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This guest post was written by Sarah Aadland, MPP. She is striving to make family volunteer opportunities a meaningful habit for her three children. As Director of Doing Good Together’s Big-Hearted Families™ Program, she creates resources for families that want to develop a kindness practice at home. For her own family and for participants in the Big-Hearted Families Membership Circle, Sarah has watched family volunteering create empowered kids, more connected families, and stronger communities.
There is one common complaint we hear all too often from our big-hearted families: feeling guilty for not doing more to help others. I am right there with you. Some days, all the little acts of kindness my family did not get done breaks my heart. Some days, weeks, or months, there just is not enough time. We are busy people, for better or worse.
Balancing work and family obligations alone leaves our days overflowing. Add in a hobby or two per family member, and perhaps (gasp!) some downtime to recharge, and suddenly crossing the basics off the to do list seems impossible. What’s worse, some days that anvil of guilt gets heavy enough to make me consider crossing the category of “good” off the to do list altogether. Maybe there will be more time later.
While I can’t magically manufacture more time for us–though when I crack that code, you will be the first to know–I do have some good news for you. A recent study out of the University of Zurich found that workers who volunteer reported a more satisfying work/life balance. People who volunteer truly feel like their non-work time is more expansive. How inspiring is that!?
So for all of us who are feeling overwhelmed by the rising tide of to do’s but want to do volunteer work with our children, we can start by adding an act of kindness to something we already do anyway. One way is to make the most of your family dinner experience with a few big-hearted tweaks.
Here are five of Doing Good Together’s favorite ways to do good during family dinner:
Print these simple placemats and use them to inspire big-hearted dinner conversations, perfect for encouraging your children to explore important issues. Consider laminating them for reuse.
Adopt a Food Shelf
Adopting a food shelf has made a huge difference in my own family. Simply pick up a few extra groceries (especially staples when they go on sale) each time you go to the grocery store. Decorate a dedicated box, and keep it near your dining table as a reminder of your goal to fill it up. Once a month, take time as a family to deliver your box of donations and start a conversation with your kids about who you are helping and why.
Double And Deliver
Double your batch of food, such as when you order pizza or sandwiches, and deliver extras to an ailing or lonely neighbor.
Make Room for the Hungry
This project is truly unique! Set an extra place setting at your dinner table, possibly with extra information about hunger in your community. Then set aside five minutes each day for the next week–or month–to count something of abundance in your home (shoes, drawers, forks, items in the pantry). Commit to adding that number of coins (or dollars) to your empty bowl, and donate the funds you raise to a local food pantry or other hunger relief organization.
Read Together While Dinner Simmers
Choose a big-hearted story to read–or have your child read to you–while dinner is cooking. Reading together is the simplest way to incorporate kindness in an otherwise hectic day. When you reach the table, you will have something interesting to discuss, especially if you pick one of the conversation starters that accompany each of our big-hearted book lists.
These simple habits of kindness will empower our kids to become lifelong volunteers and will impact our communities for generations to come. Plus, they just might magically manufacture time, or at least make us feel that way.
Let’s give it a try!
What family volunteer opportunities do you incorporate into dinnertime?