by Elizabeth Small
There are times when my children?s capacity for empathy amazes me. Like the time my eldest daughter sat out unprompted from a much anticipated ?bounce house? simply to keep a friend with an injury from feeling left out.?Other times, I wonder what kind of future sociopath I am raising when asking the same daughter to bring me a cookie, responding by handing me a sliver of a piece and insisting the remainder of the cookie had broken?in her mouth. In essence, cultivating empathy is one of the jobs I take most seriously as a parent because I believe empathy and gratitude are the foundations of civility and happiness.
This time of year, I feel conflicted as a parent, wanting to create a world dripping with magic without feeding my children?s senses of greed or self-interest. I want to decorate a gleaming tree but also want my kids to view that tree as a symbol of life and love. As I try to balance these desires while fostering gratitude, I am rethinking traditions.
For example, I grew up celebrating the season of Advent (Latin for ?coming?) with an Advent Calendar, counting down the days to Christmas. So I decided to turn that tradition into an Advent of Stewardship. Whether it?s a countdown to Christmas like ours, Hanukkah or some other season of gratitude, consider establishing a similar tradition in your own family.
- Day 24: Plant a seed.
- Day 23: Clean the yard of an elderly neighbor or relative.
- Day 22: Write a list of three things that you are thankful for today. Hang the lists in a high-traffic place in the home.
- Day 21: Talk as a family about a time you took care of something for someone else, such as caring for others? pets or watering the neighbor?s plants. Discuss how it felt and why you wanted to do a good job.
- Day 20: Write a thank-you note to a farmer.
- Day 19: Give a complete stranger a genuine compliment.
- Day 18: Lead an accessible hike for differently-abled individuals.
- Day 17: Call a local animal shelter and ask what supplies are needed; bring those supplies.
- Day 16: Donate food to the food pantry, considering the dietary needs and restrictions of many.
- Day 15: Make a bird feeder and hang it in a tree.
- Day 14: Call a faraway relative.
- Day 13: Donate to a school for children with limited access to education like Scolastica or Arzuw Foundation. Read about the country that you pick and discuss what school is like there.
- Day 12: Pick up litter in the neighborhood or downtown area.
- Day 11: Donate a book to the library or school.
- Day 10: Write a letter to a friend or relative living abroad asking them about their day.
- Day 9: Hand out flowers to everyone leaving a farmers market or local grocer (or leave flowers on windshields).
- Day 8: Make a card using things found in nature and send it to a friend.
- Day 7: Do a chore for someone else in the family.
- Day 6: Send a thank-you note to a solider oversees.
- Day 5: Send an anonymous letter of compliments to someone who needs cheering up. Include hot cocoa packet.
- Day 4: Offer to babysit a child while the parent does something to take care of him or herself.
- Day 3: Write a list of the reasons to recycle and hang it over the bin.
- Day 2: Bring a hot meal and a warm beverage to day laborers.
- Day 1: Write a letter to someone in your home about why you are thankful for him or her.
My hope is that by practicing acts of gratitude and giving, I can start a habit that my kids will carry into the New Year. I hope our readers can do that as well.
Elizabeth Small is a lawyer by training, writer by nature, and wife and mother by spirit. She has lived up and down the east coast of the United States, in Miami, Washington, D.C., and Boston, and now resides in Connecticut.