| Family Reflections |

For the Love of Giving

It’s healthy for children to be taught to give


makes mothers happy to make their kids happy. But if they really wanted their kids to be happy, mothers would teach those kids to give to others, because there’s nothing that makes a person feel as happy as giving does. Indeed, it can actually be self-centered of moms to hoard the joy of giving, as doing so deprives their children of true happiness.

Hashem has structured the task of parenting around the mitzvah of honoring and revering parents. This includes many specific mitzvos of both action and thought, but we’ll look at just one aspect of one mitzvah for now: honoring parents through action. This particular commandment involves “pleasantly and enthusiastically assisting parents with all of their needs.” Sounds great, but realistically, how would parents get their kids to fulfill such a directive? And would it even be good for them to be providing service in this way?

Benefit or Harm?

Let’s look at the last question first, tackling the issue of possible harm from giving. If a parent makes her children her personal “slaves,” surely this will harm the children’s development. Imagine a lazy mother sitting on the sofa eating bonbons while asking her kids to look after the babies, make the dinner, clean the kitchen, do the laundry, and so on. That would cause not only resentment, but some sort of trauma-driven mental health disorder as well.

The scenario the Torah has in mind is that an able-bodied 12-year-old isn’t sitting on the sofa eating bonbons while her mother serves her. Hashem knows that the child’s personality would be harmed from such a dynamic: self-centered, lazy, unappreciative, entitled, and more.

But most importantly, the child can’t be truly happy when embodying traits like these. Again, it’s important children have time for respite, refreshment, downtime, personal pleasure, and other important perks of normal life. Hashem is NOT asking us to become taskmasters, but rather to help our children acquire character traits that will bring them balance, interpersonal harmony, and deep pleasure (the kind of pleasure that Mom enjoys in being able to do things for her kids).

A Lifelong Habit

In fact, humans of every age bask in the pleasure of making others happy. Children are born with the innate desire to give, but this desire needs to be positively nurtured in the home. It’s easy to squelch a child’s drive to give by ignoring it or overriding it with one’s own love of giving to one’s own children.

But even Mom has her limits. When she’s tired or overwhelmed and her beloved children are now in their teens, twenties and beyond, even she would like to ease up a bit on the endless giving and actually receive a little help. But alas. If she hasn’t made it natural, easy, and routine for her youngsters to give while they were young, she may discover that they expect endless giving on her part along with endless receiving on their own.

Such a mother shouldn’t be surprised that when her grown children return home for visits, they still expect her to do all the giving (cooking, serving, cleaning up) while they do all the receiving (resting, relaxing, schmoozing with sibs, playing). Now that Mom is 50, 60, 70, or beyond, she may be more tired from her endless service. Asked why she does it nonetheless, she confesses that she wants her kids to be “happy” when they come home. Indeed, she’s afraid they won’t even come if she “makes” them do some of the work.

One might wonder if they’re coming for the high-end service or for a visit with their parents!

Fortunately, there’s an easy way for parents to begin to change the rules of the game. All Mom has to do is call for some help when she’s in the kitchen dishing out platters (or setting or clearing the table or bringing in the groceries, etc.). If no one shows up, then Mom should take her seat at the table and chat along with everyone else. If someone wonders out loud about the meal (“Are we eating soon?”) Mom should say, “Oh, I was just waiting for you guys to come help me prepare the platters. Are you ready now?”

Will everyone resent Mom for piling this new demand upon them? No. Human beings like to help. Offer them generous praise afterward (“Thank you so much everybody. Great teamwork!”), and they, too, can learn to love giving.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 898)

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