Honoring the spirit of generosity in our children

About Megan

Megan Tietz wants you to join her on the front porch for some long talks and iced tea. She lives in the heart of Oklahoma City with her husband, two daughters, and twin sons. Catch up with her at Sorta Crunchy and join the conversation in her Facebook community.

Last month, I went to Nashville for the BlissDom blogging conference. I wanted to bring home something for each of my girls, a little treat from my trip.

The first day of the conference offered me the chance to shop the delightful wares at the Handmade Marketplace. I realized as I browsed the booths that I wanted to get my daughters something handmade, something that would hopefully hold more meaning than a tacky t-shirt.

I walked up and down the aisles, sighing more than once over the precious collections for little ones. Though of course I realize that my children are growing up, it definitely drove the point home when I realized that they were too big even for the sweet little handmade skirts I found at one booth.

Both of my daughters have been very into girly, feminine accessories lately, and when I spied the lacy fluffs at the Allora Handmade booth, I knew I had found the perfect treat for each of them. I picked light pink for my older daughter and the darker pink for the  younger one, bearing in mind that her favorite color is very specifically dark pink.

After my return, my girls had fun digging through all of the treasures I brought home with me. Predictably, they were slightly more interested in the free stuff from my swag bag (squeezable applesauce and a bag of chocolate mini eggs!) than they were in the gifts I had purchased just for them, but still they happily tucked their pretty new lacy fluffs into the bucket of accessories that sits on their dresser.

Something kind of fun and interesting that my children and their friends do is swap stuff with each other. It’s not unusual at all for them to come home from hanging out with friends with hands full of goodies passed along to them. Usually it’s a stuffed animal or a drawing book or some other little treat that their friends happily gave away. Likewise, I’m always delighted to see items from our copious collections of stuff walking out the door into a new home after a little friend visits here.

About a week after I got home from Nashville, my younger daughter decided she wanted to make a card for a special friend of hers—a friend from church who is several years older than my AJ, a sweet little girl who both of my daughters adore.

AJ decided that the card wasn’t enough; she wanted to give her friend a special present. No occasion, just because. And she had chosen the dark pink lacy fluff I had just given her as the gift to give to her friend.

I have to confess: I was hurt.

Now, I fully realize the weight of the irony here. I am, after all, the person who has shared with you on several occasions about how we can focus on less clutter, less stuff, and less angst over what to do about gifts. One might think that if there was any person who should recognize that the choice of whether or not to keep a gift that has been given has nothing to do with the depth of the relationship between gift-giver and gift-recipient, that person should be me.

Yet I found myself stuttering and stammering over my daughter’s decision to give away this little gift that I had put so much thought into giving her. I realized I was having one of those (often painful, yet much-needed) moments when  my philosophy was meeting my reality. If I wouldn’t allow my daughter to give her friend a brand new gift that I had intended for her to her friend, what message would I be sending?

Would she be hearing from me that shabby cast-offs are fine for giving away, but we keep the best stuff for ourselves?

Or worse, would she be learning from my response that we have to hold on to things given to us by those we love, lest we hurt their feelings?

Day by day, decision by decision, response by response, we are shaping the view on life that our children will take with them when they grow up and leave our homes as independent individuals. We can speak with our words as much as we want to that people are more important than things, but if our actions don’t support that belief, then all of our talk is a meaningless waste of time and breath.

All too often, I get frustrated by how much stuff my children want to hang onto, and I fear that they too often err on the side of selfishness. Yet in this moment, my four-year-old was displaying a wonderful spirit of generosity, and I made the decision to honor that spirit.

So with a smile and my blessing, I watched AJ give to her friend this gift I had hoped she would want to enjoy herself. A little case of hurt feelings on my part is more than worth it to be able to cultivate in my children a generous spirit that will allow them to bless others, both today and in the years to come.

Have your children ever surprised you with their generosity? Last week, as part of Project Simplify, we focused on kids’ stuff. Did you discover within your children or yourself a more generous spirit than you had anticipated?

