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Giving gifts from the heart

Jennifer Dudding asks how we can show our kids the value of unconditional giving with gifts from the heart.

As Christmas approaches, I find myself questioning the messages I teach my children. Do they see it as being all about them? Is it merely a time for writing copious wish lists and expecting mountains of gifts?

The idea of ‘goodwill to all men’ is the one aspect of Christmas I really want to impress upon my kids. Not in a saccharine, Hallmark kind of way, but rather by instilling in them the act of giving. Charitable, unconditional giving, with nothing expected in return.

Our world is often referred to as a global community, but most of the time we see only our place in it. Our house, our family, our friends and our neighbourhood. Our lives are so busy and stressful that Christmas can often signify just another set of jobs on our to-do list and an additional financial burden.

If my children are to learn the meaning of Christmas only from my actions, then what message am I sending?

With these thoughts in mind, I asked other mothers what kind of giving they encouraged in their homes. I wanted to know what causes and charities they supported and why, and how important they thought it was to teach their kids about giving.

Jane Stephenson is a primary-school teacher and mother of three who recently travelled to Kenya with a group including her 10-year-old son Samuel. She says her primary aim for the trip was not to have a holiday but to “get a glimpse at how the majority of the world lives”. “More than one billion children are living in poverty and 22,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable causes,” she says. “But these are just numbers on a page and at best might make us feel uncomfortable for a minute. My trip to Africa leaves no doubt in my mind that I want to be a champion for children who matter, but are never heard.”

Jane is an ambassador for Compassion, an international charity that focuses on sponsorship, advocacy and support for children living in extreme poverty. By walking the slums herself, she says she’s seen the difference child sponsorship can make. “We spent time in homes that were simply small tin sheds with dirt floors and walls lined with cardboard,” she says. “My children think they are hard done by when our family doesn’t have the latest plasma screen, or are served a dinner that isn’t to their liking. I took Samuel to Africa to broaden his worldview, open his eyes to the living conditions of millions of children around the globe. Who knows what impact that will have in the long term, but right now he is a lot more appreciative of the opportunities he has.”

‘As well as giving our kids the ‘normal’ Christmas gifts, we give them a useful….gift.’

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supports children in need in more than 150 countries. Mother-of-two Carolyn Larkin works part-time for the organisation. “It’s important for people to consider those in need and not just their own families,” she says. “To have a greater, international perspective on the issues children face. When my own children get bigger and ask what I do for work and why, I will explain that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. I go to work to help other children so they might also have the opportunity to survive and thrive.” Carolyn encourages families to make a purchase through UNICEF’s Inspired Gifts catalogue or by giving to the organisation’s Christmas appeal.

“Each year I take my kids shopping and we fill up a shoebox…”

Rebekah McClellan, a physiotherapist and mother of two, donates to Operation Christmas Child, a project by international relief group Samaritan’s Purse that provides gift-filled shoeboxes to kids around the world. “Each year I take my kids shopping and we fill up a shoebox with a variety of new gifts for kids who never get any,” she says. “My children choose the gifts and we add money for postage, a photo of my kids and a short note.” According to Samaritan’s Purse, more than eight million children received the gifts last year, and more than 130 countries have received shoeboxes since the early 1990s.

Rebekah also supports TEAR Australia’s Useful Gifts online program. Purchases from the TEAR website catalogue contribute to long-term poverty-fighting community projects around the world. Simply speaking, you ‘buy’, for example, a pig, or a toilet or school supplies for a person or community in a poverty-stricken area. TEAR sends you a traditional card to give that explains the work and the gift. Rebekah often gives gifts from the catalogue to her children’s school teachers. “Over the years the teachers have been ‘given’ a pig, a cow and a goat. The teachers love it and some have explained the concept to the whole class. As well as giving our kids the ‘normal’ Christmas gifts, we give them a useful TEAR gift.”

Salvation-Army-Wishing-treeKim Hilton is a mother of two and former primary-school teacher who contributes each year to the Kmart Wishing Tree appeal organised by the Salvation Army. “We donate gifts for people who might not get one at Christmas,” Kim says. “I got involved to show my children that not everyone is as fortunate as they are. We choose a present for a boy and girl the same age as my children. My kids like choosing the gift and knowing how happy it will make the recipient. I am trying to show them the importance of giving and the feelings associated with it.”

‘goodwill to all men’…

While each mother supported a different cause, in common was their desire to help others and raise their children to do the same. The idea of ‘goodwill to all men’ is brought home to their children.

I recall finding in a local toy store an unusual moneybox divided into three compartments: spend, save and give. It’s a life-arming concept; teaching our children from a young age not only the virtues of saving and allocating money for future use but also the idea of generosity. While I don’t profess to have this sorted out in my life, or those of my children, it is certainly something I aspire to and is especially thought-provoking as Christmas draws near.

photos: TEAR Australia, KMart Wishing Tree