Would You Make Ungrateful Kids Volunteer at a Homeless Shelter on Vacation?

6 years ago
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By the time he turned six, my son Jack had already taken trips to Los Angeles, Seattle, Florida, New York City, Hawaii and quite a few other places that require a boarding pass and a suitcase. Conversely, by the time I turned six, I’d maybe been out to my uncle’s farm a couple of times. But like a lot of modern families, my husband and I are able to take our kids on the type of vacations that we could only dream about when we were growing up. And that’s a wonderful feeling. But what do you do when your kids don’t appreciate it?

The Bowery MissionWell, if you’re anything like my friend Kristi Jordan, you bring your fabulous trip to a screeching halt and make them volunteer at The Bowery Mission. Oh, yes, she did.

Last month, when Kristi’s husband had to fly from Austin to New York City on business, she decided that she and the kids would tag along. Her 10-year-old daughter Cora was dying to see the Julliard School of Music and Central Park, and Kristi saw an opportunity to make that happen. She arranged the flights and hotel and put together an itinerary of everything she, Cora and 8-year-old JD would do in their three days in the city. For someone who’d never even left Texas until she was almost in high school, it was thrilling to give her kids an adventure she’d never had.

Unfortunately, Cora and JD didn’t quite see it that way. I can attest to how wonderful and sweet those kids usually they are, but like my own kids, they can be infuriating when they act entitled. For Kristi it started when the family was boarding their 6 a.m. flight and she excitedly asked them, “Can y’all believe we’re going to New York City? You don’t get to go to New York City every day!” JD’s response was a grouchy, “Yes, you can. You can go any time you want.” Cora simply complained that she was upset because she was missing her shows on The Disney Channel.

“That’s when I turned to the passenger next to me, totally embarrassed, and said it was kind of disgusting how they didn’t appreciate what we were doing,” Kristi said. “She just shook her head and laughed, but I was horrified.”

Despite their bad start, the Jordans still had a fun first day in the city, eating, shopping and going to a Broadway show. Then the next morning, Kristi woke the kids up at 5:30 a.m. because they wanted to see their idol, Justin Bieber, perform on the Today Show’s outdoor concert stage. Unfortunately, they immediately started whining and moaning, so Kristi had to remind them that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. “No, it isn’t,” Cora said. “We’ll just buy tickets to see him when he comes to Austin.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t plan on that now,” Kristi’s husband John muttered as he left for his business meeting.

“I knew they were exhausted,” Kristi told me, “but at that point, I was completely pissed off by their ungrateful attitude.” So after the Bieber concert, she told the kids to forget about going to Central Park and instead marched them over to a NYC police officer to ask him where they could find the closest homeless shelter or soup kitchen at which to volunteer. “That’s what you want to do today?” he replied, implying that it’s not your typical tourist request.

“We sure as heck do!” Kristi answered.

The kids really didn’t believe their mother’s threat, but one cab ride later, they suddenly found themselves standing at the front desk of The Bowery Mission being offered up as “dish washing, towel folding, garbage dumping” volunteers. Yep, score one for kick ass parenting follow-through.

Unfortunately for the Jordans, The Bowery was booked with volunteers up through the end of August (way to go NYC!) and there was nothing for them to do that day. But still, just being there still made a huge impression on the kids. “Don’t you think the people here would love to go anywhere on vacation?” Kristi quietly asked them as their wide eyes took in the hundreds of people getting their basic needs met. “It’s an unbelievable treat for us to be able to be here. Our family and every other family we know is just a couple of steps away from living in a place like this, so you need to realize how lucky we are.”

And for the rest of the trip, Cora and JD did. The entitled comments stopped and there were a lot more “Thank you’s” coming Kristi’s way. She hated that she had to do something so extreme and dramatic to make Cora and JD realize how good they have it, but sometimes that’s the only thing that’ll work with kids who have a lot. To quote Sir John Templeton, “How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child’s personality. A child is resentful, negative -- or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people.”

I’m lucky to have a mom friend like Kristi who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. But Kristi’s kids are even luckier because they have a mother who makes sure that they appreciate and are thankful for what they have. No matter where they are.


Wendi Aarons -- on twitter, @WendiAarons

Photo Credit: sixteen-miles.

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