My oldest is a really good kid. Yes, he has days when he drives me crazy and I threaten to mail him to Abu Dhabi, but he is also very loving. He likes to give hugs, still likes bedtime stories, and cries easily over sad movies.
In the past year I had noticed that as those teen hormones and mood shifts started to kick in, though, he was becoming self centered. Everything was me, me, me, and on several occasions I listened as he whined about how tough he had it.
Oh the poor put upon little lad. As payment for three meals a day, a private bedroom, and laundry service he was expected to change the litter box, cut the grass, and load the dirty dinner dishes. Quick, someone call the child abuse hotline! I had sentenced my son to a life of white slavery and needed to be arrested and taken away in hand cuffs.
I have worked with children long enough to know that my son was not unique and that all kids go though this. Yet, I also work with enough kids to know that I also wanted to limit how far I let my son wallow in the “oh poor me” mentality.
The last thing in the world I want to do is raise an entitled and spoiled young man. It was important to me that he stayed the sweet and kind hearted kid that he usually was.
So the day after school finished for the summer we went to Hospitality House and I signed him up to volunteer once a week for four hours. Hospitality House is our local food pantry and helps many wonderful families get the food they need.
My son was not happy with me. It was his summer vacation. He didn’t want to work especially when he wouldn’t even get paid for it! I stood my ground. He would be volunteering there, the end.
Once a week he stocks the food pantry shelves, bags raw chicken into six pound portions, unloads trucks, and helps people who genuinely have it tough. He sees moms come in with their hungry kids and watches how grateful they are to receive food so they can take care of their children.
For the first three weeks he went because I told him to get in the car and I drove him there, but by week four I saw my little boy start to grow up. Now he enjoys going even though it is hard work in a building void of air conditioning. The adults who operate the food pantry absolutely love him and their praise has helped my son realize that sometimes the best thing in life is giving instead of getting, even if all you have to give is your time.
Before, if we went to the stores to run a few errands he would have asked for this and that and been upset when I told him no, or not today. Now when we are out and he see something he wants we talk about ways he can earn the money and how it may take him a month before he has enough to get it. In a world filled with instant gratification, I love that he can now wait weeks to obtain something he wants.
As parents we work so hard to cultivate our children’s growing minds, but this summer I learn it is just as important to cultivate my sons growing heart. Even with school starting soon my son will still volunteer and I hope the volunteer spirit will stay with him always.