Mama, are you just ever overwhelmed by need?
The needs of your family.
When I think about need (and am left to my own devices and headspace), I seem to go one of two places.
Despair. How will my small effort help? Will it really matter? I’m going to fall short anyway.
Or, I go to what I think may be Despair’s twin sister in disguise:
Anxiety-Driven Effort. I’ll sign up for every opportunity I have! I won’t ever eat out again and will donate every spare dime! Family, we’re going mimimalist!
Let me first say — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting involved in your community (in fact, I’m gonna suggest a few ways you might consider). There’s also nothing wrong with changing your family lifestyle in ways that might make you temporarily uncomfortable (we tend to get used to things — even hard things — over time).
What might be off-base are the things that got you to those decisions — despair and anxiety-driven effort being just two that this mama struggles with.
So before we get to the plentiful and awesome ways that you can connect with your community in this season of need (also known to mamas as today-and-every-day), before we get to the possible work of helping some others’ hearts, I just want us to pause and think about our own.
What is your purpose or goal in getting your family involved in community outreach this season?
Are you hoping to help your kids to gain perspective? To develop a generous spirit? To practice kindness?
Awesome. Seriously. Those sound like awesome purposes.
Now, I’ve gotta ask you something kind of tough….
If you sign up for this activity or dive into this outreach project, are you going to be able to have perspective if you’re running late or it’s not going according to plan? Can you have a generous spirit with your time if it’s taking 80 years to get everyone’s shoes on? Will you be able to practice kindness towards your kids even as they are struggling to be kind to one another?
For me, it goes back to those initial motivations. If I’m doing it out of despair, not only will I feel like I haven’t made the world a better place through my direct contributions, I’ll end up feeling like I’m wrecking my kids and most likely leaving the world the worse.
Just being honest. My brain thinks unkind thoughts at times.
And if I’m motivated by anxiety-driven effort, ugh, I’m just gonna tell you now — there will be yelling. Come on, people! We’ve gotta be the best! We’ve got to have our act together! We will suffer in the name of helping others… or else!
Someone tell me I’m not alone in this ridiculous reaction.
Again, mamas, the better alternative isn’t to bury your head, wall up your hearts, and fail to respond. The world does need your heart and the hearts of your kids. And this gut (and heart) check doesn’t have to be an hour of contemplative silence (let’s be real). It can just be a pause — even the middle of yelling — to wonder at what is going on within you and the real reason you want to show your community your care.
Okay, now that that’s taken care of, here are my top suggestions for winter community outreach in Central Iowa for kids of different ages:
Toddlers & Preschoolers
- If you’d like your outreach to be financial and yet fun for your family, consider bringing your littles to the Blank Children’s Hospital Festival of Trees and Lights. We attended last year with a newborn and two-year-old. It was enchanting, had plenty of activities, and the proceeds go to a great cause!
- Pull together a baggie of loose change to keep in your vehicle (if I cleaned my vehicle today I could pull this one off!). I don’t always have cash on hand, but my kiddos love being able to make a contribution when a hat is passed at a fundraiser or for bell ringers.
- Are you comfortable with your kiddos helping in the kitchen? Consider baking a plate of cookies (maybe with a gluten-free or low sugar option!) to start a conversation with a neighbor. You never know if that grandma next door is missing her own sweet grandkiddos and your family’s smiling faces could make a world of difference!
School-Aged & Tweens
- According to the Food Bank of Iowa, one in five kids in Iowa is hungry. I know it might be stressful to bring your littlest kids to the grocery store, but would you be willing to make a food bank run with the older ones? Consider having a conversation about food insecurity and issues of hunger before going, work with your kiddo to set a budget, and be excited together as your deliver your donation.
- Food Bank of Iowa also coordinates a BackPack Program to help cover the food gap when kids aren’t in school. I LOVE baking all sorts of holiday treats with my kiddos but am thinking, If I made just one baking trip into a backpack donation trip, would my kids even notice a few less cookies in their already blessedly full bellies?
Middle & High School
- Many faith- and community-based organizations will be serving meals to the community this winter. Organizations such as Food at First are a great way to get your teen involved by sacrificing a morning of sleep or an afternoon of video games so that they can experience first-hand the impact of a small, love-led gesture.
- Do you own a shovel or snow blower? Does your teen already know how to assist you in snow removal for your own house? Why not work together to clear a neighbor’s driveway? Maybe even make it a challenge to see how many people you can beat (before they get out their own equipment)!
- If shopping local and supporting families is central to your family, have you considered helping your teen to get involved in a parents’ night out initiative? I recently saw this opportunity for parents to shop local (shopping may not feel like outreach, but investing in the local economy can do wonders!) while people watch their children. Though this specific event may not be in your Des Moines community, is it something you and your friends would enjoy? Could you talk to your teen about working together to help watch a single mom’s kiddos while she shops? So many possibilities!
I think that no matter the age — toddlers, tweens, or teens — and no matter the activity — donations, baking, cards — the most important thing to consider is, again, your heart and theirs.
Have those conversations.
Raise that awareness.