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Jen

(Not) Passing On What Matters To Us Most

Posted by Jen on November 11, 2009 at 7:00 AM
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I recently found myself in a crisis in the back of a Land Rover in rural Tanzania. We were on a tour of the poorest of the poor--a gentle-hearted group of families suffering from malnutrition and abject poverty in a tiny drought-afflicted village. This was one of those heart-stopping moments that stays with you forever--and none of it was registering with my kids. One was reading a comic book and the other was two hundred pages into a vampire book. Neither looked up when we pulled up or left. They had something else to do. They were tired. They were bored.

I wasn't sure whether to pull the old mom card--you know, the hissing command issued in the ear that says get it together now--or else. I didn't know if i should just let them be because the situation was so intense (even for someone thirty years their senior) or launch into some self-righteous speech. In the end, I decided on something in between: a firm request to put the books down and pay attention--at least while we were on the tour.

In the end, I'm not sure if any of it made a difference.

I know it's probably naive to expect more from kids, but I was really affected by their apparent lack of interest. "I don't know what to say," one child explained later in the day without an ounce of guilt or concern. "I have my hands full with my own life. I don't have that much space to think about helping someone else."

I still haven't completely recovered from that statement. It leaves me without any words at all.

Reflecting on it now two weeks after the fact, I can see that my concern is centered around values--that set of guidelines or principles that we've chosen to give our lives direction and meaning. How is it that my kids in that instance so quickly passed over something that fully engaged my values? How is it that an experience that was rife with opportunity for a response and the most simple kind reaction seemed to strike them as no big deal? And maybe this is the most important question of all: how can we know if our children are internalizing at all our most essential values?

After this trip, I have no idea.

I want my kids to understand they have choices. And I want them to feel connected to a personal sense of power as well as the consequences their choices generate. But what happens when that understanding of power, choices and consequences leaves out caring? What happens when kids decide being compassionate is optional? Do you pass it off as just a phase? Or is it time to march everyone to Habitat for Humanity every weekend for the rest of their childhood lives?

I'm still asking myself these questions.

What matters to you when you think about who your children might become? What values do you hope they decide to carry with them into the future? What do you do when it looks like they're missing what you'd hope was an obvious invitation to what matters to you most?

photo taken after meeting with some of the poorest people in Tanzania; by Stephanie Roberts, Arusha Tanzania

46 Comments

Amber writes...

My own children are 1 and 4, so we haven't had any experiences like that yet. Or, at least, I wouldn't yet expect my own little ones to have much in the way of set values.

Situations like the one you describe are so overwhelming for all of us. I can understand the desire to escape from it, particularly for children.

I think it's reasonable to expect the children to be respectful. Reading during a tour isn't so respectful. But not being sure how to react? That's really neither here nor there.

I'm sure your children are seeing your example, and that it is making a difference. Even if you didn't see it on that occasion.

I wonder if it's hard for our kids because often we may talk about values and other people's life issues in the abstract. And I wonder if at relatively young ages they're just not capable yet of internalizing the needs of others?

In a few months, we will be visiting PunditGirl's birth country and will be visiting the orphanage where she lived for the first 12 months of her life. I am already wondering whether, at 10, she will be able or ready to grasp the situation of the children there or how the lives of people in her birth country compare to our own.

Carolyn writes...

Wow, what a powerful post. A child who lives in the comforts we provide really have no intellectual capacity to absorb that type of information. But it's so amazing that they have a mom who can bring them that type of cultural education. You rock. And your kids will get it, so don't worry.

Marianne writes...

The wise young soul (I suspect it was her) who gave you that explanation understands something I didn't understand for a very long time - i.e. that I have to start with me. True compassion - as opposed to pity or guilt or blame - arises as we settle into our true nature. They'll both find their way there. We all will.

My parents took me to Papua New Guinea when I was three years old. We lived there, it was my home. I had no thought of compassion or taking responsibility for the suffering of others. I fought with the neighbourhood children over whose turn it was on the rope swing despite my great comparative privilege. But I saw that the world was very different from the small corner of if into which I had been born and that changed me in ways that have shaped my life.

You provided that opportunity. You are modeling the power of nurturing yourself, living your truth. That your daughter can even speak with such honesty is a sign of what a great job you are doing.

