Conversation with my daughter about charity

Yesterday I went for a walk with my children. We were on Ave. Mount-Royal, a crowded, funky street with lots of cafes and stores. Right in the middle of this oasis of funky consumerism is a church with a shelter for the homeless. At least I think it is a shelter (it just might be a church that gives free meals). In front of this shelter (or church that gives meals), was a homeless person begging for change. He mumbled something incoherent and held out his arm, jiggling a paper cup.

I said, “Je m’excuse, monsieur, pas aujourd’hui.” And we moved on. We could hear him mumble something incoherent and jiggle his cup to the next passerby. And, so I thought at the time, was the end of story.

But then my daughter said, “We shouldn’t give them anything because they might use it for drugs and alcohol, right mama?”

What? Where the hell did that come from? Wrong. At least in my books. Taking this as a teachable moment, I told both my girls to listen closely. They balked at first, knowing that they just inadervently stumbled into one of those serious, mom-has-something-very-important-to-say-that-will-probably-be boring-and-we-won’t-understand moments (I’m famous for them). In my most serious, listen-closely-because-this-has-to-be-like-oatmeal-and-stick-to-your-guts voice, I told them that when you give something to someone, you are not allowed to dictate the terms of how your gift is used. If you choose to give a bum money, you can’t tell him to go buy food instead of alcohol. It is his money to be used in whatever way he sees fit. Yes, chances are they will use it for alcohol or drugs. But is it our place to judge?

Then my daughter burst into tears. Which completely through me for a loop because although it was a solemn lecture it wasn’t meant as a personal rebuke. We stopped and I asked her why she was crying and she said she didn’t know why I was so mad at her, she was just repeating what they had told her at school.

What? Mad? Me? Because I disagreed with her she thought I was mad at her. True, I was using my most serious voice, because I have definite opinions and values on this topic. But mad? I quickly backtracked.

“Oh, love, I’m not mad. I just don’t agree with what your school told me.”

My daughter, more than a little tired and consequently quite emotional, blubbered, “But it’s not my fault! Centre-aide came to our school this year and I told them that there was a homeless man sleeping in our alley and I asked my mom if we could give him some money. They told me that that was never a good idea because they would just want to use it for drugs and alcohol. My teacher even said so.” Then she wiped her tears.

“Well, that is their opinion. They are allowed to have their opinion. Personally, if I have the money handy, I will give it and I won’t ask questions or judge. That is my opinion. If someone asks for something and you can give it, you should. You, however, are allowed to have your opinion.”

“I don’t .”

“That’s okay. You have time.”

I have to say though, it is a little shocking to my parental control system to be confronted with the fact that my husband and I are not the only ones influencing our children. That sounds stupid- of course other people have a role. But, until you are faced with an issue where you so totally disagree with someone else and you hear those opinions being spouted from your children’s mouths, it is just an abstract concept.

Although I hope that my child will see the world they way I do, yesterday I realised that I am only one of many influences that will shape them. In the end, they’ll have to make up their own mind.

And why didn’t I give the homeless person money then? Well, this is also something we talked about- safety. I don’t feel comfortable if I have to go did around in my purse for my wallet, stop, take it out and then choose an amount to give. I won’t do it. I don’t think it is safe. However, if I happen to have some change in my pocket, which happens frequently, that change will be given.

3 thoughts on “Conversation with my daughter about charity

  1. I think the school is wrong, and you are right.

    That's a hell of a lesson to teach, that homeless folk are all alcoholic druggies. Perhaps they are only after the fact.

    Any of us could end up there, so we ought to be careful what we teach kids.

  2. I agree with you as well. A high percentage of the homeless are, in fact, mentally ill. They may be unaware of this or have been treated with medications that make them feel like zombies. As a consequence, they self-medicate and I can't say I blame them. Our system for the treatment of the mentally ill is seriously flawed. There is also the damaging stigma attached to being mentally ill.
    I think your daughters also learned a great lesson in that they now know that you can disagree with someone without there being anger involved. I remember the same subject coming up when I was raising my kids. Good learning experience.

  3. This story really scares me — what the HELL are the centre-aide people and your kids' teachers doing by spreading lies to young minds?

    And – uh, drugs and alcohol? Right. Because people with money and homes NEVER have drug habits or booze problems.

    I don't think it's just as easy as explaining it as other people's opinions. S's teacher and the centre-aide people are not sharing their opinions, they are sharing total misinformation. I am totally stunned that they didn't talk about mental health problems.

    Good thing I don't speak French or I would be raising a shitstorm on this. Seriously. This is dangerous misinformation, not opinions.

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