It was Valentine’s Day, and my husband Zac was out of town. My 13-year-old daughter Kate was my date, and we were taking advantage of the one-on-one time to eat cheesecake and ask one another the kind of big questions that lead to deep talks. She’d just floored me with her last answer. Who was this multidimensional, wise, beautiful young woman — and where was my baby?
When it was Kate’s turn to ask me a question, she looked intently into my face and said, “What are you most afraid of?”
Before I could really even process what to say, tears started to fall. “Kate, I am so afraid that you guys will come to resent the passions I’ve given my life to because they’ve pulled me away from you at times,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was voicing something that I had felt but never said out loud.
“Oh, Mom,” Kate said, tears pooling in the corners of her eyes. “How could you ever think that I could hate what I’m most proud of you for? I love that you help people, and I hope to do the same thing one day.”
All of that fear, that guilt that I’d been living with for years. All of that worry over missing a game or a play, terrified that the cost to my kids for me to follow my call to serve was too much. All of it wasn’t burdening Kate — she was proud of me?
That’s when it hit me: by making sacrifices so I could help other people, I wasn’t taking something away from my kids. I was actually giving them something invaluable: both a model of service and permission to give their unique gifts to a world that so desperately needs them.
If you want to build adults who think the world revolves around them, then make sure your whole world revolves around your kids. But if you want kids who go out and meet the need that surrounds us, show them what it looks like to do just that.
That means at times allowing your kids to see you using your strengths to serve others and bringing them into what you are doing.
Do it together: volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen. Invite people into your home and allow your kids to help you prepare. Spend an evening making care packages with new socks, bottled water, and nonperishable snacks to keep in the car and hand out to the homeless you drive by every day.
Encourage your kids to find ways to serve independently as well. The opportunities are endless and often right under your nose: your teenagers can sign up to help in the nursery at church or to tutor other kids for free at school.
Another important piece of this give-and-take: as your kids find their own ways to offer themselves to others, allow yourself to be inconvenienced as well so you can support their efforts. For example, Kate is now only 15, but she already feels a deep calling to became a neurologist and pursue medical research that will help those suffering from Alzheimer’s. She’s also passionate about art. So every Sunday afternoon, Kate volunteers at a memory care facility for Alzheimer’s patients, helping to conduct art therapy. We contribute by making sure she gets there.
Nothing builds family bonds quite like giving to and sacrificing for one another so that each of you can give to and sacrifice for the world. And isn’t that what we all want as parents? To raise human beings who fan out across the globe and try to make it a better place?
A life serving ourselves makes us sick, but using our passions and abilities to serve others is what we were made for — and our kids need to see us doing it. Their lives, the next generation, and billions of people everywhere are all depending on it.
Jennie Allen is the founder of IF:Gathering, an innovative forum for women, and the author of "Nothing to Prove: Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard." Jennie lives with her husband Zac and their four children in Austin, Texas. For more information, please visit www.JennieAllen.com.