I love and admire you very much.

Melody Hanson writes...

As I read, I couldn't get over being so jealous that you and your kids were being exposed to what they were. I want those experiences for my kids. My kids hearts are even farther from that compassionate moment. After I recover from my envy, I will think about this very important topic.

Kathie writes...

I have found that if children are engaged they will see & understand.An opportunity to volunteer goes a long way towards gaining compassion for your fellow human being.Next time?Forget the "tours", & have the kids volunteer in a soup kitchen for a weekend, or at a Children's hospital, something like that. Get them actively involved in a Solution & they won't feel powerless!!

Heather writes...

Interesting that I should read this today, because just last night, I had a similar crisis of values with my own children. My daughter is five, verbose, stubborn, opinionated, just like her mom. My son is eight and autistic, barely verbal and not generally in tune with that which is outside his scope of interest at the moment.

As Christmas is rapidly approaching, we have toy catalogs sitting around that have come in the mail, and my daughter likes to flip through them, circling things that she wants, which at this age means that she pretty much just circles everything on any given page. My husband noticed that she circled a boy in the catalog, one of the models posing with the toys, and my husband asked her why she had circled the boy.

At this point, I chimed in with, "You don't want another brother, do you?" assuming that she would giggle and say of course not. But she didn't. She said, rather seriously, "well, I would like a brother who isn't autistic," as though that were something that we could change if we wanted to.

A moment later, as if to prove her point, my son spun out into the room with his arms out, accidentally smacking my daughter in the back of the head. He didn't even notice, but she began to cry, and while I was consoling her, I asked again, "You wouldn't really want to trade in your brother, would you?" To which she responded, a little guiltily this time, "Just sometimes. I wish I had a regular brother."

I didn't know what to say. We have long been of the opinion that you can't take the autism out of a child (even if that were possible) without changing who that child is. Though he may be more work than a typical eight year old boy, we have come to accept him exactly the way that he is, and I had sincerely hoped to pass that value to our daughter, who will bear the burden of caring for him into his adulthood, when my husband and I are no longer able to. I know that she is only five, but it broke my heart just a little to realize that this value which I hold so dear, that of unconditional acceptance, has not been transferred to her in the way that I thought it had.

Nadine writes...

I think it's important to remember that you are planting seeds for the future. Your kids are acting like, well, kids, but when they are adults they will remember this experience, and it will inform their behavior. Parenting is a long-term gig, and often a frustrating one, but if you build a good foundation for them, they will come around when they're older.

Julia writes...

For some children, compassion and empathy develops out of shared experience. Have your children ever spent time within the US with friends and relatives that are living near the poverty line? Have they ever gone without because of family financial stresses? For most kids, even being deprived of the usual kid accessories and activities (I-pods, cell phone, sports or music lessons, new clothes vs. goodwill) is unimaginable. Third world poverty is horribly extreme compared to what is considered poverty in the US. If children have no frame of reference, they have no basis on which to build understanding or concern.

Introvertster writes...

I suspect that my mother felt the same way about me when I was growing up as you felt during your time in Tanzania. That said, I know I internalized my parents values based on the career and volunteer choices I have made as an adult. They couldn't see it at the time, but twenty years later, I believe I am living proof of the passing on of their values to the next generation. Take heart; I would bet the ranch that you *will* see the (positive) results in the future.

JenAuthor Profile Page writes...

thank you. this is really encouraging.

Karen writes...

Heather, I have loads of compassion for your situation. I have a 10 year old son who is on the autistic spectrum and I deal every day with the issues that causes in his relationships with his siblings. It is a real thing for kids, a real loss, and they need to grieve the absence of the sibling they thought they would have just like parents need to grieve the typical child we thought we'd have. They have less information than we do, less life experience, less maturity and less acknowledgment from the world in general for what they go through, so imagine your journey to acceptance multiplied times all of those things. Your daughter sounds like a considerate and sensitive person. Maybe she needs the space to feel a feel and discuss the negative side of her experience.

Julie C. writes...

