Giving Back When You Have Little to Give

How to find fortune in the unfortunate and teach kids to give back along the way

Posted Nov 08, 2012

This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. Sarah Stith, mother, blogger and former dresser for the Lion King on Broadway, writes this post:

One of my greatest wishes as a parent is that somehow, mixed in with the fun, carefree stuff, I will also somehow be able to instill in my kids a sense of responsibility to those less fortunate than themselves. That's not to say we're traditionally well off. My husband is in graduate school and I take care of the kids at home, so we have zero income and are living almost completely off loans. We qualify for and take advantage of government assistance in order to ease the grocery bill burden and quell the “no insurance” fear. In our life right now, “disposable income” is almost laughably unattainable.

For us, it would be easy to feel like victims. However, I’ve never been so blind to reality that I haven’t been able to recognize that we actually do have it pretty good. Most importantly we have each other, but we are also able to buy groceries every week and even give into “impulse buys” occasionally.

Granted, all of these “luxuries” come at a price: our debt steadily climbs along with our stress with each dollar we spend because it’s all borrowed. We are going to have to pay it all back someday, but luckily someday we will have the capability to pay it back. This is a transitional time for us and we are by no means stuck in our situation, unlike so, so many in this country and the world.

I also know there are no guarantees for any of us.

The job market when my husband is finished with school could be so dismal that he won’t find a job for a long time. We could spend the rest of our lives trying to pay off our loans and never be able to build a nest egg for the kids. They will more than likely learn the value of hard work sooner than some of their peers. It’s highly possible that they will inherit some of our debt, and we have a deep fear that owning a home may never be a real possibility for us.

I don’t want to feel paralyzed by all of this though, and I don’t want my kids to feel deprived because they most certainly are not. We parents have to be careful with how we perceive our lives because these amazing kids of ours pick up on everything. Don’t want your child to feel like a victim? Well, you’d better be sure you don’t.

One of the best ways I’ve found so far to combat the tendency to feel helpless is to find ways to give back that involve little to no money. We’ve done it by rallying friends and neighbors and coming up with projects to do together with the kids, like baking goodies for our local firefighters, making blankets for needy children from materials in the remnants bin at the fabric store, volunteering for the local food drive and holding a bake sale to raise money for the Red Cross. We’ve dubbed our group “Little Heroes” and word is quickly spreading around town to other families who have also spent time wondering how to give back when we are all struggling ourselves.

So please, don’t wait. Don’t hold back. Reach out and help a neighbor move his furniture or take out his garbage, bake cookies for the new family on the block, volunteer at a soup kitchen, organize a bake sale, put yourself out there and find out if there are people around you who need a little nudge and become an unstoppable team—and do it all with your kids.

If we show our kids that banding together and helping others is something we can do no matter where we are in life, then maybe they will grow into the kind of adults we all admire now. Let’s instill these altruistic values into our children as they grow so that for them, doing something for someone else doesn’t have to take courage and conviction, it’s just what they do because it’s what it means to be human.

Every little bit counts.


Sarah Stith is a stay-at-home mother of two children, Zoe (age 4½) and Owen (age 2) living in Boulder, CO. She and her family moved to Boulder a few years ago from New York City, where Sarah worked as a dresser at The Lion King on Broadway. The family moved west so that Sarah’s husband Nathan could pursue his Ph.D. in theatre at CU Boulder. She is originally from Bennington, VT, and hopes to return to the East Coast once Nathan is finished with school. For now, she and her family are making the most of living in beautiful Colorado.

Link to Little Heroes FB page:

Link to my blog “A Day in the Life of My Little Brood”

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