Giving: All The Ways I Am Bad At It

If you are a parent at my child’s school, please click on something else right now (like maybe some Palin Porn). Everyone else, get ready to change your opinion of me.

I am not a giver.

I do give, but not with my whole heart. I’m a selfish giver. I give to Project Angel Food because they gave to me. I give to LLS, because people I love need that research. I give to Epic Change because they bring me joy. I give to many other organizations, and I almost exclusively give anonymously, and I don’t want to be asked for more money or time in a public forum.

That’s right. I give in the grumpiest way possible. No fêtes, no galas, no volunteer dinners. I just want to do the giving and be done.

When the kids were each about five we got invited to Birthday Parties where the invitation said, “no gifts please”, and then directed us to give to a charity.

NO GIFTS FOR FIVE YEAR OLDS?! I call bullshit, that has nothing to do with the kid, and I know someone will be in the comments and try to convince me otherwise, but I don’t believe for one second that your child is that unselfish. I believe they are trying to please you by going along with your nonsense.

By the time each kid was six, we were back to normal gift giving. Really.

Don’t get me started on pink ribbons on foods that cause cancer, silence for AIDS, and Bulgari rings for charity. Just. Don’t. Start.

Here’s the way I see it. You either give or you don’t. I don’t care about a portion of the proceeds. Write a check. I don’t care about a celebrity banging one nail into a house for poor people, go give a day’s work. I don’t want ridiculously expensive thank you gifts for supporting a charity. I want you to look me in the eye or hand write me a note saying “thank you”. I want the money I give to have maximum impact.

And for the love of gawd, I don’t want my kids to volunteer as part of their grade. My daughter does not know how I feel about this, so watch the video with Daphne, Dana, and me. Then let me know how you feel about mandatory volunteer-ism.

15 thoughts on “Giving: All The Ways I Am Bad At It”

  1. I think if it is for course credit, it should be during school hours. If they want to put the kids on a bus and take them on a field trip to go and hand out soup at a soup kitchen or read to elderly blind people or something else, then I think that is fine. I did community service during high school. I did it voluntarily and the school took care of busing me to and from that community service.

  2. Well said. I wanted to chime in on the “no gifts” birthday parties. I’m so glad you said this! I remember my daughter in the first grade, being invited to a party where they were supposed to bring canned goods to put in a food drive box at the birthday child’s house. I thought it was ostentatious. Who exactly were those parents trying to teach a lesson and what was the lesson? Just give to the damn food bank. Ugh.

    I think this post struck a nerve with me.

  3. Let me start with “I’m not a mom,” so excuse any toes I might accidentally step on.

    In my opinion, when you make something “mandatory” it negates the “volunteering” part of things.

    I’d rather my children (if I had them), do it because they wanted to rather than because they “had” to. Where do they find the lesson in giving or even the joy of giving, if they’re made to do it?

    Do they really do that with birthday parties? Wow.

  4. I wouldn’t mind my child participating in some mandatory volunteer work. Perhaps the experience would help her gain some insight and understanding on an issue that she never thought much about before.

  5. Not a big fan of “indentured servitude” known as being forced to volunteer. However, I haven’t any problem with using other tools and resources to encourage people to give. Charity auctions come to mind.

    I don’t have a problem with no birthday gifts either. I have been to parties where the child has everything that they need. So gifts in these cases really aren’t necessary, but to each their own.

  6. Jessica – I both agree & disagree

    agree in that forced volunteering really isn’t volunteering at all and that volunteering for a GRADE just seems somehow wrong

    I went to private school K through 12 and each year each grade was responsible for a few charitable endeavours of their choosing – be it a food drive, a bottle drive, sponsoring an “African” child by bringing in $0.25 a week for the year (hey, this was the late 70’s/earl 80’s, it added up!0, etc – but we were never GRADED for it – it was more, I think, a lesson for us, to reinforce that yes, we were more fortunate than most and that with that comes a responsibility to give back – something that was also instilled at home

    it was also a bit of a competition between classes, which may not be the BEST way to encourage us, but at the end of the day the charities were the ones who benefited

  7. If I may chime in, I have to say that I disagree. I definitely cringe when someone tells me that they’re participating in community service for a mandatory part of their class (or pay, etc), but I am still happy that they’re participating, and I believe that an individual’s help truly benefits their community, whether they signed up because they were feeling generous, or if they’re doing it for school.

    I started volunteering in high school because it was a requirement of National Honor Society, and I wanted to have NHS on my college applications. Like the rest of my peers, I was an overextended, exhausted teenager, and the thought of signing up for a lot of volunteer hours felt wrong– both because I didn’t have time, and because I wasn’t doing it for the “right reasons”. I didn’t want to give back to my community just because it looked good on a college application… I wanted to give back in the future, when I had lots of time and felt like giving up my free time. Looking back, I don’t think there are many chances in life where you are twiddling your thumbs, looking to go way out of your comfort zone to help people with complicated problems just “for fun”. I needed to learn how to do that, and the encouragement of my teachers and family helped me realize *why* it was valuable, and *how* to contribute, even when it was mandatory.

    I started volunteering at an equine therapy center that worked with kids & adults who had mild to severe special needs. It was *very* challenging… emotionally and physically. There were days that I didn’t want to go– I had too much else to do; I was too tired. But I went… I never showed up late, I never skipped, I never left early. And after a while, I realized how much I was getting from that service job, and how much that organization *needed* volunteers. It wasn’t just a perk… it was a necessary component of a program that was helping motorcycle victims re-learn how to walk, and helping mentally retarded kids feel like the most physically and mentally capable children in the room.

