During the holiday season, leading our families toward generosity is easy. But as the glitz of Christmas wears off and life returns to usual, we ask the question, “How do I teach generosity the other eleven months of the year?” After all, generosity is not a season. It is a virtue that must be cultivated.
Bill High is writing a book about how families pass on generosity to kids. For the past year, it has involved combing through books and articles, interviewing dozens of generous families, and gleaning the best insights from their ideas. The book will be filled with ideas for teaching generosity such as starting “give/save/spend” jars, doing family service projects, or selling items to raise money for those in need, to name a few. You can implement all these great ideas in trying to help your kids be generous, but our work has taught us that if you ignore one key factor, you will still fail.
Research shows that we overestimate our influence as parents and underestimate the power of community. Whoever children are surrounded by, they become.
Have you ever heard a parent say to their child, “I did not raise you that way”? They may not have, but the community around their child did.
Oxford’s Handbook of Moral Development summarizes how children develop values. One of the biggest factors is social environment. This includes a child’s neighborhood, economic class, relatives, religion, etc. Children assimilate into their environment. We overestimate our influence as parents when we assume we can simply raise our children to believe certain truths. You can tell your child, “I did not raise you that way,” but if everything else in their environment—classmates, teachers, movies, books—says one thing, they will listen to the majority voice. Not yours. Your kids will become the sum total of their environment.
It might be discouraging to realize community influences your kids more than you do. However, the encouraging truth is that as long as your kids live in your house, you get to choose their community. You choose their neighborhood. You choose their school. You choose their church. You choose which friends and relatives you invite over. You cannot control the ocean, but you can be the rudder that steers their ship.
Here are a few ideas for raising your kids in a generous community:
- Attend a generous church. Does your church talk about generosity? Not just tithing, but living a generous lifestyle? After all, “God so loved the world that He gave.” God’s gift of redemption is the heart of Christianity, and a vibrant church will mirror this generosity.
- Volunteer. Joining a ministry where you can serve together as a family will introduce your kids to people who have a heart for service. Your kids may pick up on that attitude over time.
- Pursue generous people. Do you know missionaries? Social workers? Innovative entrepreneurs? Invite them over for dinner or take your kids to see where they work. Fill your kids’ lives with examples of service.
Building a generous community around your children will take time and effort, but it will be worth it. Through intentionality, you can guide them toward a generous life.
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