Posted on December 9, 2011 by Kara Exner
Each year on their birthdays, our two little boys turn into philanthropists: they request that their birthday party guests bring something for less fortunate children in lieu of a birthday gift for themselves. That’s right – they forego the excess of shiny new toys and games for the sake of giving to other kids who are not nearly as fortunate as they.
Oh we’ve heard it all – my husband and I – about how they’re being denied a fundamental staple of birthdays, about how this isn’t fair to them, and so on.
And I think, “Really? Are they really missing out on something so important? Or are they gaining something much more meaningful?”
Only time will tell, I suppose, but right now, the answers to these questions can be found by listening to Solomon and Graydon themselves. And I think the rest of us have a lot to learn from what they have to say:
Lesson #1: “I already have enough stuff.”
That bears repeating, doesn’t it? I already have enough stuff. It doesn’t take much to look around the shelves in their rooms or the toy boxes in the basement or the sports equipment bins in the garage to see that they do indeed already have enough stuff.
So what would happen if more of us admitted that we don’t need any more stuff? If we turned our focus away from accumulating more things, and toward giving to others? Would we miss out? Or would we hardly miss it?
Lesson #2: “I think giving these things to other kids will make them happy.”
A good reminder that it doesn’t always have to be about me and what I need or what I want – it can be about someone else and what would help them feel good. It can be about realizing that I’ve got it pretty good, and so I want to try to help someone else. Craig and Marc Kielburger have done a fabulous job of turning this concept into an international movement, called Me to We, which is extremely popular with youth (just watch the video below!).
So what if more of us simply thought more about other people? And about how we can help them or “make them happy”?
Lesson #3: “I just want to have fun with my friends.”
This statement is in response to the question, “What are you most looking forward to about your birthday?”
Now, our boys do get a few gifts on their birthdays (from us, grandparents, close cousins, each other), so it’s not that presents are entirely out of the picture at our house. But when it comes to anticipating their birthdays, they most look forward to the experience. The fun with friends, the games, the free play time, the treasure hunts, etc.
Now Christmas is coming and many of us are putting together lists and making time to shop for gifts. AND, what would be different if we put more of our attention on the experience of the holidays rather than the stuff we give and receive? And what if we put some attention on helping those less fortunate have a better holiday experience themselves?
Are our kids perfect little boys? No, not at all!
Are we perfect parents? Of course not. I have had more “bad parenting days” than I care to count.
But what I learn from my kids throughout the entire year is that it is simple, easy, and rewarding to give to others. And I like to imagine what the world would be like if more of us followed their lead.
 Here are the details on the boys’ philanthropic efforts:
For five years running, our oldest boy (he just turned 7) asks his guests to bring contributions for those Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. The shoeboxes get filled with small toys and other items like pencils, books, and bars of soap, and get shipped to children in developing countries around the world.
And our younger boy (he’s 4 ½) asks his party guests to bring contributions for birthday kits which go to families that use our city’s food bank. This way the family gets a box filled with cake mix, icing, candles, balloons, paper plates, cups, small toys, etc. – so that their children can have a birthday party, when they wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise.