Monday, May 11, 2009

Service and Servility

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but…I’m not a big fan of holidays. They can seem like such a capitalistic contrivance. I don’t need flowers or cards or jewelry on a certain day. I guess I don’t need them at all. Tho' gifts are sweet sometimes. They remind you that someone was thinking of you. And it’s not that I don’t like to revere or celebrate—I do! I just hope I breathe this spirit into each day.

For some, religion and holidays provide a framework for ritual. They are a time of worship or service. While my family and I enjoy learning about other religions, we do not adhere to one. However, yesterday I woke up thinking about service. As parents, we want to nurture our children and give them the cream of the crop. But if you serve your children all their lives, how do you prevent them from becoming spoiled tyrants? How do you instill a reciprocity in your children (especially only children)? How do you give them opportunities to serve? And how do you do this without being authoritarian and expecting servility?

These are not rhetorical questions.


  1. I ask myself these questions every day. I wish I knew the right answers.

    Regarding holidays - we very much love celebrations and festivities of all shapes and sizes. We love to throw parties and make a big fuss over stuff. That being said, the obligatory holidays are difficult. While we should definitely revere and show those we care regularly, how are we supposed to "sum it up" on one day with one gift? I mean is breakfast in bed one day a year really going show me how much my kids love me? Probably not. I would rather they make me breakfast in bed one morning when they want to spoil me or because they know it will be a nice treat. It should be from the heart and not from a sense of duty because everyone else is doing it. This year Mother's Day was perfect - we were on vacation and my children and dad snuck over to a candy store and picked out a little sampler box for me. Not because I asked and not because they had to - just because they knew I would like it. Every gift should come from that place. (now the crushed up Biscoff and pretzel chips that they saved in their carry-ons is another story hahaha)

  2. My daughter has been doing volunteer work since she was about four years old. Whenever she becomes interested in a subject, such as ecology, as part of her learning experience I encourage her to give something back. So she has adopted a dolphin (using the proceeds of a read-a-thon she organised for herself), handed out information about WWF, collected money every year for the Heart Foundation, etc. That's the big picture. The little picture is that I quietly encourage her to help younger children in sports class, check on those who have tripped or hurt themselves, ask questions to support glum friends, send cards to sick friends, etc. None of these things I *require*, only encourage in a light way.

    I must admit, I serve my child perhaps too much - as I wrote about in my own post today! But I love to do things for her. I make her special cakes, fill her hot water bottle, etc. And surrounded by such a giving environment, she has taken it into her own heart and does things for me too. But I do think there is a fine line between serving and spoiling.

  3. Lovey, I'm kindof a hermit, so while I like the ideas of parties, well.... When I was in college I used to draw people around me. I'd throw huge parties and then curl up and fall asleep somewhere! What a cat I am! :)

    And Sarah, I've been reading about volunteering for several years now--been called to do it. I guess I better get my nose out of the books and lead by example, eh?

  4. I always love it when a friend of mine says, "spend some time with your kids." Ummm, I am with my kids more than I'm not. I serve my children by being present for them but most importantly by helping them to meet their own needs. My son has done his own laundry since he was 10, he cleans up after himself when he eats and washes his dishes and even does the dishes and other chores without being asked he's 16. My daughter is 9 and learning how to do her own laundry and to meet her own needs. Both of my kids now how to make their own meals. This is how they reciprocate by showing me that they can do things for themselves and in doing so learn how important it is to help keep the family running. As they get older it shifts from family to others. They are both very giving. But they are also very discerning about who they give to which I find interesting. I'm not sure how I feel about it.

    As an only child I had many examples of reciprocity.I didn't need siblings to learn that! I was raised by a working mom. Just her working to keep us afloat was example enough. I scrubbed the floors, washed the dishes, did the laundry for us. I would make her special treats. She ate them even though I'm not sure how tasty they were.