A *tour*??!?!? of poor people? That's insane! Sitting in a Land Rover, reading items those poor kids will never have was just pointless! Were they exposed to the idea of poverty before you went there? Did you do anything to help the people before, during, or after your visit? Perhaps that would have engaged your children more. They could have handed out comic books to the kids, who would have treasured them for life. Meanwhile, your kids will toss their reading material in a pile never to be seen, or cared about, again.

You need to engage your kids in the problem, not just drive by/through a poor third-world neighborhood to gawk & stare. I know a missionary family in Arusha- they could have used your help at their school or orphanage.

I also work with missionaries in Asia. They run two orphanages for girls. Our family supports one girl with letters, photos, gifts, clothes, etc. My kids are involved in picking out the items, writing letters, drawing pictures, praying for her, reading monthly updates, etc. That's the way to get kids to learn compassion...but also that we are all humans on this planet.

JenAuthor Profile Page writes...

julie,

the purpose of our trip to tanzania was so my kids could help teach children their age how to use the internet at one of the first tech labs for children in arusha. we also went so i could photograph the experience for the nonprofit Epic Change, since they've been passionately involved with this particular school for the last couple of years.

from my experience with extreme poverty in africa, i can tell you that comic books and books in general are meaningless in these situations and that the most valuable offering is the willingness to visit, hang out and initiate a genuine friendship. i was sorry that this tour didn't allow more time for that--though we did meet people, go inside their houses, admire their crops and connect through kindness and touch.

i agree that my kids would fare well in the compassion department with more hands-on opportunities at home. thank you for pointing that out, and i wish you well as you nurture your own children on their journey.

Maple Fan writes...

I am holding onto the hope that with maturity they will remember the lessons I tried to show and tell them and make some thoughtful choices. We make maple syrup. When we were kids my sister had to be dragged to the sugar bush, complaining all along how boring and dirty and stupid all the hard work was. Now as a 30-something adult w/two teenagers, she is the first one out there, the one who digs in and gets the dirtiest, and the one who really enjoys working with her family. So hold onto that hope and keep sharing the moments with them you hope they take in.

Turned out OK writes...

This article struck me because I had a mother that was HUGE into community service/volunteering. She dragged me with her all over the place forcing me to volunteer and help, the entire time preaching to me about how lucky I was to have all that I had. I just ended up resenting it. I think in moderation it would have been a different story. I did 'get it' but I also wished I could have just stayed home and watched some cartoons. It took years for the resentment to subside and for me to embrace helping others. I think if she had let me choose ONE cause that would interest a child...like the local animal shelter etc.. rather than forcing all her causes on me I would have been much less resentful of the whole thing.

JenAuthor Profile Page writes...

this response is HUGELY helpful for me. thanks for sharing your experience. i'm sure my kids often wish they had more time to veg out and relax instead of being inundated with people's stories and lives because of the busyness of our house and my work.

Rossy writes...

Wow, tour of the poor people?! OMG, the things we do to entertain ourselves nowadays! May be if you let them out of the car, to talk, touch, make friends even with the local "poor people" the kids would have been much more interested?!

Heather, your kids seem great. Passing on values and understanding, teraching acceptance is one thing but the decision to carry that burden in her life should be solely your daughter decisioin at some point in her life. Our kids are our responsibility and none of them should feel obligated to carry on our burdens in the future. Just be careful with placing expectations on your daughtre's shoulders or she would grow up resenting her brother. I grew up in similar situtaion and it's very hard on the sibling; It is our responsibility as parents to make sure the future of the child in need is secured without involving the sibling in the equasion of daily care. Your daughter will grow up and will be starting her own family one day and a burden like the daily care of a special needs sibling is likely to take huge toll on her. Best of Luck to you and the family.

JenAuthor Profile Page writes...

hi rossy,

i should have clarified that this tour was not a tour for our entertainment or curiosity. we'd been invited by a group of tanzanian women who are doing amazing things to help families who are as poor as you can imagine find a way out of poverty to life-sustaining business. we made several stops (there was no driving by) and got out, walked around, met the people in their programs, visited, and listened as the women in the program showed us their work and their enterprise.

if anything, i'm realizing the experience was probably more overwhelming for my kids than something they were disregarding. thanks for your comments.

Gary writes...

