Families of all shapes and sizes and backgrounds can benefit from understanding how to incorporate giving into their family conversations and activities. There are other distinct advantages to introducing giving into your stepfamily system.
In stepfamilies, there are children who, more than likely, are not enthralled with the reconfiguration of their family. One powerful way to begin to blend your family is to introduce a conversation around giving back and philanthropy.
No matter how conflictual the situation may be in your stepfamily situation, you can be sure that there are other families out there who are seriously challenged, be it with poverty and homelessness, with illness or developmental delays; or with lack of access to resources like medical care, clean water, healthy food, etc.
When we tell our kids and stepkids to “count their blessings” they are likely to focus on what they are unhappy about and what’s wrong in their life. When we show our children through example, through direct experience, and through mediums that resonate with them, how truly lucky they are, they can begin to draw on the healing power of gratitude in their lives.
Giving is Good For You
Research shows that when we are generous, when we volunteer and donate, we FEEL better – literally. It turns out that being altruistic is one of the more healthy acts we can perform – it helps us be more optimistic, resilient, and physically well, throughout our lives. What most people don’t realize is that it’s not about the SIZE of the gift – it’s the act of giving – that makes the difference. Anyone can be philanthropic – the word simply means acting on one’s love of mankind. We can show our love for others in all sorts of ways, regardless of how much money we have in the bank.
Involving All Family Members – No Matter the Ages
When considering opening up the possibility of giving together, a great place to start is to find out what each person in your family has experienced around giving.
A way to begin is to simply explore how giving has been experienced, such as:
We all give and receive and some experiences are more memorable than others. Let’s all take a couple of minutes to share a time when we each gave in a way that really felt good, and also a time when we received that was particularly special.
This conversation could be used to capture some initial family values that each of you share individually. As people share you could have pieces of plain paper or a roll of butcher paper in front of you with different colored markers. As you listen, anyone could pick up a marker and write down or draw a picture capturing the value that they are hearing in what someone is sharing.
Once all your stories and values have been captured, see where there may be some overlapping values that you call are aligned with – you can group similar words together and come up with one or two words that capture that theme. These shared values create the cornerstone of your blended family’s foundation.
From Values to Family Mission
Once you all agree on your particular shared values (these could be anything from kindness to generosity to education to animals to orderliness…) you can then explore your collective mission that you would all feel good about getting behind in your giving.
For example, if you all agree on generosity, your mission could be something like: “We tithe 10% of what we receive financially towards those who don’t have as much as we do.” If your shared value includes animals, you could have a statement such as: “We give x # of hours each month to an organization that shelters animals.”
The most important part of all these activities is to include everyone and to make it a shared exploration. If any one person over-rides others, you will not have engagement, you will have resentment. If it becomes a power struggle between certain family members, see what you can do to let go of any agenda or attachment to how this is all supposed to turn out or look, and begin to get curious about what else is trying to happen.
Maybe your particular family isn’t ready to draft a mission yet and needs a chance to explore other ways of giving together.
Giving Together Builds Traditions
Blended families can be challenged in having shared traditions. They often have fractured times during holidays and other celebrations due to the different family homes and dynamics. Having a central theme around giving that your blended family does together gives you a chance to create new, shared experiences and traditions that are your own. Families feel closer and more bonded and connected when they share in experiences that help them feel good – positive memories last a lifetime and do wonders for building bridges.
When thinking about incorporating giving in your family, there are some terrific resources to help you get started. Some of these that I’ve found to be particularly helpful are:
Youth Give – their resources page has free downloadable pdfs with excellent conversation starters, family activities, and a resource list including books for children of all ages – all created by Lisa Parker of Family Circle Advisors.
Catalytic Women — a memberships site with an extensive library of resources for anyone interested in becoming philanthropically involved. They also do a series of webinars and host evocative conversations and events related to philanthropy. We presented on Philanthropic Journeys with Family with Melanie Hamburger for their July webinar – go here to learn more.
Inspired Legacies – Tracy Gary, author of Inspired Philanthropy, provides consultation and speaks about philanthropy and is a leading expert in the field.
For More Information – Join Us Tuesday, July17th, in Riverside CA at StepFamily Systems!
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