The best time for me to get maintenance done on my vehicle is during school breaks such as this winter break.  That way I don’t have to work around my crossing schedule or any subbing calls.  So, I sit in the lobby area of Jiffy Lube waiting for the “signature service oil change” to be completed and I type on my laptop to kill time. 


It has been a whirlwind couple of days.  The thing I most want to report on is the service that we did for our “mystery” family.  My extended family went above and beyond in providing the Christmas dinner and stocking stuffers for the family.  Our kids partnered up in shopping for the other gifts for the family and we got them wrapped and packed up on December 23. 


I made arrangements with the mom of the family to meet away from her apartment so that she could keep the gifts secret from her kids.  The kids and I loaded the gifts into the back of my car and we all piled into our two vehicles and drove to the meeting spot (Hub was still recovering from his surgery, so he stayed home).  When we arrived, we quickly found the mom and her friend waiting for us in a beat-up car.  We were shown pictures of all of her kids and  a scrapbook of the little boy’s journey of being a heart patient.  I think my kids were touched to see such a tiny boy in a hospital bed surrounded by tubes.


The mom told us a little about each of her kids and then we started transferring gifts from our car to the other car.  When that task was finished the mom started to thank us and broke down crying.  She said that she was so grateful to us for helping her provide a Christmas for her kids.  We all gave her a hug and she cried again.  It was then that the personalities of our teens came out.  They were touched by the show of emotion from the mom, but I could tell that they preferred a more upbeat tone, so they immediately started talking about movies, and school, and everything else.  The mom joined in the conversation and we sat in the freezing parking lot visiting for an hour.  There was much laughter and joking, and it put everyone into a festive mood.


We wanted to keep our service as anonymous as possible, but the mom has my email address and has promised to send us updates on her kids.  When we got home I asked our kids how they felt.  The two words they used to describe how they felt were good and happy.  They all thought the mom of the family was “cool” and said how much they enjoyed visiting her and that they wouldn’t mind getting to see her again some day.


So, if we were trying to keep our service anonymous, why would I write about it on my blog?  My purpose in doing so is to show parents that getting kids, teens especially, involved in service is one way to help them look beyond themselves.  Teens are naturally self-centered and concerned about themselves and their world.  If left unchecked, it can develop into selfishness and a raging sense of entitlement.


The schools our kids attend have some financial diversity, but the majority of the kids are very privileged and have a lot of money at their disposal.  Many of the kids expect a fully-loaded new car for their 16th birthday–and get it.  They have the latest electronic devices and wear the latest fashions, and most don’t have to work for the money they receive from their parents.  It is just handed to them.  Not the best way to raise kids, in my opinion. 


Earlier this month Mack came home from school totally disgusted with something she had overheard in one of her classes.  Some of the kids were talking about what they expected to get for Christmas and most of the items being talked about were quite expensive.  The conversation turned to grandparents and a few of the kids compared their two sets of grandparents. 


“Yeah, one set of grandparents gets me pretty good stuff, but the other one only gives me five dollars.”


“I have some like that.  I have a grandpa that is totally loaded and his presents are nice.  But my grandparents who live in Wyoming, they’re dirt poor, and all they ever send is five dollars.  I open it and think, ‘Gee thanks, I guess I can go buy me a candy bar now.'”


It is just that sense of entitlement and selfishness that I want to prevent from developing in our seven kids.  My four kids have known what it is like to be “poor” and to have to receive help from others.  They are pretty grounded and have a sense of what is really important in life.  But, I recognize that that could change, especially with their school environment, so I constantly look for ways they can serve others.  Hub’s kids have led a rather pampered existence, especially at their other home, so I have desires to let them experience the joys of helping others as well.


The whole purpose of finding a family to help at Christmas to was help our kids to see that not everyone has been as fortunate as they have been.  I wanted them to see what others deal with on a daily basis, and that sometimes meeting basic needs is a real struggle.  I wanted them all to look beyond themselves.  We asked them all to make a certain sacrifice in providing for the “mystery” family and they all willingly did so.  Getting to visit with the mom of the family and seeing pictures of her kids helped to put a face to the family we were helping, they were no longer just “somebody out there.”  They were real people with likes and dislikes, talents, and some very real challenges.  It was a great experience for our kids, for our family as a whole.  Hub thanked me afterwards for providing the opportunity for his kids to serve someone else.


If there is one plea I could send out to all parents, it is to provide opportunities for your kids to serve others.  Doing a Sub for Santa is only one way.  Residents of care centers are lonely and crave visits from others.  There are children who need tutoring in math or reading.  There are parks that need cleaning up.  There is always a need for food and volunteers at local food banks.  Elderly people appreciate their walks and driveways being shoveled in the winter, or their lawns being mowed in the summer.  Inmates enjoy receiving mail.  There are so many ways to serve others.  Find a way to serve that suits the personalities of your kids and let them experience the joy.  They will develop compassion and empathy, may make some new friends, and will stop thinking only of themselves.


As I said in an earlier post, look for opportunities to serve, and they will come.  It is one of the greatest gifts you can give your kids.