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  1. Megan, I totally relate to this post. My kids are very generous and I’ve sometimes had issues with the things they want to give away. It’s convicting to be challenged in the belief that stuff is just… stuff and that relationships are of the most importance. I think God uses my kids to show me my own character so often and most of the time it’s over lessons I’ve been trying to teach them. Oh, the irony.
    Alia Joy´s latest post: My Dad’s Blanket: A Lesson in Suffering and Humanity

    • “I think God uses my kids to show me my own character so often and most of the time it’s over lessons I’ve been trying to teach them.”

      This. THIS is the lesson I keep learning, day by day. Exactly.

  2. I feel your hurt and also that struggle of letting personal preference go in lieu of something so much bigger. These four-year-olds keep us on our toes, don’t they?

  3. I am of the opinion that once a gift is given, that’s it… it is up to the recipient what they want to do with it.

    But still…..

    In this case, while I think it is wonderful that you could teach your daughter generosity, it is also alright to tell her you were a bit hurt by her actions. People do have feelings, there is no point denying them, and giving away a carefully selected and just received gift is a great way to bruise them. That is a learning experience, too.
    The Accidental Housewife´s latest post: Spiders

    • That is one way to look at it. I did ask my daughter, “Are you suuuure you want to give this away? This is the gift Mama JUST bought for you.” But she was pretty sure about it! I think I might over-correct a little bit because I myself have HUGE issues with not wanting to part with stuff because I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. There’s a balance there, somewhere, because I also believe in being honest with our kids about our own emotions …

  4. What a sweet spirit. Your daughters actions goes to show what a great job YOU are doing, as her mother, teaching her about what is really important in life (real relationships and reaching out to people, not stuff). Love this post.
    Brittnie (A Joy Renewed)´s latest post: What not to say. . . to someone dealing with an eating disorder, infertility or pregnancy loss

  5. What a sweet, generous spirit. I can totally relate to having the philosophy down, but real life sometimes being a little different. Loved this line :
    “I realized I was having one of those (often painful, yet much-needed) moments when my philosophy was meeting my reality.”

    Great post!
    Johanna´s latest post: How to Implement a Habit

    • I’m definitely an idealist, so I face many situations where my philosophies have to meet my realities and it’s always kind of a wake-up call!

  6. Oh I read this post with a smile!!! How sweet our children are and how they make us grow up so fast!!! When my children practice what I preach, I often have a quiet moment… We know they follow our example and not our words… well that’s the theory. Often I find my kids do what I say far more easily than doing what I do!!! Great post!!!
    se7en´s latest post: Sunday Snippet: Se7en Seek To Walk with the Wise… and a GiveAway…

  7. Oh, that’s a tough one for me, too! I have a 6 year old daughter with a very generous spirit–she’s always making cards and finding little gifts to give her friends and siblings.

    I don’t know how I would have come down on the lacy fluff. I’ve put my foot down on several gifts before–she wasn’t allowed to give away her grandmother’s heirloom necklace, $20 bills to the neighbors, or handmade childcare books for our friends with a fussy baby.

    Megan, I love your heart here to encourage your daughter’s generous spirit. I hope both girls are happy with the gift, and the gifting.
    Anne @ Modern Mrs Darcy´s latest post: Making Time for the Things That Matter

    • Um, yes. I guess I should have added a disclaimer that we definitely have some boundaries about what CANNOT be given away! An heirloom or something handmade that is meant to stay in the family – that would have been a different story. This was an item that was less than $10 that could be easily replaced if needed, but I don’t think I will. That’s a different lesson – what you give is what you give and you don’t get it back. Lots of teachable moments from one situation!

  8. I haven’t experienced this yet with my daughter as she’s a little young yet. But my husband and I had a situation this past week where we had to decide if our philosophy would meet our reality. It’s hard. But we are teaching through our actions much more than our words.
    Steph´s latest post: Boredom

    • We encounter those moments OFTEN as parents, especially the older our children are! In fact, we have had to re-visit philosophies and revise them on the spot in some cases. Parenting is a very fluid art, isn’t it?

