The Value of Volunteering Teach your children the importance of donating their time and reap the rewards of a closer family. BY ERIK FISHER, PH.D.
Get closer to your family by giving your time as a family to others.
“ The family unit has the ability to be a very strong cohesive team, but the members of the family have to learn to work as a team first.”
In today's society, so many of us feel that children are growing up with unhealthy values and unproductive attitudes. Children and teens are sometimes viewed as self-centered—seldom thinking about others in their family or community. While there are many factors that contribute to their behaviors and beliefs, there are ways to guide and positively affect their belief systems and develop a closer relationship in the process.
Children often develop a self-centered view toward the world either through observation and/or lack of exposure to helping others. As parents, have we ever really looked at ourselves as being a source of unproductive, self-centered modeling? In the formative years of our children's lives, we are the most important model to them, and whether we realize it or not they see and hear almost everything we do.
Work, Work, Work
In many families today, it is common for both parents to work, so the time that one or both parents have to spend with children is compromised. And as you and your spouse feel that you have to scramble to make ends meet, you both may feel that time to do anything else is compromised that much more.
Between the responsibilities at work and home, many parents feel that time for them self is almost non-existent. You may not want to look so closely at yourself or your spouse, but have you asked how your children see you spending time when you are at home? They may see you resting, watching television, cleaning, cooking, helping them with homework, playing sports, etc.
We may believe that we sacrifice and volunteer much of our time for our children by driving them to games, friends houses, the movies; working our fingers to the bone to make sure that they have food, clothes and a roof over their head. But we still need to recognize that all of these efforts also serve our own purpose at some level, and frankly our children often expect this of us—our children do not realize that we are volunteering our time to them many times a day.
When was the last time that you volunteered your time to people in need? Moreover, when was the last time you and your family volunteered time to people in need?
For many of us the answer to the first question may be "a long time," and the answer to the second question is likely "never." On the other hand, sometimes we feel that we "are" the people in need, and in some ways we may be; however, if all that we expect is to be given to when we are in need, what are our children learning.
They say that if you give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, he will eat for a lifetime. Giving back to others is teaching the man to fish. It creates a cycle of giving and receiving, and frankly, what got us into the current economic mess we are in now was more taking than giving and excessive entitlement that seemed to be taught from the top down.
United We Stand
The family unit has the ability to be a very strong cohesive team, but the members of the family have to learn to work as a team first. Volunteering, as a family, can teach many positive lessons. When we contribute our time and effort, it helps us to feel better about ourselves, teaches a stronger work ethic, contributes to learning about the world around us, results in us meeting different people and forming different relationships and provides confidence and building experiences in a variety of different job tasks.
If, as a parent, you feel that you work hard enough at what you do, then you have to be very careful of the message you are sending your child. If you spent only three hours on a Saturday morning once a month with your kids cleaning up a shelter or planting flowers, or commit part of your day around Thanksgiving or Christmas to feed people at a shelter or church, it still sends a positive message that your children will value the rest of their lives.
Parents are often looking for ways to spend quality time with their children. Giving our time freely to others as a family can be one of the richest forms of quality time we can offer. Even more, volunteering is free.
If you are looking for ways to volunteer your time there are a wide variety of things you can do. Contact some of these sources to see how they could use your family's help: Habitat for Humanity, animal shelters, churches, homeless and battered women's shelters, United Way, after school programs, public broadcasting stations, meals on wheels, nursing homes and hospitals.
In terms of settling on your volunteering, talk to your children and ask them what they would like to do. They may have great ideas on unique ways to volunteer time. When you listen to your children and include them in on decisions, they feel more valued. Always remember that our children are a gift to us and the time we spend with them is priceless.