I’ve been blessed with an extremely generous mother-in-law. Like lump-in-your-throat-on-Christmas-morning generous. Not a holiday goes by in which our mailbox isn’t graced with Cheryl’s thoughtful cards, stickers, and a little cash. Every birthday includes her making the almost-four-hour trip to see us along with her generous presents. Each time she visits, she brings something special for the boys. Her thoughtfulness and cheerful giving abound. In the few years since I have joined the Hickox family.
I have also been amazed at the generosity of my sister-in-law (Cheryl’s daughter), Michelle. She is always way ahead of the game for my kiddos’ birthdays and Christmas presents. Her kids are quite a bit older than mine, but she still remembers what it’s like to want great learning materials, games, clothes, and toys for our kids, and she always tries to help us get these items for them. She has helped me finagle many a sale to ensure I get great PJs or toys for my kids. Her daughter is now 11 and I am seeing this same thoughtful, generous spirit in her. This sweet little girl will go into a store and come out with nothing but a bath toy, set of crayons, or pair of shoes for my latest baby.
There are two amazing women I do life with, Laura and Holly. They (and their husbands) were great friends with my husband for years before I came into the picture. Thankfully I couldn’t have chosen greater friends for myself. We have weekly playdates, and Laura and Holly rarely show up with their hands empty. I have been the recipient of so many incredible gifts through the years. With Holly, it’s “Steph, I found these at a garage sale and I knew they would be so great for Everett!” She has also passed down an insane amount of top-notch clothing to my children. With Laura, it’s often something like, “Steph, I saw these adorable cupcake wrappers and thought of you.” Thoughtfulness abounds with both of them. I find myself frequently praising God for the gifts he has blessed me with through them. They are the other major reasons I increasingly value generosity. I’ve also been able to watch their children be generous with my children. Their daughters, ages 5 and 6, are consistently thinking of others. For example, when one of my sons shows an attachment to a toy at a playdate, they offer to let them borrow it for a week. No tears, no whining. I know it is because they see their mothers give without expectation or condition.
Watching these traits trickle down through the generations is beautiful. I’ve realized how much I want my children to bless others with their generous giving, whether it is with their time, energy, or finances. Here are some ideas I have to instill this godly character trait:
- Top Secret Mission: Keep a mini-calendar in your car (or on your phone). Before you run an errand, look and see whose birthday is approaching (in the next month or so). This will help you too! “Wow kids, I see that your cousin Tyler’s birthday is coming in a few weeks. What does Tyler like to do? What kinds of presents do you think he would like? While we’re in Target, lets keep our eyes open for a gift that he would enjoy. We are on a Top-Secret Mission to bless Tyler!” (Side note: this may be a perfect time to text Tyler’s mom and find out what he really wants!) Will many of the items your kids point out probably stem from their own desires rather than Tyler’s? Probably! Good—this is the perfect opportunity for you to steer their thinking and to teach them to think about others. “Sophie, that is a really neat doll! Tell me why you thought that would be a great present for Tyler?" Give her a second to think it through. Perhaps, she will realize that is a silly choice for a preteen boy. If not, kindly guide her: “I know Tyler bought you a doll for Christmas, but I think that is because he knew you liked them. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen him with a doll. He does like to play with Lego people though! Maybe we should check that section! What do you think?” Do you see how you are modeling thoughtfulness, without cutting down their choice? Do you need to buy a gift during the errand? No. You can model the benefit of researching before buying. Will this add extra time to your errand? Yes, but as time goes on, the thoughtfulness of your children will come back to bless you! Also, the kids will have something to engage them while they are shopping. It is a fun thinking game with a great payoff!
- Don’t enter someone’s home with your hands empty! Laura and Holly have especially inspired me on this one. We see each other almost every week, so it’s really not every week we bring each other something, but it is often. Consider bringing a baked good, a favorite coffee drink, flowers from your garden, or a toy you think their kids would like borrowing. I like that our children are seeing our thoughtfulness played out. I have been challenged to bless them in return.