Unfortunately, society is all about self these days - me, myself and I. Your kids reaction are no different than most of their peers. Parents need to be proactive in teaching values to their children. Make a list of the values you want to teach, paste it on the bathroom mirror, have them read and reflect on the values each day and use the list for teaching, coaching and correcting. We call it LiveOurValuesEveryday!!!

rachael writes...

i say with the fullest confidence that your children are soaking in your compassion whether they show it or not, whether they like it or not, and whether they're ready or not. part of their journey includes inheriting a mom with such a huge heart. that can be hard for kids who just want to be kids. who just want to play. who just want their own dreams that may include fame or adventure or discovery.

but remember that you do way more than force your kids along on your journey or have them "tour" through poor towns. you live your life with a generous and compassionate heart--your doors always open to the hungry, the needy, in your very own neighborhood or halfway across the world. you challenge your children to engage with people of dissimilar backgrounds, and you encourage them to open their hearts--to see all people as one large human family.

even if they're not too happy about it--about their place in this world and the responsibility that comes with facing their own privilege--i have no doubt that they are lucky to have you as their mother. be gentle with their youth, their longed-for naivety. they're up against things most kids don't have to see. but in the end, they'll be lucky that they did.

JenAuthor Profile Page writes...

thanks, rachael! as someone who has seen my kids at their best (and worst!) i appreciate your point of view. it means the world.

Mary writes...

I have read Jen's other writing and met her in person and am confident that I understand her heart for the poor. She is a person deeply invested in improving the lives of others, and has gone to extraordinary means to do just that. Accusing her of taking a 'poor tour' as if she did so merely to satisfy curiosity is judging her very unfairly.

Mary, mom to many, including 2 born in Korea, and 4 born in Africa

Ajay writes...

When I go to India and notice children begging on every single traffic light what turns my stomach is not just that there are kids begging - but that no one notices. No one cares. News media have a name for this condition - crisis fatigue. How often do we even click on stories of floods, mudslides, mass deaths, bombings in alien places much less do anything to help the victims? I guess not very often. But does it mean we have all become heartless zombies who can never shed a tear at someone else's suffering? I do not know. These same young people who seem so indifferent are sometimes the most effective healers and givers. They also make the biggest sacrifices that our generation never had to. The lethargy and insensitivity we notice in our children is a gift of our generation to them. A generation that has indulged to the extent of gluttony in all material pleasures without making any sacrifice. We are so aware of our own needs - hunger, need for love, a glass of red wine, a vacation, quality time, cable time, dog time and so many minor pleasures we have devised for ourselves. Kids are bored of all that and most turn to music or drugs to break the banality we have built around them. There are no pathos in their life, the life we have constructed. And yet we blame them. Not fair.
I challenge you that when it comes to it, these same kids will probably do something more meaningful for the poorest of the poor than you. I suspect this next generation will have its own response to the world we are giving them and it may not be as ugly as ours.
A story comes to mind. True and recent. A Greek businessman found a hermit living in the mountains of Athos. He recognized him as a Ph.D. and a great authority on many subjects. The hermit had been living out there for years. The man started visiting regularly and brought a bunch of newspapers and magazines each time. The hermit just took them and burnt them without reading. The man, aghast, asked " are you not interested in knowing about all the tragedies? The Tsunami, the earthquake, the war, the conflicts? " I do not need newspapers to tell me that man is suffering, my child" said the hermit.
There is plenty of suffering around us. Our generation has pretended to be concerned and done nothing. The kids I see might end up doing much without pretending.

Maria writes...

I grew up in a privileged community in Tenafly, NJ. Unfortunately, my father died when I was ten years old, leaving my mother with five kids to raise on her own. My mom told me that he drove our family through the Bronx - so we could see how the half lives and appreciate our lives more. At age eight I have no memory of that experience. However, something must have stuck because of the values that both my parents had. I developed a social conscience during the civil rights movement in the sixties when I was 16 - and I have empathy that you have developed. I am sure when your kids are older - that some of values you have tried to instill in them will stick - they don't have to go to Habitat to Humanity every Saturday but a volunteering some place when they are a little older will broaden their lives. The suggestion of supporting an overseas family with letters, gifts, etc. as Julie C suggests is a good idea. How are about toys for tots and meals for people at Thanksgiving. There are plenty of options.

