Giving Tuesday: Teaching Children Charity All Year Round

One of my early epiphanies as a new parent was realizing that shopping forwas even more fun than shopping for myself. There is joy in the giving of the "stuff," which is why we do it.
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One of my early epiphanies as a new parent was realizing that shopping for them was even more fun than shopping for myself. There is joy in the giving of the "stuff," which is why we do it.

It follows, then, that one of our jobs as parents is to teach our children that same joy. To help them understand that giving can be as much fun as getting -- and to teach it like we mean it. And yet, year after year, the holidays present the same classic conundrum: how to get children excited about giving when they are brought up to want want want?

Enter Giving Tuesday. Following Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and CyberMonday in the spending spree that launches the holiday season, it was conceived as a worthy antidote to the frantic scramble for "stuff."

A creation of the folks at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, Giving Tuesday has all the accessories of a movement-in-the-making: a website, 2000 charities signed on to promote and participate, Twitter parties scheduled to spread the word (I'll be joining the Girl's Night Out tonight hosted by MomItForward from 9 to 10 p.m. EST (#gno #givingtuesday.)

One catchy description, courtesy of NPR, is "the idea: to get people excited about giving in the same way they might get excited about buying a big-screen TV at a bargain price."

This time of year always brings a feeling of disconnect between want and need -- a murky mix of joy and discomfort as we fill our children's wishlists. But some years the discordance is sharper, and this is one of those years. Christmas of 2001 felt like this. So did the season after the 2008 financial collapse. Katrina, too, was a reality check. Now comes Sandy, and again we find ourselves buying gifts while freshly reminded how unimportant "stuff" can be for those who have it, and how out of reach for those who need it.

Experts gently warn that giving is best done all year, not just at the holidays, and certainly not just on a day with a catchy name.

They also tell us that children are naturally empathetic, and the best way to build that muscle is first hand (getting out and visiting the animal shelter, and bringing the doggies blankets, rather than writing a check...)

Still, this newly coined day can become one tool in the charitable parenting repertoire.

Our family tradition includes a version of this - though for us it's usually the first night of Hanukah. We began the year the Twin Towers fell, when more "stuff" seemed particularly inadequate and insubstantial. Instead, part of our gift to our children that year was a moderate sum, to donate as they pleased. I printed out information on a selection of worthy causes beforehand, and we sat around the table, by the light of the Menorah, and discussed the good done by each group. Then the boys were asked to divide their funds as they wished (part of the message was that this part is hard) and we put it in an envelope with a note from each child explaining their choice.

The organizations that tugged at their hearts are still ones we give to every year. This year, we will make our donations today.

Happy Giving.

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