When we moved to Nigeria, my children were three and 15 months. My eyes were quickly opened to a world I had only read about in books. I grew up in a regular middle class family, and I don’t remember lacking for anything I ever needed.
The utter desperation and poverty I saw every day in Lagos through the windows in my air conditioned car was many times overwhelming. There were several times I had to wipe tears away. I realized how sheltered I had been from a life so many people on this planet face every day.
During those three years we were there, we took many trips to the beach and gave food and toys we didn’t need any more to the children in the village there. My son decided to donate one of his soccer balls to a group of children who played soccer in the street barefoot near the church we attended each week.
My husband and I were so proud of him and his response was, “Well, I saw they were playing with a ball that had no air and I have more than one, so I can share.” Even my daughter saw the need there when she was just two, and she left some beach toys with the children we saw on our beach trips.
Moving back to the U.S. has been a blessing and a curse. The blessing comes from the constant power supply and the access to wonderful medical care and safer surroundings and of course, being closer to my family and friends. But, the curse I did not realize until being back here for a while is how much can be taken for granted; especially through my children’s eyes. When we were in Lagos, we didn’t have regular access to toy stores and regular T.V. commercials, so in a way, my children were also sheltered from the “instant gratification” you see on so many television commercials. Since we have moved back, my seven year old has asked me for numerous Lego sets, an electric scooter (which was quickly voted down by his father and me), various junk foods, and the list goes on and on. I realize that some of these requests come with the age, but I also know that my job is to teach my children what they really need and how hard people must work to meet their needs.
We started a work chart in August right after we moved back and they each have a few chores (making his/her bed and sweeping/clearing the table each night) to complete each day throughout the week. They earn twenty-five cents for making his/her bed and ten cents for sweeping or clearing the table each day. My then four year old even had to participate and mark off her job done on the chart. If it wasn’t marked, then they were not paid at the end of the week for their work.
They each have piggy banks where they need to keep their money. My son is excited to save up his own money for those Lego sets he is always asking about. In December, there was a collection for a local shelter and both my children donated money from their own piggy banks. I had explained to them that there were people here who did not have much money to buy food and immediately my daughter said, “I remember a lot of people like that in Nigeria.” And my son said, “I remember that too…it was so sad.”
It is so easy to go overboard at Christmas time buying gifts for my children. My husband has “reined me in” and we came to a compromise of three gifts from us for each child. The idea of three came to me in an article I had read somewhere about three gifts representing the gifts from the Three Kings for Jesus. After all, my children have so many possessions and overbuying for them just wasn’t going to help them appreciate all the things they already have.
Both of my children know there is a corner in our laundry room for donating clothes which do not fit anymore. My daughter will put her own clothes there and let me know when she thinks it’s time to let someone else “who doesn’t have clothes” have them.
I am grateful for our time in Lagos which taught my children empathy and compassion for others. They are already further ahead of me than I was at their age. But, I do worry that those memories will become more and more distant for them as they get older. My hope is that they will learn the difference between what they truly need and what is a passing fad. I want them to understand the value of money and how hard people must work for it. I want them to go from “I want it!” to “Do I really need it?” Ultimately, the lesson I want them to understand is what matters most is compassion and understanding for others, the value of money, and the power of helping others.
How do you teach your children the value of money, charity and the difference between needs and wants?
This is an original post by Meredith. You can check out her adventures in Nigeria and her transition back to living in the U.S. on her blog http://www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com/.
Photo credit to the author.