    I got so used to volunteering that year that I stuck with it… only because I had been taught by others how (and why) to volunteer in an effective way. I’ve been consistently volunteering for the last 11 years, so I’d say that my indentured servitude worked as a student!

    Inevitably, on the first day of volunteer orientations, I’m surrounded by grad students from the local therapy & social work programs who are obviously irritated to be there. They openly bitch and grumble about “not having much time for this”, and they aren’t totally connected with the young foster kids we work with because they’re kind of putting on a show about what great pre-therapists they are, or they’re too busy flirting with each other or watching the clock. Some of them have great attitudes about it… but all of them settle into the value and contribution piece of it within the first month. No one is grumbling on the last day, and if they are, it’s pretty light-hearted.

    I’m there because I want to be there, and they’re there for a grade… but that program wouldn’t exist without volunteers, and we’re all benefiting from it. They get their grade, I get to spend time doing what I value, and 30 at-risk kids get therapeutic services in a really safe, happy environment. Few people really put the time and effort into giving back to their communities, and if students weren’t sometimes prodded to learn the benefits of community service, we wouldn’t have at-risk youth programs… we wouldn’t have well-staffed soup kitchens…we wouldn’t have anywhere to take the beautiful barn own that collided into our window, and needs a special ‘birds of prey’ non profit to nurse him back to health.

    We’re human; we need an incentive to do something, and it usually needs to benefit us if we are going to stick with it. If I hadn’t learned about the value of community service as a semi-unwilling teenager, I’m not sure if I’d be doing it now. We only work because it provides us with the means to live… same goes for volunteering. It’s not easy, and it’s not always a walk in the park, but once you start doing it and realize how deeply important it is, it’s hard to stop. Who knows? Maybe the kids in Jane’s class are just going through the motions. But kids are always watching and absorbing the bigger picture, even when they’re complaining. Maybe Jane or one of her peers will go back again when they’re older, “just to help at Christmas”. And then maybe after college “they’ll just go back a few more times,” until they’re a cog in a machine that helps feed people in their community, or helps mend that owl’s broken wing.

    I don’t mean to ramble so much or start sounding too precious here… it’s just a topic that’s shaped my life. :) Thanks for letting me join the chat.

  8. Spot On! It drives me bonkers when people talk talk talk about giving but don’t actually get their tuchus in motion – financially, physically, and specifically with their kids. Our children are not going to gain appreciation for those less fortunate or the extreme needs that exist in our world unless they are engaged in a very active way. Watching parents write a check is not going to do it. They’ll roll their eyes.
    After spending far too much money on groceries that were pushed around the plates on Thanksgiving, I was inspired to find another way to get my children actively involved. Mine are dubbed “too young” to work at the soup kitchen, the food bank, the homeless shelter – even with me by their sides. This seems ridiculous to me but I suppose they have good reasons. After poking around the web I found and A-Maze-Ing organization called See Your Impact. Best thing is that 100% of your donation goes directly to the need on the ground – And, its super-accessible to kids – as donations can be made in very small amounts, allowance-friendly amounts! Even cooler, you can choose exactly what geography or demographic or type of cause you want to target. Our family is sensitive to hunger issues, so we gifted vitamins to children in Sierra Leone. So, really this is the true best part – in just 2 weeks after making your donation, you get an email back from SeeYourImpact detailing how your money was used, relating the story of exactly the individuals reached and what their reaction was, and it comes with a photo – So your kids get to see the person they actually helped. It was very exciting. Yes, there is a ton of work to be done in our own communities – and we keep trying to find ways to get our kids involved at the source of need. But I really believe SeeYourImpact is providing an incredible avenue for (especially younger) kids to be involved, feel connnected to those less fortunate and experience the joy of truly helping. Check it out: SeeYourImpact .org

  9. I often don’t HAVE much to give in a town fairly affluent people. But we try. We give my daughter’s outgrown clothing, and even my “outgrown” but wearable clothing to a family who needs it… and we give to my daughter’s school. And I try to be somewhat involved there as well. Now, she’s in a school for special needs…. whose teachers and therapists have done a LOT for her… so in terms of giving to “big anonymous Autism charity”, some of which are controversial and carry messages that I don’t agree with, or giving to her school – which has helped her and is helping her? I choose to give what we DO have to a place where I can see the results.

    As far as birthday presents vs gifts to charity… I could see doing it at some point… probably not soon. But I find that gifts get overwhelming at a certain point… but for her there are always books… so we’ll see.

  10. Also, just thought of this… in high school, we were in an election year, so the History teacher told us for extra credit we could volunteer for a political party… some did, some didn’t but we didn’t HAVE to. I think it was fairly arbitrary on his part and the kids who would have gotten good grades anyhow volunteered. But the key word here is extra credit… not mandatory. It’s tough to have volunteering built into a grading system… but there are parents who, unlike you, do not foster volunteerism in their children. And in a school that does.. what then?

  11. I actually went to a high school where you were required to volunteer so many hours each semester. During it, I grumbled. Looking back on it, I think it’s a great idea. Volunteering can put kids in different situations that they might not normally be in. Volunteering doesn’t mean giving the gift of money, it means giving the gift of your time to an organization you believe in.


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