      • Absolutely Megan! Parenting is a fine art and as parents we have to be very fluid. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have standards we stand by, but life and the different personalities of our children bring things our way we weren’t quite expecting.
        I would have probably reacted the same as you, Are you SUUURE you want to give her this thing that I spent forever looking JUST for you?
        Great story of real life teaching!
        Bernice @ Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Cleaning out your emotional trash

  9. We have a very (read:uncomfortably) generous 5 year old (she is exactly like me – friends never leave my home empty handed!) and what we struggle with is how to teach correct emotional boundaries in her giving. I learned the hard way that your gift can only be an emblem of your affection, not an actual piece of your heart offered up for acceptance. To teach a 5 year old that subtle difference is hard.

  10. I certainly get that parenting challenges us to walk the talk :) Thanks for a great post. My girls love to make cards for others and sometimes add little treats/gifts but mostly homemade (like hand beaded bracelets)…rarely items from home.
    Kika@embracingimperfection´s latest post: Weight :: And Are You A "Real Woman"

  11. It’s so much easier for our kids to make sense of the lessons we teach them if we aren’t contradicting those lessons all the time – especially in those tough moments when our emotions drive us the other direction.

    I interviewed my own dad – way out of the box, I know – for a series on my blog called “I Hear Voices…..The Good Kind”. One theme that came out in the interview is just how important it is for us as parents to lead by example.

    (You can read the article tomorrow morning at leadyofam.blogspot.com).
    Chase Christy´s latest post: Another Tool in the Walt Kowalski Toolbox

    • They definitely (!!!) pick up more on the lessons we don’t use words to teach (the good and the bad). I love the idea of interviewing your own father for parenting advice! I bet that will be a great series.

  12. Okay, so I want to know, did the friend love the gift and card?

    I think in a way your daughter was honoring you. She received a beautiful gift from mom and wanted to give away a beautiful gift to a friend. Just like you! Don’t be hurt, be proud.
    Lisa´s latest post: Simplicity 2

    • I was pretty proud, honestly. And yes, the friend LOVED the gift (and actually, I kind of think the friend will love and get more use out of the lacy fluff than my 4 year old would have!).

  13. I am amazed at my daughter’s generosity. Each time we do a “clean out” of her room, she is so eager to choose the items that will be donated. I don’t think she understands what it means to be unable have the things you want, but she really enjoys gifting to others.
    Camille´s latest post: penne with asparagus and balsamic butter

    • Oh, what a sweet spirit. I love that. My girls all too often only want to give away broken stuff. It’s so sweet to see our kids want to give away new things!

  14. This is such a tricky subject. Every child whose parent takes the time and care to raise them to be polite and kind runs the risk of someone taking advantage. I think of my neighbour’s daughter, who always seems to be toyless because some hoodlum has snatched whatever she was playing with away. Then there’s the disastrous world of pin, sticker, card-trading, where a child is tricked by a more sharp-witted one into trading away something beloved, only to be consumed by regret afterwards.

    I love the idea of promoting generosity, but I would rather do so with non-permanent things like snacks, or by planning and choosing or making a nice item for the friend, rather than allowing spontaneous, unsupervised gifts out of their own collection. You never know when they might give away something truly precious, and many parents unfortunately promote the “no take-backs” law.
    Becca´s latest post: 20 Miles

    • “Every child whose parent takes the time and care to raise them to be polite and kind runs the risk of someone taking advantage.”

      Now THAT is a good point. I hadn’t thought of that because we haven’t quite come across that yet, but I hadn’t thought of that angle.

      On the one hand, we are also trying to teach our girls about really thinking through giving something to a friend – that, yes, it is GOOD to give things, but to understand the permanence of that. It can be a hard lesson to learn, but it’s an important one. On the other hand, as I commented to Modern Mrs. Darcy above, we definitely have boundaries about what can be given away. We reserve the right as parents to say some items are non-negotiable – they stay in our house! ;)

    • Ah, yes, the trading card situation. My son has had issues with this in the past. I try bite my tongue, but it’s hard. The only way to learn is to experience and grow, but when he’s given a “nice” set of cards from a relative and “trades” them for something fleeting, like 10 minutes use of a DS, well, it’s frustrating. On the one card, I’m not a fan of the cards and don’t understand them, but on the other hand, he’s later sad he doesn’t have the good spell card anymore (and of course, the 10 minutes is LONG gone). But he will live and learn. And I’ll try to keep my comments to a minimum!
      Dee´s latest post: Is This the Best Way to Learn?

