Single parents are probably one group in our society that many would give a “get out of serving” free card to. But there are several reasons why we, as single parents, should skip on the free pass and jump in to help others.
Today, we hear many complaints about entitled or spoiled children. There is something uniquely different about the culture our children are growing up in compared to our generation. What is this difference? I don’t have research backing this up, but the thought has occurred to me that as the American divorce rate has risen so has the epidemic of entitled children.
This relates in one of three ways. First scenario is mom gets custody, while dad gets weekends and vacations. Guess where the kids have more fun? Guess who feels guilty about not being with their kids more often? We’ve all heard the term “Disney Dad”. While the kids may certainly enjoy the time and bonuses in this scenario, it’s easy for them to feel that is how things should be. Second scenario is parents may have equal custody but the child has learned that everything is not equal and “to work the system”. You may hear things like, “But I have an iPad at Dad’s house” or “Mom let me have a kitten.” The child(ren) work this well! Or the third scenario, maybe mom or dad is on their own with the kids and after a long week of school and work, the guilt sets in over lost quality time and a little indulgence is bought to show how much we love those little ones we barely saw that week.
I find myself just shaking my head in my own little guilt trip once in awhile. We went from being a family with a stay-at-home mom and homeschooling where I could spend all the time in the world with my kids to it being just me, working and school 40-50 hours a week…sure you can have that piece of candy I just want to see your little face light up today. My kids rock the check-out lane like a boss. Or the $5 movie bin, they know if they can agree on a single movie, it’s coming home with us. While these little goodies are not bad in and of themselves, it’s the child’s attitude in receiving and the parent’s attitude in giving we need to examine.
How does all this relate to serving? I believe serving others, especially WITH our children is crucial in building the right attitude of giving and receiving.
Many of my single parent friends are the most generous people with their time, money and other resources that I know. I believe the reason for this is because we know what it means to do without or be short-handed in some aspect, and strive to relieve that burden from others. But what can we do if we look at serving as a vital and intentional aspect of our parenting? Especially if you are combating one of the scenarios I mentioned?
For adults and children, serving provides a visible reminder that no matter how bad they have it, they are gifted in a way someone else could benefit from. Each one of us has God-given talents that make us unique and using them to help others builds confidence and self-esteem. For children, it also teaches them the differences in “wants” and “needs”. Wanting ice cream at the store is much different when they realize that some children need food for dinner. Or wanting that new pair of special jeans when they have 5-10 other pairs and knowing another child needs what they have so many of. Or in my world…”Jonah, put the candy back, do you realize there are some children who have never had a Reese cup, what can we use that $1 for instead?”
I know many of you may say, “What can I do with my kids? What does this look like in the everyday?” There are so many things you can do! And some have great lessons that you can talk about with your kids that are unique to that opportunity. While I’ve done many things with my kids, I polled Facebook (because you know that’s where all great research comes from) and compiled a list unique to the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati area, though many have counterparts in other cities. Please use this as a jump off point, focus your efforts on organizations that are near you, or have special meaning to your family. And go as big or little as you can manage, just get started!
My favorite means of doing for others is Operation Christmas Child. We have been participating in packing shoe boxes since 2008 when I was introduced to this ministry via our MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group. Over 100 million shoe boxes have been packed and sent to children who often don’t have anything that belongs just to them. Paired with a Gospel tract and follow-up ministry this is a very simple, yet life-impacting means to get your children involved in the life of another child. In our house, because of my tight budget (and lesson to be taught), our OCC shoe box items come out of our entire Christmas budget. My kids get less so another child can have something. The kids love picking out items for another child in their age range and seeing how much they can get stuffed in that box. We pray for the child that will get it, and if I’m organized enough we add a short pen pal type letter about our family. We occasionally get wonderful letters from one of the children who has received a box. Nothing beats that experience! Samaritan’s Purse, the organization that runs OCC, also helps with disaster relief and has a shoe box processing center in North Carolina that runs by volunteers. More information on all aspects are listed at the link above.
Another, Lifeline Ministries, serves the Northern Kentucky area. They provide help in many ways and accept food, clothing and furniture donations. And they have many ways you can help, either through donations or on-site, so there are several things you can do with your children to help those in the community with less. I urge you to check their site for specific ways you and your children, depending on their ages, can assist. This is often where our outgrown clothing and unused household items go. I would much rather know it is given to someone that needs it than for someone to be charged for it at a thrift shop that makes a profit.
Hands Against Hunger is another outlet located in Cincinnati that is dedicated to serving the needs of those hurting. They gladly welcome families, groups, teams or individuals during Packing times. They make specially-designed food packages that meet daily nutritional requirements that are sent to areas lacking resources to adequately feed themselves. Their site has a whole section of how you can volunteer and when their Packing events are scheduled. Our family did a packing event with my daughter’s American Heritage Girls group and had so much fun.
Matthew 25 Ministries lists specific times and guidelines for children volunteers. Everyone works on sorting, counting and packaging donations to be sent to locations all over the world.
Other suggestions from my official Facebook poll were: Rose Garden Mission in Covington, Ky., Master Provisions (both with service opportunities that children can take part in) as well as ideas for finding something yourself. These included: Nursing homes, where residents love visitors to talk with, do crafts, sing or a movie night. Shut-ins (elderly) or others in need could often use help with yard and/or various house work. Pastors and other church leaders could also use practical help while they are serving others and they often get overlooked. Homeless shelters are always in need of supplies and other help, and unfortunately there are many to choose from. Fundraisers, like lemonade stands, candy bars, etc. are great ways your kids could work to raise money for any of the organizations listed.
You may be more creative depending on your circumstances, availability and interests of the kids. We’ve even used our vacation time and money in previous years to do a mission trip in Oneida, Ky where my kids could do little things alongside the adults. Thank you to all my professional assistants on Facebook & friends at Single Parent Link.