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We’ve all heard that there are seasons of life, and you can’t do everything at all times. Some of us have interpreted this to mean that you wait until you’re silvery-haired to do genealogy or be a temple worker.
And when I was raising my four children, I often heard people say, “Just focus on your children at home. There’s plenty of time for service later.” This encouraged moms to stay in their houses with their kids and leave the casserole-taking and service-giving to women with empty nests.
And it was dead wrong. First of all, empty-nesters are busier than you think—it’s not as though they are sitting around wishing for something to do. But far more important, this is wrong because it omits the huge and vital importance of teaching kids compassion by example.
My ward is extraordinarily giving. We have several young moms who are first on the scene when someone is moving in or out—they pack, they unpack, they deliver meals. They’re first into the hospital to visit the sick. They surprise the lonely with a plate of cookies. And their vans are packed with wide-eyed children who see it all. This is how you do it.
Sometimes I substitute teach in high schools and I am astounded at the difference I see in kids whose parents have taught this, and kids who have completely missed the lesson of caring for others. But, unlike calculus or chemistry, charity is a lesson that must be observed, and penetrates the heart when a good example is given—it won’t stick if all you do is talk about it.
Yes, it’s often a harried, frenzied time when kids are little. But when you possibly can make a double meal, or whip up a few extra treats for someone else, and then take kids along to deliver it, you are providing a life lesson that will bless their lives forever. It will make them more responsible citizens, superior students, better missionaries, more valued employees, kinder spouses, and simply happier people. There is hardly a better gift you could bestow.
It really gets kids thinking altruistically, and wards off the selfishness that causes so many emotional problems and even a host of social ills. If you say, “What could we do to cheer up Sister Brown today?” they begin thinking like disciples. They may decide to draw her a giant cartoon, or go sing a song to her.
Years ago I wrote an Ensign article called, “Caught in a Casserole,” about how we need to think outside the box, and not always address every need with food. Sometimes a widower might like to attend a child’s ballgame, or go to the movies. Maybe a person recuperating from surgery might appreciate their house being cleaned, or ironing being done. And for heaven’s sake, we need not limit our service only to other members!
Maybe once a month your Family Home Evening could become a Family Van Evening, when you all jump in the car and go see someone lonely. Maybe take them a lesson and treats. Or go shovel snow, rake leaves, or perform another service. This will leave an indelible impact upon your children, and they will grow up to be people who see needs and address them, people who jump in and serve without even thinking about it. It will be one of the most valuable lessons you ever teach.
I recall one time I brought my two little boys along to visit an elderly sister, and when I called to them to get into the car, they were stalling. I went upstairs to rather firmly insist they come along, and found them hunting frantically for a tiny duck and a dime—the gifts they had decided to give this woman. And that dime was all the money one of them had. I felt a catch in my throat and was humbled by their generosity. I hadn’t even known they’d been paying attention.
As often happens, I was just now interrupted while writing this article. And it couldn’t have been more timely. A friend of mine left a grocery bag on my porch, filled with citrus from her trees. Who was in the car with her? Her daughter and three grandchildren. They will grow up to emulate their family’s heritage, a mindset of constantly giving.
Don’t wait for a “restful” season in life—there aren’t any. Let your kids see you doing genealogy. Let them observe your dedication to temple work. And, by all means, take them along when you serve others. It may be the best thing they remember about you, and the lesson they appreciate most.