B writes...

I am glad someone wrote about the sense of a tour. Being in my late 20s, I can sympathize with your kids, as well as your pov. I'm sure there wasn't a lot of time, and they might have been tired. As your daughter does look more tired than bored persay.
And books in the past for myself have always been a way to escape when something is overwhelming.
I think something is taken to be said for the age you expose children to these things as well. I am not a mother, but I would also not lug an 8 year old through an improvershed foreign country for a photo op. Start at home where things can come slowly and see how they latch on and then bring up the idea of doing something. But then again your post doesn't really talk about how you approached this with your children. Was it something they wanted to do initially? Or had passion about or was it your expectation that they would have passion because you do?

Mary writes...

Jen,
I appreciate your honesty in relating this story.
I seriously doubt your children are insensitive to the needs of others or lack compassion. They are
simply being children. This was a big trip--and a lot to process on a lot of levels. Give them time. You are a passionate person and an adult--and one of the most influential people in their lives. They will get there.

And a thought for Heather to consider--"Rossy" and "Karen" actually said it best but I'd like to add,
Having raised four children to adulthood including a son with disablilties,
your daughter will spend her childhood with the good the bad and the ugly of growing up with a sibling with disabilites, Siblings struggle with a whole host of issues that shape them into their adulthood. it does not automatically make them more compassionate or even more appreciative of their own abilities. Please do not pass on the expectation of the "caregiver" role to her already at the age of 5. (even if it's just in your own head) She is entitled to have her own life and her own family when the time comes. Hopefully she will want to be involved in her brother's life, but to think she should be responsible for supporting him in his day to day life is unfair to her.

kate writes...

We are Hammonds.

We are the children of a father who, upon learning that impoverished Swiss missionaries were stranded in Miami over the holidays, went to go find them so they could have a place to sleep & celebrate Christmas.

We are the daughters of a mother who commutes 3 hours a day & spends money she doesn't have to ensure 2000 foster kids get the dental care they need.

I could share countless stories of our parents showing love and kindness to so many people. Because they CARED.

You know, we could have done lots of things. And made lots of money. But what matters to us?

one sister brings hope; one sister brings honesty & laughter; one sister brings kindness; and one sister brings healing.

We are Hammonds. We CARE.

Don't get me wrong, we certainly aren't perfect. But the one thing I am most proud of about our family is our love for humanity. It's our thing.

So I'm not worried - your fantastic kids have YOU; I know they will turn out to be beautiful, loving people.


JenAuthor Profile Page writes...

kate,

thank you so much for this. i've been re-reading it all morning and it keeps making me cry. i know i'm not a perfect parent, and i know that i've made mistakes trying to raise my kids, but the idea that just having me for a mother might be worth something, that it might be enough really touches me somewhere and brings me more peace and healing than you know.

i love you.

nicole writes...

Kate, it's nice to hear from the honorary Supersister. Your contribution was well worth the wait!

Auntie Barb writes...

Kudos to Katie! Yes, you are who you are because you have parents who have consistently modeled "love for humanity". What a legacy they have in each of you! AND each of you will pass that legacy on to your kids as well. It is who you are.

Monica writes...

I grew up part of my childhood in Ethiopia, during the famine in the late 70's early 80's and also spent time in other African countries as a child. My memories of being there are not of the poverty of those around me, but of a likeness I had to the neighbourhood children, my friends. I do remember their raggedy clothing, flies sitting all over their faces, distended bellies (sorry if writing this seems inconsiderate, I write it to explain my childhood thoughts) ... now as I adult I recognize the poverty. But as a child, I saw these children as playmates ... no different than me. We ran around our perspective houses playing hide and seek, playing with rocks and sticks and self made toys. Enjoying the company of friends. I wonder, if as a child, we have a way of looking at the hearts of those around us, unaware of societal differences.

Maybe you're raising exactly the kind of children who look at peoples hearts .... love people regardless, despite differences and probably unaware of class, colour, etc.

I know from countless stories you have written about your children that they are beautiful, compassionate and empathetic beauties.

You remind me of my mom and dad. I know they had concerns similar to yours. They live a meaningful like full of compassion, empathy, etc and I'm still learning these things from them.