    I find that people that aren't parents are the first to judge a child's tyrant status LOL. If only they would take a class on child development and learn something about puberty or adolescence!

    But children definitely learn best by example and I volunteer and do things for others as much as I can. But I will never put money or status before my children. I don't think that this makes them spoiled. I chose to bring them here and I choose to serve them until they can serve themselves. I think this makes them secure. I mean how strengthening it is to know that you matter so much, so much to be given the time and love you need. Not that you want but that you need. Sadly, too many children are not getting what they need let alone what they want as far as time and attention from parents.

    I rarely see tyrant behavior in my kids or the kids we hang with. I do see it in kids that are not learning how to satisfy their own needs though, for sure.

  5. Rae, I was an only child (until I was 18!), and I think I was spoiled. My daughter is an only child, and though I try not to spoil her, I think she is as well. Honestly, I'm not sure what I'm doing (or what I'm not doing). You know, you are probably right, though. Maybe she doesn't have enough opportunity to satisfy her own needs. Maybe I am trying to fulfill her heart.... That's not my job, I guess. Food for thought....

  6. I totally whole heartedly agree with you on the holiday thing. It's such a weird concept to me, why would people take a holiday from their life, or leave their real life for something else so fleeting? Of course we can always engage with things we we go away, and continue life, but the idea of 'holiday' as doing nothing, relxing for 2 weeks etc.. I often think if this computer game, lemmings, humans are lemmings!! You are totally right, holidays are completely a capitilistic contrivance... answer to all your questions is that as parents we simply (so hard to do though!!) have to be real and tell the truth. Be real about how we feel in every moment. Of course this ivolves loving them but being real, setting boundaries that makes life work for us, and not saying yes all the time, especially when we really feel like no. For example, I breastfed my daughter until I really didn't enjoy it any more (shock horror to some probably) but this was really how I felt. So she was weaned at about 19 months. And I didn't want her to wake up during the night anymore so I helped her to sleep through the night too. Whereas with my first born boy, I completely let him control me. I was shattered and did NOT enjoy him waking all through the night to breastfeed when he was one, but I let him. He weaned himself at 15 months when we flew to the other side of the world, but he controlled this, and if it didn't happen who knows when I would've made the situation real according to how I felt and how it was really affecting my, our life. I know I'm going on and on here, what I guess I'm trying to say is that we don't do our children favours by letting them have what they want all the time! But setting up boundaries, and focussing on the virtues we wish for our family and how to positively achieve them without coercion or being authoritarian as parents!
    I find communication and telling my children what I want and need from them is helpful. And is a way of achieveing things in an amiable way.

  7. ps, I ave difficulty being 'present' but I know this is probably the most important part as we are our children's first teachers! I really liked what Rae said, this is what I would like to become more like, a completely present mother who carries out jobs as they need to be done, simply in order to live well and to teach my children how to look after themselves and for the greater good of the family group.

  8. Ruth, thank you for sharing so much. I love it! And yes, we must be real with our children, and ourselves. It's that whole finding balance between the two that IS hard. Presence....

  9. "How do you do this without being authoritarian and expecting servility?"

    My first thought is through modeling it yourself. I'm not so good at volunteering, but I'd like to show my children the power of that kind of work, so I need to figure out how I can do it myself. We did donate to a few different charities this last Christmas through our church -- buying clothes for a little girl whose mother is in prison, donating to the local food bank, etc. It felt like a good start.

    My husband and I have been talking about allowances and chores lately. We agreed that the work that we all need to do to maintain our home, feed ourselves, etc. is not work that our children should expect payment for. They need to learn to do these things and hopefully enjoy them, and I think a sense of serving the family comes in there too.

  10. Hi, Anthromama. Yeah, we've done allowance for chores before, but it becomes an extrinsic motivation. I like the gentle habit forming of "This is what we do to take care of our home, our pets, each other."

    You've definitely hit the nail on the head with modeling service. I guess I need to find that place in myself and get to know it.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom!