On Generosity – For the Holidays and Every Day

As we approach the holidays, great focus is placed on generosity. For a working mother, who is constantly giving, it is tough to give more when one already gives SO MUCH.

So let’s reframe generosity. What does it really mean? Generosity can take many forms. Generosity can be sharing money, knowledge, support or time. Generosity is less an act than it is a spirit and a way of living.

There is something incredibly powerful about generosity, both for the recipient and the giver. We shouldn’t “give to get”, but life is richer when we open up to others. An interesting quote from Jacques Cousteau captures the idea nicely, “It takes generosity to discover the whole through others. If you realize you are only a violin, you can open yourself up to the world by playing your role in the concert.”

How often do you catch yourself in the act of doing something genuinely generous? In preparation for the holidays and enriching the everyday, here are some thoughts for working moms on increasing our generosity.

Be present. “Multi-tasking” is the arch enemy of generosity. When you are doing multiple things at one time it is difficult to demonstrate generosity. Your attention is divided. You are essentially cheating whatever you are doing and whoever you are with. I am a notorious multi-tasker, but I have made a rule to only multi-task the mundane chores that don’t really matter. I do not multi-task the people that I care about. Attending my daughter’s hockey game with an I-phone glued to my palm is not generous. My father-in-law, who recently passed away, was one of the most generous people that I have ever known. He taught me the importance of being present. He was a busy guy with a very full life, but we would share a casual conversation and a few days later I would find an item related to our discussion dropped nicely on my kitchen counter. He listened, cared and acted.

Be open. Most working moms are tightly scheduled and mildly exhausted. Scheduling is necessary to keep life moving forward. But scheduling can make life rigid and can start to block out new things. Have you ever been asked by a friend to try something new – take a pottery class or go to a play? How often do you say “yes”? I know that in my case it is easier to say “no” than to say “yes”. Saying “yes” changes the routine, and I am not sure what I might find. Can I guarantee that the time investment will pay off? A friend recently asked me to play field hockey on Sunday mornings with a group of other moms. Random, because don’t play field hockey. But intriguing, because it could be great fun. I said “maybe”, but ended up not going. And I regret it. The women were really trying to get something going and needed more players. If I had gone, it would have helped them and helped me. When you are open to new people and new experiences life is much more gratifying.

Be selfless. True generosity often means doing things that are difficult or that you don’t want to do. Generosity and charity are not the same thing and we often confuse them. One of my long-time friends just sent me an email with a progress report on a woman that she has mentored since 1991. In 1991 we both signed up for a program to help inner city girls from Chicago attend college. My involvement in the program was brief. I did it to “do the right thing.” My actions were charitable but probably were not really generous. But my friend stuck with it for 20 years to ensure that her mentee made it through college. Her mentee is now 37 years old and finally made it through college. My friend remained generously involved for the whole ride.

Generous acts do not have to be big. Celebrate simple acts and start close to home. Offer a kind word to the bagger in the grocery store. Hold the door for someone. Hug your kids and read them the extra story at bedtime. Feel good about your capacity for generosity and share it. Happy Thanksgiving!