As we talked through how to best parent through this situation, I asked the question that instantly came to my mind.
"Does he find joy in bringing happiness to others? Can you think of an example that he can relate to?"
Parenting on selfishness most times comes across as a lecture. Using specific examples of past acts of selflessness can get the point across better. We all have episodes of selfishness, whether we are older or under the age of 13. Being reminded of those moments of finding joy in the happiness of others always brings me back to reality.
A simple story of joy comes to mind to me each time I reminisce on my own youthful days. Although I remember enjoying the happiness in making gifts for my cousins over Christmas and my grandma's smiling face when I hugged her after listening to her stories on the best way to bake a cake, there is a specific story that I always remember as first feeling euphoria in bringing joy to another.
I was around thirteen years old and found a new friend in Susie, whose family had recently moved to my small town of Remsen. Our grade school had begun a program where the kids were matched with residents of the town nursing home. My adopted grandparent was Clementine Delperdang.
After several visits, I was enthralled with stories of Clementine's farm upbringing, raising kids through the Great Depression, and her years of living as a widow in town. Loving my own grandmas, I felt equally blessed to have added a third. I so enjoyed my visits with Clementine at the Happy Siesta and seeing her eyes light up when I would walk in her door.
Clementine was restricted to a wheelchair. Her only outings were back and forth to the outside front patio of the nursing home. There was no doubt that she enjoyed visits from her thirteen-year-old adopted granddaughter.
On this particular Saturday, I had convinced my friend, Susie, that our day would be well spent at the nursing home. As I excitedly explained my past outings, we plotted on how we would make this visit the most special yet.
Together we got into my mom's sewing room. We made little pillows with leftover upholstery material my mom had lying around. Susie and I filled a knapsack full of treasures we found around the house to give to Clementine. And then for good measure, we packed some boiled eggs and snacks for us to eat later. The walk to the nursing home was long and our adventure was bound to be a full.
Clementine did not let us down. She was thrilled. Remarking on every gift and noting the softness of our homemade pillows, Susie and I glowed with happiness. We made someone else very happy and this brought us great joy.
As we walked home, eating our boiled eggs, our long walk turned into a jubilant skipping march. The joy we felt was euphoric. It was intoxicating as we giggled over how our surprises were a huge success.
I will never forget that walk home. It was a state of joyfulness that I had never felt before. A deep happiness from bringing great joy to another.
As I silently relived these feelings from my childhood, my friend asked me a question.
"So how do you teach that to a child? How do you teach them how great it feels to give? How it can feel better than getting?"
The answer is that you can't. They really have to learn it by experiencing it themselves. As a parent, we can provide them the opportunities, but the experiences are for them to find with open hearts.
Ebenezer Scrooge and The Christmas Carol is a great story that exemplifies this. Scrooge needed to see life from eyes outside his norm to open his heart and find joy in making others happy. We all love this heartwarming story. And not because of the happiness given by him, but the wonderful life given to Scrooge. He had no idea what he was missing.
Those selfish, young and old alike, have no clue what they are missing. Once they truly experience the joy in selfless actions, their lives will never be the same. A feeling you won't forget and one you will long to have again.