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What My Boys Didn't Like About Our Hanukkah Plans

Photograph by Twenty20

We are extraordinarily lucky. I know that. My husband knows that. We're a two-income family and we've got a house, health insurance, and we never have to worry about putting food on the table.

Only thing? My kids don't know that.

They think this is normal—having a place to live, having a nice warm bed to sleep in, having two loving parents who are still alive, still together, and having food on the table each night.

Each year, around holiday time, we make shopping lists and donate full meals to food banks. We donate toys around Christmas time to Toys for Tots. We donate our old winter coats in the New York Cares coat drive. But still, my 4- and 6-year-old sons don't truly get it.

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I tried explaining to them that there are people who are less fortunate than we are—people who haven't had the same opportunities, people who have had catastrophic things happen in life that made them unable to work, people who are simply down on their luck.

But they don't get it. It doesn't affect them in a real way.

They aren't even excited about the gifts because there are so many of them.

They may come with me to the supermarket to buy food to donate, but they don't pay for it. We may donate old coats, but they weren't using those anymore.

How can I show my kids that charity is important in a way that they'll really feel?

This year for Hanukkah, we're doing things a bit differently. Usually, we celebrate the holiday with candle-lighting and eight small presents for each of the eight nights. It gets a bit out of control—the gifts, night after night, the constant celebrating. Sometimes I feel like my kids don't even appreciate the gifts they're getting because there's just TOO. DARN. MUCH.

So, this year, we'll be donating our 8th Chanukah gift to charity. My kids will go to the store and pick out a gift to give away. It will be something they want, something they get to touch and examine and lust over, and they'll understand what charity means: there's someone out there who needs it more.

As parents, we're trying to raise kids who will eventually become good adults, good people. And part of that is having our kids recognize the privilege they're growing up with.

My husband and I came up with the idea after their birthday parties this year. Every year, it's the same thing: a party with 30 kids, each of whom brings a little present. The kids open their gifts, but it's all just too much. After a while, it's like the kids are numb to it. They aren't even excited about the gifts because there are so many of them. We decided it had to end. The endless parade of gifts was over.

We broached the idea around Halloween. As I was explaining to the kids that we'd been donating candy to the troops, I also talked about Hanukkah. I explained they would be donating one present that they received to kids who were less fortunate. They nodded their heads. But they didn't like it.

Then, the schools began their food drives for Thanksgiving. I went over the checklists with my boys and explained it to them: there were families who needed our help, and we were going to help out by supplying food. I reminded them of Hanukkah, and the gift we'd be donating, and they nodded their heads again. They might not have liked it, but they understood it.

As parents, we're trying to raise kids who will eventually become good adults, good people. And part of that is having our kids recognize the privilege they're growing up with. Part of that is raising kids who understand it's part of our job to help others in need, when we're able. It might be a little start, having my kids responsible for donating a gift this year, but we're starting with baby steps. We're starting to teach our kids about the importance of giving back. They're still young and, while they absorb and watch along with what we do, it's important to have them start doing it, too.

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So, this year, we will celebrate the 8th night of Hanukkah, but hopefully it will have a different meaning. It will be the start of a new family tradition: the night we dedicate to helping others.

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