Though I practice, more or less, attachment parenting, I have really strived to teach my children to detach from the world. However, it took a radical outlook change of my own for them to learn the lesson. We live in a very small home (700 sq ft) and a few years ago the clutter was becoming overwhelming. I tried reorganizing and buying more shelves but the house was always a mess because there was no place to put anything--or at least I thought that was the problem. Around the same time, we were walking through a store during the "Christmas shopping season" and my son was gushing about all the items he wanted and needed and couldn't live without..."I want this and this, OH, and that and that. Oh, oh, oh, I NEED this and this and this, and I want that and that. I HAVE to have one of those, I want that too, and I want two of those, and THIS, I don't even know what this is but I want it!" I realized we had a major problem. ALthough I had been preaching about humbleness, giving instead of recieving, and storing up treasures in Heaven, the onslaught of gifts from well meaning friends and family, and moreover my reluctance to give away anything that was a gift, was turning our life upside down.
I was beside myself and wondered how I had failed so miserably as a parent, a Catholic Christian parent no less. In the coming months articles and posts began popping up all over on "loosing the bonds of stuff" and radical purging. (Isn't God wonderful, He doesn't force us to do anything but keeps nudging us a little at a time until we finally say, "Okay, LORD, I get it!") A friend was blogging about the 40 bags in 40 days challenge and I decided to join on, even though I thought there was no way I would come up with 40 bags! I didn't come up with 40, I actually filled 60, not only that but they were much bigger bags than I had orginally anticipated using. I did that challenge three times and it completely changed my outlook on all that "stuff."
My lessons to my children changed from lectures to action. Their reluctance soon faded away and was replaced by a zeal that I couldn't match. When my daughter, recently, sold or parted with most of her American Girl doll collection, I was at first shocked, then worried she was making a mistake. I kept asking her if she was sure, she replied, "Mom, they are just plastic toys and I don't use them, so why keep them?" I realized that my effort to teach her detachment had worked, but I still had a long way to go before I was that willing to surrender.
Here are steps that you can take with your family to teach the virtue of worldly detachment:
1. Do a Radical Purge: Take the 40 bags in 40 days challenge or any other similar program. It is so helpful to have a step by step, day by day, guide to reduce the overwhelming clutter we have accumulated. At first it will be hard, but press on and do it multiple times until it becomes a way of life. We are conitnually cleaning out and donating, it often boggles my mind how many bags pass through this home. This was the first year that I didn't do the 40 bags challenge, because scarcely a week goes by that at least one or two bags leave our home. Things are much more orderly and everyone is happier!
2. Give Gifts to Share: Every Christmas, I pick a small gift that is for all the children to share. I also mark one of their stocking stuffers as "Share this with______." By giving gifts to share I eliminate the need to purchase the the same item multiple times, and also foster the sense of community among my children. When we began doing this the children didn't bat an eye, however I noticed that they became more willing to share all their toys with each other.
3. Give Gifts to Give Away: On St Nicholas Day, we celebrate giving gifts away. Our entire focus is on what we can give to other family members and friends, as the children get a day off from school work to craft Christmas gifts. They also receive little treats in their shoes, like a candy cane, an orange, a prayer card or bookmark, and a small gift that costs less that $2. Those simple gifts are their favorite of the entire year. Along with the shoe treats is a gift for all of them to give away. In years past, it was a toy to donate to Toys for Tots or a bag of groceries and snacks to bring to the food pantry. The past few years, we have been giving the children money that they have to decide how to give. The older two spend the weeks of Advent thinking and planning and trying to decide how to give the most for their money. They tend to pick items from charity gift catalogs like Operation Christmas Child, donating chickens, blankets, soccer balls, water purifiers, etc.
4. Celebrate Giving: This is similar to number 3, however it has to do with those that we know. Whenever an event is coming up like Christmas or a loved one's birthday, we have excited conversations about how we can gift them on the special day. We don't dream dreams of piles of gifts or expensive purchases. We truly think of what the best gift for that person may be and what gifts we can make or share. Often times, the children will search through their own collections finding something special to pass on or make into a new item as a gift. The weave, bead, paint, and build. The thrill is in the giving and anticipation of how that gift will make the other person happy. It isn't about consuming but, of giving of ourselves.
5. Shield Them and Yourself: Our society is obsessed with having more and more. Advertisers are spending millions of dollars to convince you that you will never be happy until you buy their product. This overconsumerism is taking it's toll on our family fabric, our mental well being, and our environment. Pope Francis urges us in his recent encyclical, Laudato Si', to recognize the detriment of overconsumtion, or seeking more of what we don't need, and strive to end it. Our landfills are teaming with "must-have" items and the latest and greatest crazes. How do we stop the madness? Stop filling your mind with what is making you mad!
We do not have cable for various reasons, it began with a financial need and now it is more of a spiritual need. If you have cable, try to DVR programs, especially for the children since they are the group most targeted in advertising, and fast forward through the commercials. Or choose programing on channels with little or no advertising, such as public television or EWTN. During the huge shopping times of the year, recycle the catalogs that fill your mailbox--don't even look in them! Try to stay off of the Internet on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, etc so you don't get sucked into the hype.
6. Pick a Favorite Charity and Weigh Purchases in Light of How that Money Could Serve It: We have a few charities that we support but our favorite is Mary's Meals. If you have never seen their film Child 31, you must, it will change you--I promise. When the children or I start pining away for purchases we don't need, we calculate out how many meals that purchase would provide (one meal only costs $0.05) and suddenly we don't need it any more. We regularly put out change jars to not only collect spare change but sacrifical gifts.
7. Read the Lives of Saints: Become friends with those who gave everything to GOD and found His greatest riches. Especially learn about those who "had it all" and gave it up to follow the LORD completely. Good examples are St Katherine Drexel, Blessed Pier Giorgio, and St Francis of Assisi.
8. Give Time and Talent: Break the connection of gifts being connected to spending money. Spend time together, make a special craft or recipe as a gift. Let the greatest gifts be your relationships. Growing up, my great grandmother always baked each person a special treat for their birthday. Mine was Lemon Merigue pie. It was the one gift I looked forward to each year and the one I would give anything to have again. Her Lemon Merigue pie was the best in the world because it was full of love!
8. Be Generous as the Author of Life: Be generous with all you have, giving to other in need in a truly sacrificial way. Serve God in every decision. Be open to life. Give your whole self to the service of God. Be fruitful! Work for Heavenly treasures not earthly success. Always ask, "What more can I give?"
How have you taught your chidlren to give? Any suggestions for greater surrender?