Kids and Neighborhood Volunteerism

Read about being a mother of 12 as our resident 'Supermom' shares her wise parenting advice.

Years ago, I asked a mother in my neighborhood if she could pick up my child from kindergarten the next day-I had an appointment and would be late. My friend astonished me by turning me down on the grounds that she's just not good at watching people's kids. However, she did tell me that if I ever needed someone to cook a meal for me, say if I were ill, or if I needed some shopping done, she's my gal. At first I was annoyed, but as I thought about her response, I realized that she was just being honest about her abilities. It wasn't that she wasn't willing to do me a favor; it's just that I was asking her to do something that wasn't her particular forte.

An important lesson

I learned an important lesson that day, and have applied it many times since in teaching my kids the art of volunteerism. I have found that not every child is capable, for instance, of spending time with people who have a specific disability. I choose not to force my kids to do volunteer work for which I feel they are unsuited. Rather, I try to match my kids' talents to a specific volunteer task, because I want them to succeed. As the kids accrue successes, they'll want to do more and more of this type of work. The converse of my theory is that if I put my kids in a volunteer job in which they will feel uncomfortable, they are unlikely to want to volunteer in the future. And that would be a shame.

Complicated and satisfying

I feel that helping others helps us and can only make us better people. With this in mind, I am always on the lookout to see where my neighbors could use a little help. Then I think about my 12 children and ponder which child might be the one for this particular job. The job might be simple or difficult.  Perhaps a mother finds it hard to help her first grader with his homework in the afternoons because her new baby is demanding. Or I might discover that my neighbor is overwhelmed with caring for her teen with a severe genetic disorder and is in desperate need of a nap or time alone with her husband. Making the match between the neighbor's need for help and my kids' abilities is as complicated and satisfying as matching up a girlfriend with the guy of her dreams.

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