How to model and teach generosity and charity to kids in difficult circumstances.
Musings, Parenting, Simplicity

How To Teach Generosity {When You Don’t Have Much to Give}

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Sometimes, I feel like a miser.

Our finances have been rickety for a while. Then, last year they got better! Woot!

But this year, they took a nosedive. Boo.

So they pass the basket at church, and nothing goes in. The school has a food drive, and I scrounge up a can of tuna. They take donations for a sick teacher? Sorry, guys. Not this time.

It’s not just money, either. I’m busy, too – raising 8 kids, starting a business, juggling the bills, helping with Mark’s job search. Oh, and vacuuming now and then, maybe. It keeps me on my toes. So, I don’t volunteer much at all just now.

And the little eyes are watching. What do they see? What will they remember? Do they know how it breaks my heart to pass that empty basket?

How do you teach kids to give selflessly when you have to mind every cent?

I’ve been reading through Ginny KochisCelebrating Advent at Home lately. I was struck by her list of 13 ways to serve your neighbor this Advent.  Ginny makes practical, down to earth suggestions for living out the giving side of Advent, just like she does with prayer, family traditions, and reading suggestions.

Ginny’s 13 ways to serve got me thinking about how hard it can feel to serve when you are immersed in a place of hardship. Whether you are facing financial hardship, serious illness, depression, grief, or some other serious challenge, it can be plain hard to give any more. And, yet, sometimes it’s in giving from our lack that we rediscover our own humanity.

When people are in pain and want, they can react in two different ways:

  1. Become self-focused and blind to the pain of others.
  2. Become more intensely sympathetic to the pain of others.

Which one is the way of the Gospel? Jesus brought plenty from want, and healing flowed from His wounds. In Him, our want and wounds can become plenty and healing for others.

In that light, here are some low- and no-cost ways to teach your kids generosity when giving financially becomes impossible.

Low Cost Generosity

  • Carry a Blessing Bag in your car. A gallon ziplock containing some necessities like maybe granola bars, bottled water, hand sanitizer, a pair of (new) socks. Include a personal note and a list of phone numbers where a person can get help. Next time you pass a panhandler, you can give it to them. Smile and look them in the eye. Better yet, have a child hand it to them if the situation is safe – coach them on what to say. “God bless you,” or “Hope it helps a little” are good choices. Pray together for the person later.
  • Purchase a little extra (very inexpensive) food to have on hand for food drives. Think tuna, store brand mac and cheese, dry beans, even ramen. It really is better than nothing. Let your kids donate it when there’s a chance.
  • Have your child put whatever you can in the basket at Mass. If that’s a quarter or a penny, so be it. Sometimes it’s easier to give nothing than an amount that feels stingy or embarrassing; it’s better for our pride and for our kids if we go ahead and give that change.
  • Same with the Salvation Army bucket. A few cents is fine.

Time Cost Generosity

  • Volunteer – soup kitchen, church, school, library.
  • Serve a neighbor – rake leaves, babysit, run errands, give a ride.
  • Take time to visit friends and family
  • Be time generous to your kids – sit and listen, take a walk, play a game.
  • Have them write a letter or card to faraway relatives.

No Cost Generosity

  • Prayer. Involve your kids in praying for the intentions of others, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and for the poor.
  • Model a generous spirit: give those around you the benefit of the doubt. Let the dude in a hurry cut in front of you – even if he’s rude. Forgive freely. Smile at strangers. Open a door.
  • Talk about the poor. Express thankfulness for your blessings, and communicate to your kids in an age-appropriate way the difficulties endured by the poor, homeless, and marginalized. Teach them that a person forced to the edges of society is still a real person, with a mom and a dad, hopes and dreams, fears and needs.
  • Donate your own gently-used goods to a thrift store, crisis pregnancy center, or shelter, if you have some to spare. Explain to the kids that thrift stores help people in hardship by making very low-cost clothing and home goods available, and they also often are connected with other charitable efforts.

These are just some suggestions; can you add more? I’m always looking for new ways to keep our home other-focused, even – or maybe especially – in hard times.

Finding Balance

Now, don’t get me wrong. While we are always called to give sacrificially, we aren’t called to burn ourselves to the ground. Self-care is a thing, and it’s a real and necessary thing. I found a great quote from St. John Paul II today while I was reading Joy Comes in the Morning, the self-care challenge from Flourish In Hope.

“You need to wait things out, some time to do nothing, and, simply, patience.”

St. John Paul II was writing a letter to a young, burnt-out mom of twins. His wisdom prevents us from taking our desire to give from our poverty too far. We do need to be sure to take care of ourselves and our own family situation. We’re no good to anyone burned out, stressed out, and spent.

Self-care doesn’t make you a miser, and neither does any kind of hardship. Generosity and miserliness are attitudes of the heart and not dependent on our circumstances. They are dependent on the grace of God, and our readiness to follow after Him. Let’s pray that we are always ready!


4 thoughts on “How To Teach Generosity {When You Don’t Have Much to Give}”

    1. I got the idea from the local group of Secular Franciscans I have been visiting with. We spent a meeting putting together a bunch of them and we took home as many as we felt like we would hand out. 🙂

  1. I like your “no-cost” generosity, coupled with the idea of self care. As I was reading the first part of your article, I was thinking how you can still model generosity, even if you don’t have much to spare outside your family. Our family is our first ministry! So yes, giving time, attention, special care, lots of love… those are all things that model a generous spirit. That practice giving from what we have. Because we can’t give what we don’t have! So I’m glad you ended on that note 🙂 Lovely article, Desiree! I’ll keep you and your financial situation in my prayers <3

  2. These are great ideas! It is so easy to equate generosity with giving material things, which can get frustrating when you are working with a tight budget. Which is why I really liked your “no-cost” generosity suggestions. Children really do learn from example but it is so important not to discount the impact that modeling a generous spirit in the home and among family members can have.

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