  15. Megan this totally hit home. Thank you for sharing words of wisdom – they did sting a little, but in the best way of course! <3
    Arianne´s latest post: Spring Style With Tea {giveaway!}

  16. This is happening to me often these days since my kids are now young teens and they want to shed their child-like selves and items. It’s really hard for me to part with things I’ve sewn for them or given them. I really try to encourage them to pass along their treasures to a younger cousin or a younger neighbor because that way I get to see the items being loved and enjoyed by others rather than just placed in our donation box. Parenting is hard work but the benefits are good :)
    Sara Tetreault´s latest post: Totally Tubular Aluminum Chair

  17. It’s funny that I see my kids being so much more generous that I ever remember being at their age. They often draw and make greeting cards for people just because. When I ask them to donate items they too often donate things that are brand new. I agree with you, it is difficult to see your child give away something that you had hoped they would enjoy for themselves, but after all we are to be generous and give without expectation. That also means that we should not expect the recipients of our gifts to do what we WANT them to do with what we give them. Great post Tsh!
    Keya´s latest post: Coping with Trying Times – Having One of THOSE Days

  18. This is such a great post!

  19. I think you’re on point about children giving away their good stuff and not just their shabby stuff. What if though she gives away a gift that another child gave her? You’re her mom, so even though you got hurt, you’re very forgiving. Maybe even another adult would. But what if another child had given her let’s stay stationery. And then in front of that child, your daughter gave the stationery away to another friend? How do we teach our kids about THAT scenario? Maybe it’s still okay to say, “That sort of hurt me” later on, or “What do you think friend A felt when you gave away the stationery to friend B in front of her face?” What do you think?
    Sleeping Mom´s latest post: More mood swings than Jekyll and Hyde

  20. Kudos to you for capitalizing on a “teachable moment”!
    Suzanne O’Brien´s latest post: Being Intentional | Grandparent Stories

  21. Once when my son was only about 6yrs. he received $5 from my aunt who is a nun. I casually said to my son that this was a lot of money for her to give him, since she is only given about $40 a month for personal spending. He looked at me with tears, “Give it back.” he said. “But, she wants you to have it.” “Then I want to give it to a charity.” I was really touched.
    Simple Living with Diane Balch´s latest post: Decisiveness: DeClutter Your Brain

  22. Oh, I so see myself in this post. My kids are so eager to help find “toys for other kids” when we are de-cluttering, and I find myself heavily “guiding” and censoring what they choose to put in our donation box… and then I’m frustrated when they don’t want to give away the things that I want to head out the door. I really needed this perspective and reminder. Thank you!
    Alissa´s latest post: In Transition

  23. this is both heartwarming and heartbreaking! i feel bad for YOU, because i know how that type of thing feels, but you seem to have handled it with a lot of grace. wonderful learning experience for you both, i’d say. :)
    kristin´s latest post: diapers for elephants

  24. Megan, with Joslyn only being two, sharing her toys is not something she does naturally yet. But I have noticed how generous she is with her hugs and kisses. Especially after she gets in trouble and a get her from timeout, I ask for a hug afterwards and a kiss and she is so obliging. It makes me think of how stingy I can be with my love and affection towards someone if they have offended me or made me angry. If only I could forgive and forget so easily. How wise our children are sometimes. Great post Megan

  25. avatar
    molly warren says:

    this is great.

  26. Great post. I’ve been surprised since becoming a parent that I have a lot to think about when it comes to what message I’m sending to my kids about things.

    That’s so great that your daughter wanted to be so generous to her friend :).
    Audrey @ Mom Drop Box´s latest post: Super Simple Saving Tip: Stay out of your weakness stores

  27. I would add that your daughter’s choice actually reflects how well you chose the item for her… Your daughter liked it so much she thought it worthy to give to her friend… that’s another perspective. :)
    Kristy´s latest post: Currently planted in the garden… and lessons

  28. This is really insightful Megan!
    Kelly´s latest post: March Preview

  29. Aww, I thought it was so sweet of your daughter to do that! :) What a wonderful friend your daughter is.
    desiree´s latest post: .give one win one – and a couple of missionaries.

