Did I go too far?

I’m either doing something right, or I’m doing it totally wrong.

We all hope our children absorb some of what they see their parents do. I wouldn’t want him to take in everything, of course, but the idea is to be a role model, I think.

One of the things I’d love my children to absorb from my husband and me is our attitude about sharing, giving and philanthropy. But more importantly, I want them to be able to empathize with others, appreciate what they have, treat others the way they want to be treated and learn what friendship and family mean.

But sometimes kids absorb that stuff in heartbreaking ways. Last night, I noticed my 7-year-old son softly crying to himself. We’ve just moved, and he’s started a new school and a new grade, so I thought the stress of that was getting to him.

I asked him what was wrong. He said, “Mom, it’s just that I’m so happy here. I have friends and parents who care about me, and I was just thinking about those children in the shelter with no parents and nobody to love them.”

Seriously, this is what he said. He is a sensitive child. Then he really started crying.

I reassured him that, no, maybe they don’t have their parents. But they do have adults who love and care for them, who keep them safe and happy. He asked if we could donate our money to help those children, so they could buy toys or clothes.

I mean, could you just crawl under the stairs?

I told him, of course we would. I’d told him about the fund we are starting at the Austin Community Foundation. It’s just about $3,000, but we hope to contribute to it and help it grow so that we can make bigger and bigger donations in the future.

We’d talked about the fund as a family. I’d told them that we – as a family – had to decide who we wanted to help. We decided on children without parents and pets without homes. That might change in the future, but for now I think helping those two groups would give my children the most satisfaction.

Still, I didn’t mean for my son to take it in like that. I felt terrible. Yes, I’ll probably buy him a new stack of Pokemon cards (you have to have a 7-yo boy to understand) to try to make up for it, but I feel like I should also take it easy on the talk about the needs and suffering of others. Then I’ll make sure he knows about – and is thanked for – his donation to help those kids.

(He’s a good boy.)

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1 Comment on Did I go too far?

  1. I can relate to your struggle. My daughter is 4 and probably knows more about “people without homes” than most adults. As someone who has worked with those experiencing homelessness for a number of years, I feel very passionate about helping my family understand our obligation to reach out to those in need. It’s a balance to try to educate and encourage empathy, while not alarming them. I’ve had people tell me that 4 is too young to understand homelessness, but I disagree. In her own innocent way, my daughter gets it. She even asks to give some of her toys to the kids who don’t have homes and tells me we should share our food with them.

    In November, ECHO (Ending Community Homelessness Coalition) is hosting an event for families that will give parents an opportunity to create conversations about homelessness in a fun atmosphere. It’s going to be a carnival (with fun games, a magician, juggler, etc.), a service event with stations for making holiday cards, toiletry kits, and snack bags for those without homes, and an educational event (with a chance for parents and kids to learn more about homelessness in our community). More details to come!!

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