Growing up in the D.R., I experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of everyday life in a developing country: power outages, lack of food and water, diseases that are almost unheard of in first-world countries, among many other things. These experiences prompted many life lessons from my grandmother because despite how little my family had, she was always encouraging us to help and take care of those around us, and always, always give.
Every two months or so, my grandma would visit her hometown, a small village in the countryside where there was a great need for clothing and shoes but an abundance of fruit, vegetables, and animals. We’d travel with two huge sacks full of hand-me-down items and return home with bags full of veggies, fruits, chickens, and roots. This selfless giving among people is one of the life lessons from my grandmother that I believe can build empathy in kids.
Now that I have my own children—and I’m fortunate enough to be able to take the basic things for granted—I find myself thinking of ways to make “doing good” something as normal and familiar as it was for me growing up, things such as volunteering in school, joining a charity effort, or helping at a food pantry.
I want to instill in my children the willingness to help others, whatever their position in life. I want my daughter and my sons to be able to recognize the real value of material things so they aren’t wasteful and careless. I strive to create an environment in which it’s natural for my children to offer a helping hand when they see someone in need—like the life lessons from my grandmother I learned growing up in the D.R. And most of all, in light of the myriad circumstances and needs of others that surround us every day, I want my children to have their own memories of how we do good as a family. After all, the best way to teach them these life lessons from my grandmother is by setting a good example.
- You don’t need much to do good. Whether you’re rich or poor, there’s always something you can give. Clothes and shoes your kids don’t wear anymore, for example, can be passed on to another family, friends, or neighbors. Sometimes, it’s simply lending an ear or a helping hand, or giving of your time. Don’t be afraid to ask—you might be surprised by what the people close to you are lacking.
- Stick with what you need. Living in a consumerist society sometimes makes people lose perspective. Do you really need a new blender when you still have a working one in your kitchen? Show your children life isn’t about the newest, fastest, shiniest thing—it’s about appreciating what you have and not a reason to waste or overspend.
- Don’t throw it in the garbage! There is ALWAYS someone in need. Take the time to find who might need those things you want to get rid of. An old air-conditioning unit, toaster, bookshelf—the more your kids see you reaching out to people and donating, the faster it will become second nature for them to do the same.
- Sharing is caring. We’ve heard it so many times, and yet it’s mainly applied to lending a toy or a book to a friend when they come to play. Giving old dolls, teacups, anything we weren’t using was part of the ritual of visiting my grandmother’s village of San Cristóbal. I remember feeling good when my cousins saw the toys and played with them. Making my kids share their toys when they aren’t using them with other children will show them how lucky they are to have toys to play with, in the first place.
- Have an open home. I remember so well the way my grandmother cared for her relatives. Oftentimes, we would have aunts, cousins, even friends of the family staying with us who needed a roof over their heads for a period of time. As a kid, it was hard to share a room, a bed, our clothes, but my sisters and I understood there was no other way. It was family, and that’s what families do—take care of one another.