Another quick example ... watching TV growing up, my mom would always get so annoyed at any birth scenes where the mama was screaming and pushing. She'd always mutter ... "that's not at all what it's like". It annoyed me and I thought it was kind of funny that she had this pet peeve. Many years later ... as I birthed my own children in my home I realized all her stories about her births ... that I didn't really give a passing thought to, influenced me, probably more than she hoped they would (she would have prefered hospital births). I laboured in exactly the same position she did ... remembering the stories I'd heard about the day I was born.

I tell this story to encourage you to be who you want them to be. They are listening and watching even if it doesn't seem (to them or you) that way. I'm constantly amazed that the people my parents and grandparents were/are, are replicated by their children and their children's children.

Kristen writes...

Jen, I think it's important to remember that compassion can be displayed in many ways. You are teaching your children compassion but perhaps their focus of compassion will just be different than yours. While it would probably mean the world to you to have your children to have the same passion you have for Africa, perhaps that is something they view as your work and not necessarily theirs. They will find their own compassion work.

Monica writes...

One other thing ... now that I've read the comments .... one thing my mom and and dad did was include people in our family. We weren't the kind of people that wrote letters to missionaries or filled Christmas boxes (which I could rant about for a good long while), or had sponser children. We had refugees living in our home, joining us for holidays, as part of our friendship circle. Many of these relationships continue 30 years later ... and not just with my mom and dad ... with my brother and I as well.

I believe strongly that it's about relationships and hearts ... NOT about stuff and 'doing' (I would like to bold this and underline it 5 times.).

Jen .. from my reading of your adventures and you family .. relationships and hearts are what you are all about. Keep being who you are ...

Jeanine writes...

Kate, I feel lucky and proud to know your three sisters and your mother. What you wrote is beautiful and so true. You have a glorious family and the world is a better place for that. My love to all of the Hammonds!

thecheckoutgirl writes...

Jen-
I am generally a lurker in your life, but couldn't resist commenting. Most people don't even know that I have children, not to mention the fact that they are nearly raised already and that I have done it all by myself.

My kids are exposed to first world poverty (as opposed to this much deeper level of poverty, which I am aware is nothing like what we experience) every day, because they live it. We don't have a lot but it's always been our motto that if we have a dollar, we will give half to someone who needs it and learn to live on fifty cents. Having no positive parenting role models, I was never sure if this was the "proper" thing, but it felt right. Only now they are older, and I see how kind and generous they are with their things/time, do I know I have successfully navigated at least that part of raising good people. You are doing the same.
So Much Love -
TCG

Dad writes...

Jen’s Dad writes…
Well Jen you shared your heart…it touched and provoked thought …it stirred and exposed emotions!
But Jen your heart is still broken because you know that for most of man or woman kind that life is lived on the surface…you know what they are missing…the thought of your fresh and blood to miss it is confusing and unthinkable… why don’t see it…why don’t they feel it…why don’t they get it. It is so obvious…it isn’t about feeding poor people, helping the needy or having compassion for others.
It is about having a heart!
Jen if you have this heart and I know that you do…it is important to also have this understanding…it is the sole purpose of the heart to share and love unconditionally…there is no room for judgment, or expectations …there lies its power. This heart is infectious…it only works though personal contact with others…so just go and hug my grand kids!
Love Dad

Marelle writes...

Not that you need defending; however, I too vouch for the Hammonds here!

All we can really do is go to the furthest lengths possible to show our kids the world, provide opportunities for kindness, and pray. And, you do that no doubt.

Mercy writes...

Jen - First and foremost, Thank you. It is difficult to be vulnerable in this world and you share your heart all the time. After reading your post and several of the comments on here including your Dad's and Kate's (which I am highly in agreeance with)... I feel compelled to remind you that you are an amazingly creative woman with an enormous heart who seeks to provide powerful ways for your children to experience life fully. Dr. Seuss once said,"be who you are and say what you feel, those that matter don't mind and those that mind don't matter." You are an exceptional mother who inspires consistency and hope to all. Your children are better humans because of the values you instill in them. You empower all your readers to think about ways that they themselves can impact our world. The negative feedback comments are obviously from people who have no clue as to who the Hammonds are. More power to ya, Jen! Thank you for sharing your heart even when you don't have to... I am a better person because you do. Eternally for your life...

anne writes...

