I love to be around babies. Coming from a family of nine children, I spent a good amount of time taking caring of babies and became a sought after babysitter in my neighborhood because of my experience. My daughter developed a similar love for babies, holding and cuddling her 16 cousins. Later, in middle school, my daughter became a certified Red Cross babysitter. She quickly whipped up a resume and made flyers announcing her passion, experience and availability, but she was too young to take care of babies on her own and had no customers. By high school, all of her cousins had grown up, and she routinely lamented the fact that there were no more babies to hold.
When she found out that we could volunteer at a home that helps homeless teen moms with newborns, she jumped at the chance. It was a shared interest, and the time worked for both of us -- early evening. It was not too far away. As a working mom, I can always use more opportunities to spend “quality time” with my teenage daughter. For two hours each week, we held and fed the teen mom’s babies. Unlike me, my daughter liked changing diapers! At the end of the evening, she reported to the moms how it went, and they appreciated her comments about their adorable and well-behaved babies.
By volunteering together, my daughter learned more than what it means to care for a newborn. She learned how helping others can be transformative. She developed confidence in herself and her abilities. She encouraged a few of her friends to join her and demonstrated leadership by advising the other teen sitters. I appreciated the interaction she had with the older teen moms from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. I noticed the way my daughter felt needed, that her efforts were valued. Volunteering together and knowing it provided a meaningful service for the moms -- who had to go to class or work as a requirement to live at the home -- brought us closer together. Our discussions about the babies, their moms, their parenting styles and the difficulties of being a teen mom made me feel closer to my daughter.
Our experience made me realize that volunteering with your kids has big benefits. It teaches children the values of kindness, compassion, tolerance and community responsibility. Family members use their talents to work on an issue they feel passionate about and feel valued for their contributions. It strengthens communication and allows family members to be role models. It builds shared memories. It helps your community (and it is fun).
To make the most out of volunteering as a family, check out these tips:
- Find a volunteer activity that fits your family’s interests, schedules and that the kids can help plan.
- Start small. Consider a one-time event such as Family Volunteer Day or a short-term activity, before making a long-term commitment.
- Find out what’s expected. Ask about age requirements, safety considerations, and appropriate dress. Attend orientation or training sessions if offered.
- Show up on time. Be ready to do what is needed.
- Be patient with small children and keep them involved by praising their efforts.
- Afterwards, talk about the experience on your drive home or during a family meal. Talk about what you did, why you did it, how it felt, and what you learned. Celebrate your efforts. It will make all of you feel like doing it again.
- Keep a family-volunteering scrapbook or create a family volunteering calendar. Get input from all family members in planning future activities.
- Encourage other families you know to participate with you.
The experience of spending time with my daughter doing something we both enjoyed worked well for both of us.
And now, she has more babysitting offers than her teenage social life permits!
Want to try family volunteering?
- Call your department of social services to learn about your community’s needs.
- Check out FamilyCares for family friendly project ideas.
- Go to Kids Care Clubs learn how you can start a service club with your children and their peers.
- Check out Doing Good Together’s family service ideas.
- Find a HandsOn Action Center near you for volunteer activities and other resources for family volunteering.
Maureen Byrne works for generationOn, the youth service division of HandsOn Network. HandsOn Network's vision is that one day every person will discover their power to make a difference, creating healthy communities and vibrant democracies around the world. Volunteer!
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