarded us some very special conversations. It’s amazing what people are willing to share when we take the time to listen. Often a person living on the street will share what it is that has led them to that place in life. Several we’ve met, are incredibly grateful for their new bag and for life itself, which leaves us feeling grateful for all our blessings.
Random Acts of Kindness (Starbucks edition)
I’m not gonna lie, my kids and I frequent Starbucks almost daily. We love our yummy treats, but what’s even better is buying the yummy treats for those customers in line behind us. I personally have been on the receiving end of this gift and it always puts a smile on my face and reminds me of the goodness of people.
A Little Restaurant Love
At restaurants my family and I will, on occasion, buy another family dinner or leave a large tip for our waiter or waitress to bless them and thank them for their patience of dealing with us (wink). We always seek to talk to our servers and get to know them. What is more, we aim to frequent the same establishments in order to grow those relationships on a deeper level.
You Get a Donut, You Get a Donut, EVERYBODY Gets a Donut!
At random and based on no particular reason, the kids and I will pick up a dozen donuts, cookies or cupcakes and drop them on a porch of an unsuspecting friend or stranger. Who doesn’t love sweets showing up on their doorstep?!
I think one of the most practical and helpful ways we can bless another person, especially another mom, is to take someone a meal. We can invite our children to cook with us and write special notes and then go with us when we drop it off to someone who is sick, had surgery or experienced loss in their life. This also allows us to have some very real conversations with our own children about suffering and hardship.
Honoring Miscarriage + Loss of Children
For our family, every March represents a significant time in our family. I lost a son and my children lost a brother many years ago. Therefore, we use his birthday as an opportunity to show extravagant acts of kindness in his honor and ask others to join us in doing the same. One year, I was able to connect with a mama who had recently lost her own son to suicide. I wrote her a long note letting her know she was not alone and that there was hope. I took her flowers and a special piece of jewelry to remind her of her son. Year after year, I am amazed how I am able to use my lose to help someone else experiencing loss of their own. Entering into the suffering of others teaches our kids not to be afraid of difficulty and how to grieve with those who grieve.
Sponsor a Child
There are many organizations where you and your family can sponsor a child. Our family have three different sponsored children in three different countries (ROWAN, World Vision, & Compassion International are two very well known and reputable organizations). Your kids are able to write and receive letters from their sponsored child, which gives them much needed perspective of the world at large. When you’re children are older, I suggest traveling with them to third-world countries and staying awhile. Their eyes will be opened to how the majority of their world lives outside of comfort.
Acts of Service to Those who Serve Us
We love to take care of our garbage man, our mailman and our local ups and FedEx drivers. So my kids will make lemonade and distribute it to them when they come. As a result they know my kids, they wave and smile at them whenever they come through the neighborhood. They have developed sweet friendships with these men and women.
In the fall we fill backpacks full of school supplies for children who would otherwise be unable to attend school without them. For example, many foster children in our cities struggle to have what is needed for the new year, let alone anything brand new.
a) At Christmas time we tend to do a lot of projects that focus on others. One of our very favorite is Operation Christmas Child. It’s such a great lesson to head to Target and pick out school supplies, necessities and toys for kids affected by war, poverty and natural disasters. Often my kids will ask me for a toy for themselves and get upset when they can’t get one. I always love a good object lesson about how others do not have some of the same privileges and blessings readily available to us.
b) Another thing we do at Christmas is make goody bags with candy or candy canes and hand them out in parking lots, in stores, and at the mall. It’s fun seeing folks suddenly forget about their shopping-stress as a smile spreads across their face when one of our kids hands them a treat.
Please do not feel overwhelmed or discouraged if this is not a part of your family’s rhythm. Start small, try little things and build up. I truly believe it is better to do something rather than doing nothing. Good luck, and have fun experimenting with what it looks like for you to become focused on others, and then finding ways to teach those lessons to your children!
Comment below on other ways your family could (or does!) care for others and be less self-focused!
Author and Speaker, Crystal is a survivor of the shootings at Columbine High School and has been seen on The Today Show, CNN, Dateline, and featured in Glamour, Marie Claire and Time Magazine, as well as countless other media sources as she advocates for hope after extreme tragedy.