Jen, It's the building blocks that we provide our children, along with the genetics that are passed along, that create who our children will grow up to be. You are providing your children with tremendous opportunities, whether it's obvious to you now or not. I know this was not a "tour" or just a photo op, this was part of sharing your heart with your children-your way of helping make this world a better place. Because your children are also related to those other great sisters, your mom and dad, and cousins, they are growing up living with spectacular values surrounding them. They are going to be fine-time will help you see that. Keep up the great work Hammonds (all of you)! Anne

anne writes...

Jen, It's the building blocks that we provide our children, along with the genetics that are passed along, that create who our children will grow up to be. You are providing your children with tremendous opportunities, whether it's obvious to you now or not. I know this was not a "tour" or just a photo op, this was part of sharing your heart with your children-your way of helping make this world a better place. Because your children are also related to those other great sisters, your mom and dad, and cousins, they are growing up living with spectacular values surrounding them. They are going to be fine-time will help you see that. Keep up the great work Hammonds (all of you)! Anne

John writes...

I disagree with the above idea that a "tour" of the poor is a bad idea. Yes, it is better to get involved as Jen is, but just witnessing the conditions is a first step to understanding the situation. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a tour is worth 10,000, and helping worth 100,000.

Sarah writes...

Hi, Jen--

I loved your post and have been thinking about it a lot. My take on it is "sensory overload" or "emotional overload." This is so intense and so much to take in that I need to take refuge in the familiarity of my book, my little electronic device, whatever. Your actions and example will sink in with your kids, but they probably need time, maybe lots of it, to process it and gain perspective. Have faith that this is a seed planted that WILL bear fruit, sooner or later.

Nicola writes...

I just wanted to let you know that I was a disinterested child of developing world do-gooders. Now I work for a charity and am a do-gooder myself. It was just a lot for me to process at the time.I did care, but I was also aware that caring could take over everything , and that was scary. When outside my comfort zone, I definitely used to push against everything, to try and avoid it until I could start to process. Don't worry, your kids see you fighting the good fight every day, they'll come to it in their own time.

Amelia writes...

I love the questions you ask and the points you raise. I once wrestled these thoughts with my oldest, who is now 18. We passed a homeless man and I could barely get the image of him out of my mind. I ended turning to my daughter (then 14) and asking her what she thought, her response "he looks homeless." Her response hit me in the chest with a thud- that was it, a simple observation, "he is homeless." There were two realities that I needed to accept- while I process the world through what if's and why not's and play through various situations, imagining outcomes, etc. my daughters personality is very much driven by her senses. She states what she see's, hears, smells etc. I didn't need to question how she feels based simply on her observations, which felt aloof to me- she stated what she saw- but her matter of fact observation did not equate to indifference, it was simply a difference in how we express ourselves. I also had to accept that at 14 she didn't have the full ability to express or even feel things the way I did- I was assuming she understands the bigger picture without realizing she does not have the same experiences I do and she isn't old enough to have experienced much. But the example stays with them, the things we say and do, they register- at 18 she volunteers in a shelter for homeless women and children- this was her choice. Even now when asked about the work she does, she doesn't give much detail, she still defaults to stating what her senses observe, but I know she feels things, deeply.

Jena writes...

I just wrote a long comment and lost it.

What did it say? That I was so moved by your words, "I have no idea." As a parent, one of my biggest challenges is to have no idea, and to stay in that space without filling it up with preaching, dogma, imposing "blahblahblahblah" words (literally - sometimes my 7 1/2 year old makes a blahblahblah hand movement when I am talking about things *I* think are SO IMPORTANT). You are living your values so authentically, in such real-life, personal ways. Your kids are soaking that in. Little seedlings are growing in them that may not bloom or blossom or even be visible to the naked eye for many more years. But they will.

Greg and I often talk about wanting our kids to "see how the rest of the world lives." How to raise kids who are compassionate, aware, and feel responsible for others - but as a reflection of values and not an expression of guilt/privilege - this is the question we live everyday.

Thank you, Jen, for making me feel hopeful and inspired by sharing your doubts and not-knowings.

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