Giving a "Best Thing": What Kids Can Teach Us About Generosity

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We have had plenty of intense discussion over the years on Apartment Therapy about how to work through giving away toys with (or without) our kids. Some advocate for the "sneaking them out of the room while they aren't there" method, others for the "sit down and talk it over" approach. Two weeks ago something happened in our house that left my thinking about this upside down and inside out.

I took my son with me to visit a family in our building, dropping off some left over vegetables we had in our fridge I thought they might be able to use. They are a poor family who have moved here just a year ago from Africa, the father is studying while Mom stays at home and takes care of the three children, a baby, an older child who is significantly disabled, and another who is the same age as my son.

My son Ralph, who is 3 and a half, had a great time playing at their house while I chatted with the Mom. That night, when he was telling my husband what he had done that day he said, "I played with W-—-, but... all of his toys are broken. Why are his toys all broken?" My husband explained that W-—-'s family didn't have much money, and his toys were broken because they were given to him and many things that are donated are broken or not working. Ralph just didn't think this was right. My husband saw this opportunity presenting itself and said, "you know, Ralph, why don't you go into your room and find a toy that you would like to give W-—- the next time you visit? That way he could have a good toy that is not broken."

Now, confession time. I am not one of the "sit down and talk about it" Moms. I am the sneak it out of the room Mom. Always. But Ralph ran to his room and came out almost immediately with something in his arms. A monster truck. And not just any monster truck, his favorite monster truck, monster trucks being one of his most favorite toys. I couldn't believe my eyes. "Are you sure that's what you want to give him?". But Ralph was determined: "Yes Mommy, this is what I want W——- to have."

Honestly, I didn't want him to give the toy away. I wanted him to keep it for himself. But who am I to say no? The fact is, I am not that generous. I give away veggies from our farm share, sure, after we've taken our favorites for the week. I give away my clothes, the ones that are out of style. But Ralph, he wanted to give his best thing, so that someone else could have a best thing too.

Sometimes, in all our discussion of "how to get our kids to let go of stuff" we neglect this scary possibility - they just might have something to teach us about all of that. I hope that I too can follow the example of my tender-hearted 3-year-old, and the next time I see someone in a place of real need, give them my very favorite, my very best.

(Image: Shutterstock)

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