  30. Thanks for this post! I needed to hear it. My son this year has decided to give away a couple Transformers to a friend. They went to a friend of his on the bus. I didn’t know about it until a few weeks after it happened. He had found a part that went with one of them and said “Oh, I gave that to Ashton. He likes Transformers.” All I could think of at the time was the time and the money spent trying to find the one Transformer my son had to have for Chiristmas just 10 months before. I told his to check with me the next time he wants to do this. Generosity is one thing – but I just want to make sure there is no “bullying” or persuasion leading up to it.

  31. avatar
    Sara Mummolo says:

    I just love this. So important as you say to be able to walk the talk…just like that saying “actions speak louder than words”! Thanks for sharing this beautiful story. I have a 2 year old and always wonder if I am raising her to be a caring, honest, generous little girl. It is truly the most important thing that if we wish to grow our children to live with these qualities that we should model these behaviors first and foremost.
    With the unseasonably warm New Jersey weather in the last week, my daughter and I went on multiple walks on the beach. The first day on the beach, I decided it was important to teach her about keeping the earth clean, so her and I gathered some trash and put it in the nearest receptacle so we could “take care of Mother Earth”. Can you believe the next time we were on the beach, her mission was to clean up every piece of trash…she just kept repeating how she wanted to “take care of Mother Earth.” It brought such a smile to my face! It is one thing to tell your children to do things but it really makes a difference when you model the things you wish to grow or envoke in them.

  32. I was touched by your phrase about philosophy meeting reality. My daughter’s act of generosity this weekend involved rescuing a little blue parakeet she found on the sidewalk. I don’t like caging birds. It doesn’t fit with our desire for simplicity either. But knowing the bird might not survive without our help, the whole family piled in the car to find a cage and food. Supporting her was so much more important than my ideas. Children really are the best teachers, aren’t they?

  33. What a wonderful, teachable moment! Kids are naturally generous and it’s something to nurture not squelch. This is such a wonderful post.
    Terri´s latest post: Exploring Nature: Bird’s Nest

  34. Pinterest is a great way to socialized with everyone.
    I love Pinterest’s unique interface.
    you should try http://pinfaves.com/ too
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  35. Pinterest is a great way to socialized with everyone.
    I love Pinterest’s unique interface.
    you should try http://pinfaves.com/ too
    it’s a site where you can submit your favorite pins. and you can vote up the greatest pins or vote down the worst pins.
    maybe if you try http://pinfaves.com/, you can do a review about it too

    best regards, Dee

  36. What a wonderful message you are teaching your children! So like you\’ve also taught her that friendship also has some give and take to it. Thanks for sharing!
    Mary at The Mommy Job´s latest post: Kitchen Floor Cleaner

  37. This is a precious story! My 5-year-old has the same generous spirit, and more than once his choices of “just because” gifts for his friends have caused me to cringe inwardly, wondering if he would later regret his decision to give away a favorite toy or wishing that he would hang onto something because I know its monetary value. Sometimes I’ll ask him, “Are you sure that you want to give such-and-such to so-and-so?” But he always is sure. Very sure. So I just smile and say, “That’s wonderful, sweetie!” The glow on his face as he tastes the blessedness of giving is one of my favorite mommy joys!

  38. (I’m not sure if this comment went through the first time, so here’s attempt #2.) This is a precious story! My 5-year-old has the same generous spirit, and more than once his choices of “just because” gifts for his friends have caused me to cringe inwardly, wondering if he would later regret his decision to give away a favorite toy or wishing that he would hang onto something because I know its monetary value. Sometimes I’ll ask him, “Are you sure that you want to give such-and-such to so-and-so?” But he always is sure. Very sure. So I just smile and say, “That’s wonderful, sweetie!” The glow on his face as he tastes the blessedness of giving is one of my favorite mommy joys!
    Mommy Joys´s latest post: Wacky Things My Kids Have Said: #3

  39. avatar
    Dawn Witt says:

    Megan, I haven’t read any other comments yet, but another way to look at this is that a gift that is given is often something that is so special you want to give it and share it. Just the way you felt about giving that fluff to your daughter is how she felt about giving it to her friend. No other possession she had was worthy of this wonderful friend. You have done well and have a very special daughter.
    Sorry I have no website yet…..
    Dawn from Wisconsin

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