Fostering the virtue of charity in our children
Charity is the mother of all virtues. If we can manage to foster this in our children, they will learn to see and love people as God sees and loves them. They will learn to put first things first and second things second. C.S. Lewis mentioned, if you put heavenly things first, you get both heavenly things and earthly things, put earthly things first, and you get neither earthly things at their best nor heavenly things.
Charity being the virtue in which we love things as God loves them allows for the other virtues to be animated, raising them to a supernatural love and communion with God. All other virtues get their inspiration from the virtue of charity, which binds them together.
G.K. Chesterton, states that it is not that the world is evil; he notes that it is actually far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. Yes, the vices have been let loose and do damage, but the virtues wander more wildly. The virtues have gone mad because they are isolated from each other, wandering alone. Charity will bring these virtues back into perfect harmony and properly ordered.
Charity is not simply charitable works traditionally understood. According to Aquinas, it is when our "affections are perfectly ordered, uniting us to God; for it is by charity that we love him." Fostering charity is putting God first and loving his creation as he loves it. So naturally charitable works follow, but they unite us to God. That is why going beyond one's self brings us much satisfaction. We are being united with God. "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee" (Augustine).
Helping our children with this virtue, they will learn to be of service to the greater good of their community, giving them a higher (everlasting) sense of purpose. Ultimately they will live a more psychologically and spiritually healthy life because they are putting heavenly things first and getting earthy things at their best. What better way than to help them live a fulfilled, happy life than fostering this virtue?
When we fail to foster this virtue, we end up with kids who grow up with a sense of entitlement. They develop a lack of concern for others, and their wants and whims become the center of everything, and ultimately they live a life of sorrow because it is difficult to find joy when you are the center of the universe.
What are some practical tips for fostering charity in our children?
Tell them no once in a while. Let them know they cannot have everything they ask for. That happiness comes to those who wait, and you cannot satisfy every immediate impulse. They do not need an answer to your no. The experts today want you to tell your children no without actually telling them no. Instead of no, "you cannot have the sugary candy in the check out line," it is "how about we get you this toy instead," "how about you wait until we get home!" They tell you that you should always explain to them why you are telling them no. "You will spoil your dinner." They say that no builds resentment. Yadda, yadda, yadda. The argument is that saying it too often can desensitize your child to the word no. No. No it doesn't. Well, maybe, if you are saying it all the time without following through, or given in everytime they have a tantrum. How about say it and mean it. Of course, we should give as much as we negate, and there is nothing really wrong with explaining why they cannot have something, but from my experience, we as parents do not say no, for no reason, or just for the heck of it, nearly enough.
Let them experince adversity. Some of the world's most admirable and influential people grew up with varying degrees of adversity. Is it a wonder why the ancient philosophers believed one could not be wise unless he has suffered. Adversity helps one develop a sense of empathy for others. Empathy causes us to look beyond ourselves and drives us to make a positive difference to others and makes way for sacrificial love. When overcoming adversity, there also becomes a real sense of satisfaction when learning to come up with your own resources.
Help them see the need of others and provide the need without being asked. The home is the perfect place to show this. If they see that a little brother or sister needs help, encourage them to help before and without it being asked. Help them develop compassion for others by supporting them with positive words of encouragement. Let them know how pleased you are when they reach out to help others in need.
Also, lead by example. One of the best things you can do is get them out doing volunteer work as a family. Unfortunately, however, we often forget to do it at home. If we see a need as parents, we should reach out to help.
You can donate toys and games around birthdays and Christmas. Our children live in a materialistic world. It is one of the things that helps breed entitlement. Letting things go for someone else who may need it more is a great way to help them see the positive that comes with detachment from material goods.
Have them help with family meals. In my article on "Our Search for Happiness," I talk about the higher levels of happiness that are more enduring, pervasive, and deep. Making food for others is a more enduring satisfaction than making it for yourself. When we consume food, the satisfaction leaves after the last bite; it does not endure. Making family meals is more pervasive because it extends beyond the self. Joy comes from experiencing things together. It is deeper and more profound because it requires more of the faculties that make you up as a person. It takes using your intellective capacities, creative psychological powers, and love. If you were simply eating a favorite meal, you would have more immediate satisfaction because all that is involved is your material faculties. This satisfaction would not last as long as if you were to wait and take the time to make the meal for someone else, putting your whole self into the work.
Charity is not immediately gratifying. Often times it takes work. But when our children learn that the work pays off, that they can grow up in a better peaceful community. The satisfaction will come, and it will last much longer, and there will be more joy. Your children will be happier, and thank you for it.