{Parenting} Learning + Teaching Compassion

For the last week or so I’ve been driving a fully-loaded, 2015 Suburban. My car is getting some warranty work done and GM gave me a rental car. They have a policy of only giving GM rental cars and the car should be similar in size to the car it’s replacing. The rental agency only had one GM vehicle: this huge, tricked out Suburban. Both Shelby and Cooper immediately started oohing and aahing about how awesome the Suburban was and how we should trade up and get one for ourselves. Mike on the other hand kept saying how embarrassed he feels driving it.

We were driving to the kids’ Oktoberfest and he tried to explain to the kids why he was embarrassed by the car. It’s too big, much bigger than we need as a family of four. It’s way too expensive. We’d rather spend our money on other things, like family experiences or helping others. It’s not the most environmentally friendly vehicle. The image of this car doesn’t align with out values like being frugal and smart with our money and loving and protecting the environment.

Even with this explaination, both kids were still pretty star struck by the Suburban.

Saturday night Shelby and I were driving home from her friend’s Halloween party. We made a quick stop at a clothing donation bin a block from our house. We had cleaned out both kids’ closets that morning and had seven garbage bags full of clothes and shoes. A woman approached us and said, “I see you’re donating clothes. I’m homeless (pointing to a car filled with everything she owned). Can you help me?”

I had no cash on me. I apologized and Shelby and I headed home. As soon as we pulled away, Shelby said, “Mom, I get it.”

I had no idea what she was talking about. She went on to explain, “I feel icky. This car is too flashy. That woman has nothing and we have so much. She sees us in this car and it feels icky. I want our old car back.”

We talk about it a little more and when we got home she went to tell Dad about what happened. Before I knew it, Shelby came to me and asked if I’d drive her back to the where the homeless woman was. She had a wad of cash in her hand. Dad had given her some. She went to her piggy bank and got some too. Inspired by her generosity, I dipped into my secret stash. And then we went to Cooper and asked him if he wanted to help too.

“Dad, we have a situation,” he said. “There is someone who is really poor and needs our help. I want to give enough money for a house. Can I take some money from my Give Piggy Bank?”

We took the $4 he’d saved up just for giving to others and added it to the pot. And the kids, in their jammies, jumped in the car with me and we head back to the homeless woman.

When we pulled up, Shelby rolled down her window and gave a bag of money to the woman. I think it was about $25 or $30, not a ton, but something. The woman immediately burst into tears and thanked Shelby and Cooper. It’s one of my proudest mom moments. Ever.

I don’t tell this story to brag. I tell this story to illustrate the importance of talking to your kids about being compassionate and living your values. Even when you think they aren’t listening (or watching) … they are. At eventually, they’ll get the message. Just keep talking and modeling compassion. Mike kept reiterating why this Suburban wasn’t right for us and why it embarrassed him. Even when the kids disagreed with him, he kept talking. Eventually, it sunk in.

Capitalizing on this compassionate moment, Mike suggested we take some of our Christmas budget to help others. Each of us get to pick a charity we want to support and we’ll give them some money. We haven’t decided how much we’ll be giving, but we’re going to give something. We really want the kids to think about what’s important to them and how they can be of service, so we’re going to spend the next few weeks talking about this and researching ways to help.

Until then, we’ll keep talking. And we’ll keeping hoping they’ll hear and understand the lessons we’re trying to teach them.

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