- Don’t let your children think you can only be generous if you have money! I think it’s really important that we don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “I’ll be generous when my budget allows.” Generous people are thoughtful people, but wealthy people are not always thoughtful people. You need to have it in your heart to give before the increase in finances happens, otherwise you will always find something more you need for yourself. This is why it is important to teach generosity with time, effort, and finances. Holly, Laura, and I all have gift budgets smaller than we’d like, so our gifts are rarely pricey. Encourage young children to make birthday cards. It saves you money, and it gets them in the habit of contributing their talents! Last Christmas I gave my husband “12 Days of Christmas.” Each day he received a red envelope with an act of service gift, or a present from under the tree. I hope my children will see these types of gifts and learn that generosity is a lifestyle.
- Save for others. People vary on their opinions about allowances. We are just starting to award our oldest son (he’s 3 1/2 years old) with a meager allowance. We want to train him to be generous and to know that money is a gift from the Lord and it is to be stewarded for His Glory. We are establishing 4 categories for him: God, Others, Fun Money, Money to Save. Each week we will tabulate his earnings, and give him the money—in small coins—so it’s really exciting! We will require that at least 10% goes to God, and at least 10% to Others, then 50% needs to go to Savings. The other 30% he will be able to allocate as he wishes. I am excited to encourage him to give to God and others of his own accord.
- Shared gifts. Because we had 3 boys in 3 years, we are at an advantage at Christmastime. They play with each other’s toys all the time, so it was really unnecessary to get individual gifts for them. That is why I began the tradition of giving a “Family Gift.” It is a gift that all the kids will enjoy together. It does not belong to one individual child., so we used part of each boy’s budget to purchase it. This Christmas we decided to buy a wooden marble run. They boys will grow into it, and we love that they are learning to share toys and enjoy them together. Even if you have a wide gap in your children’s ages, you can probably come up with something the family would enjoy together. Hopefully, this teaches that the memories and family time are more important than the actual gift. On birthdays, I like to give a gift or two that the rest of the kids can enjoy too. Even if it’s something inexpensive, like a big tub of bubble solution, I like to give it saying, “Lincoln, I knew you and your brothers would have lots of fun with this gift! I want this to be a gift you share with them.” Of course we encourage our kids to share all of their toys, but this goes above and beyond the general kindness rule.
- Holiday Gifts: This December I took my boys grocery shopping. They saw a handheld massager. Lincoln cried out, “Can we please get that for Daddy?” I was so touched that he wanted to serve his father. Of course I agreed. I told them it would also be an “act of service” gift—after we purchased it, I wanted the boys to serve their father with it. They readily accepted! It has been so sweet to watch my 3-year-old and 1-year-old serve their daddy! If your children can’t contribute financially, consider having them give their time, efforts, or talents. If they are old enough to give a little money, consider matching their amount and helping them buy gifts for the family.
- Pre-holiday Toy Donations: I’m sure many of you already do this one! Before a birthday or holiday, go through your child’s toys and see what you can donate. Make sure you donate quality, not just your trash, to ensure you are teaching your children that generosity usually costs us something.
- Play Generously! A friend gave me a play cash register. It is one of my kids’ favorite new toys. I am trying to encourage them to “purchase” gifts or play food for others, and not just think about themselves as they shop.
- Thank-you Notes: I know Betsy is big on this one! As soon as they are able, your children should be helping write thank-you notes. How does this encourage generosity? Because they are learning that giving costs something! They learn how to describe their thankfulness and they have to meditate on the time someone’s thoughtfulness took.
- Look at God’s Word and study verses about generosity: We want to teach our children the “why” behind the act of giving. Here are a few verses to spark the conversation:
2 Corinthians 9:7b
God loves a cheerful giver.
Jesus answered, 'The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
1 Timothy 6:17-19
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,f you did it to me.’
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.
Of course there are many more wonderful verses!
A generous heart is indicative of a heart that is not tied to things. I want my children—and myself—to care so much about others, that I hold all I own with an empty, outstretched hand.
I’m early on in this journey. Please share ideas you have or training strategies you’ve seen work! We’d love to hear your thoughts!