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Mary Coleman is a licensed professional counselor (Oregon) and life coach, and she contributed this essay:
Families and Philanthropy A Meaningful and Happy-Making Combination
Feeling cranky? Feeling alone even though you’re surrounded by friends and family? Frustrated that your children are begging for that next new toy or gadget that will soon be set aside in the constant search for something shinier, newer, prettier, bigger? Finding that your own accumulation of things is getting overwhelming or that you’re no longer even satisfied with all your “stuff”? Has the pressure to keep up with the Joneses has become absurd? There is an antidote. You CAN stop the insanity. Stop. Breathe. Help someone else.
Dr. Andrew Weil, noted Harvard-trained physician and proponent of natural medicine, tells us in a variety of his books and lectures that there are several modern day stressors that create imbalance and are actually relatively easily remedied. Two of these are loneliness and emptiness. I hear these words often in my practice as a psychotherapist working with individuals, couples, and families. Even people with large families tell me they’re often lonely. Holiday seasons often stir up a sense of emptiness for people a sense that lurks very close to the surface, just underneath all the glitter and activity. We want to connect with friends and family, but we don’t always know how. We forget to count our own blessings and then reach out to help others from our own foundation of abundance, security, and prosperity.
One of the best ways in our culture to combat emptiness and loneliness is to give. It’s not a secret formula. Service heals. Service makes us feel better. Service lets us experience companionship and lends meaning to our lives. Giving grows us. Giving soothes us. Giving works.
Most children in middle class and upper class homes truly don’t need any more “things.” They’re hungry for play with parents and siblings. They want time and attention. Children are little sponges and will soak up what they see and hear. If you want to teach your children to be good citizens and generous people, show them by doing. Be with them. Talk with them. Discuss concepts like gratitude and sharing.
Here are some ways you can enrich your life and the lives of your children:
--Ask the young ones to pick one of their own toys to give to a child who has NO toys. Talk to them about what it might be like to not have enough food or to not have a safe place to sleep at night. Let them know that the gift of their toy might just be the coolest gift another child has ever received. Talk about how good that feels.
--Ask your children who can read to do some research on charities. What is a charity? How do they work? What kinds of charities are your children drawn to? How might they become involved with a charity?
--Make it a family project to decide together to GIVE. You can give your time, your talent, your money. Give gifts like Charity Checks Giving Certificates. The effort and money spent on a project like this will take root and grow in ways you might not even be able to imagine.
I recently attended the Annual California Conference on Women and Families. At this conference, high profile, multi-talented, powerful people spoke about what was important in their lives. To the person, from Maria Shriver to Barbara Walters to Tom Brokaw to Sandra Day O’Connor, all said the most important part of their lives had to do with their children loving them, raising them, learning from them, helping them and then setting them out into the world to be their best selves. To the person, again, these leaders all spoke passionately about giving and about how service is essential to meaningful existence.
Your job, as a parent, is to instill the values and habits into your children that will help them find their voices and their talents and make room for them to be happy people. There is no surer way to do this, and also combat the loneliness and emptiness that often plagues us; than through teaching and acting on being of service. The bonds that are formed from family-initiated, family-planned giving are strong and life-long. Adult clients tell me the most meaningful times in their lives were when their families worked together for somebody else. Children tell me it feels good to share. Dr. Weil says a successful approach to the healing of depression is service. When I set families to the task of charity work, other conflicts often disappear or take on a completely different feel. Want to combat loneliness and emptiness in your family? Want to instill your values into your gradeschooler or get closer to your teen? Then Give. Share. Serve.
To contact Mary Coleman or find out more, go to www.MaryColeman.info.