Community Service Starts...With Our Families?

"Maybe I should aim to be admitted into a community hospital," my dad sneered once. "Maybe then you'll actually spend time with me."

Ouch. After retorting back "Most parents would be proud of a teen who spends all her free time volunteering instead of dabbling in drugs/alcohol/sex!" and sulking in my room for hours in defiance of this disapproval of my schedule, I realized he had a point.

I'll admit it: most of the time, I hate staying home.

I'd much rather be out doing things. Like most other teenagers my age, I love being involved in unique extra-curriculars, volunteering for causes I'm passionate about and hanging out with my friends.

I don't believe it's wrong of us to want to make the most of our time. We simply long to be part of something bigger than ourselves, develop our interests, and, ultimately, enjoy our youth.

Nevertheless, staying at home could be a lot more meaningful than we give it credit for. If you've ever visited a long-term care center and conversed with the patients, most of who are elderly folk, you'd learn why they ended up there: either they have a terminal disease and require constant medical supervision, or they're growing weak and their families couldn't be bothered to take care of them anymore. I've come across far too many elderly who lament that they haven't seen their grandchildren in four or ten years. This makes me want to challenge what we typically regard as 'community service' -- since family is the basic unit of society, imagine the long-term impact we can make in our communities if each one of us simply tends to and supports our families till the very end. Sure, such a contribution is neither worth flaunting in a college application nor as glamorous as starting up your own charity; still, it can make a significant, direct impact.

Ultimately, the paramount reason we should give back to our families is that we love them and hope to make them happy. After I graduate from high school, I'll be swept away into a realm of rigorous academics and all-new contemporaries. My family, however, will continue to be my personal cheerleaders as I confront the challenges life hurls at me. They always have and always will be there for me when I need them. Why, then, has it taken me so long to realize that I should be actively giving back to them?

Most of us aren't selfish and do appreciate and love our families. But in order to strengthen our family relationships and assure our families we'll be there for them till the end, we can do much more. We need to make a conscious effort to go beyond 'maintaining' our family relationships by simply attending family dinners or going out on weekends. This means allotting specified pockets of time amidst our jam-packed schedules to truly get to know our family members, spend time with them and contribute to our households.

Hitherto the responsibility to pull our family together had been left largely to my parents, but now I recognize the role I can play and will do my best to fulfill it.