Over our decades working with parents we’ve found that one of the greatest ways to climb out of the pit of discouragement is to serve and be a blessing to others. In fact, certain kinds of service have been described as the “Happiness Trifecta” which release serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin!
Does this suggestion spark anxiety in you? How can you possibly serve others as a family when you feel so overwhelmed with everyday life? Especially if you have little kids? (Or maybe cranky teenagers?) 😉
Members of our Insiders Team shared how acts of service have impacted their family. We asked for practical ways, both big and small, that they serve each other, in their church, and in their community.
These parents have watched as their kids have grown in wisdom, kindness, and even self-esteem as they serve God by serving others.
In Timothy, Paul encourages young people to be an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity”. Below you will see some examples of how serving others has impacted families and how, at times, kids have been an example and inspiration to their parents!
Our hope is this article will inspire you to incorporate acts of service as a family in the coming year. We are excited to hear from you about ways your family has created a culture of serving God by serving others.
How serving others impacts your own family
But is this really doable? What does it look like? Our Insiders Team also shared specific stories of the impact serving others had on their own family. As you will read, the impact is widespread and unique in each family.
- I felt like my plate was too full to be involved with our church’s Gifts of Love program last Christmas, but my 12-year daughter really wanted to be involved so I signed up. I was delighted and humbled as I watched her carefully study the details provided about each member of the family we were to shop for, and then scour the internet for just the right gifts for girls who she had never even met.
- My husband prays often that we will see and take opportunities to serve as a family. I’ve really appreciated his leadership in this.
- For several years my husband served as coordinator for our church’s construction outreach, where he organized home repair projects for individuals with extenuating circumstances. Our oldest daughter was around 5 at the time, and often struggled with tantrums and attitude. One evening he needed to go tidy up at a building project site and decided to take the whole family. Our daughter amazed us as she cheerfully carried load after load of scrap wood to the dumpster, with a happy glow on her face. I can attest that serving others is a wonderful cure for a case of the grumps!
- I love it when my kids initiate the service opportunity! Recently, when my husband and I were out of town, my teenage girls made and brought soup to neighbors that recently lost a family member.
- It’s interesting to see how serving looks based on my children’s different personalities. One is more introverted, loves to surprise/serve in small ways, of his own accord (for example, he will often get up early and surprise us by making a full breakfast and setting the table so we can all enjoy a good meal together); the other is more extroverted and enjoys helping in a way that involves interacting with others outside. I am learning to appreciate these differences, honor their personalities/gifting and NOT expect all service to have to look the same.
- A woman was stranded at a gas station and we shared some cash and some of the breakfast we had packed. Initially one of my kids asked “why are you giving her our food?!” I explained that we had plenty and she might be hungry. Afterwards my 6-year-old patted my arm and said, “You did the right thing mom.”
- Sometimes my kids complain about service opportunities, however, they complain less when they initiate it themselves.
- When we have friends or family over, my 7- and 5-year-old love setting the table and decorating to make it special. One thing my husband and I value is hospitality, and we love watching this value bloom in our children as we empower them to serve others (and help us) in this way!
- Our daughter (with ADHD) has really taken her role seriously as big sister to our youngest (age 5 with autism and delays). She has felt really proud when she can get him to do things in therapy we cannot get him to do. She loves to cuddle with him, read to him, help him practice therapy, and play with him. I have seen her self esteem rise just by being around him because he really looks up to her.
- When there might be a moment when one child is reluctant to serve another, we start to boisterously sing a 90’s pop Christian song by Rebecca St. James, “You Then Me.” Its pompous opening lines “It’s my turn. It’s not your turn” and then the anchor-to-the-truth chorus almost always makes the tension diffuse and the unwilling one more willing to put the other first.
- The kids have seen how forming these relationships with our neighbors has been a real blessing for us as well as for our neighbors.The conversations that we have had about being lights for Jesus in our neighborhood have been really encouraging.
What serving as a family might look like in daily life
How can your family incorporate an attitude and value of service in the day-to-day? Listed below are lots of ideas, separated by category.
Siblings serving each other
- My twin 4-year-olds pick out the baby’s outfit most days. They collect pacifiers the baby throws out of the crib at night. They bring each other their favorite toys when one is sad. They all help each other off the trampoline. They “teamwork” carrying heavy things. They share snacks with the 1-year-old.
- When our son joined our family from Bulgaria, all his siblings wanted to pitch in to help him feel welcome in our family. The older ones still babysit the younger ones, and even the elementary girls are helping our youngest with his PT and OT goals through play.
- Our oldest child sometimes tucks in and prays for younger sister.
- The 7- and 5-year-old can help mom, dad, and their 3-year-old sister by buckling or unbuckling her car seat, since it’s a skill they’ve already mastered!
- Our older siblings entertain the younger ones.
- My 5-year-old helps his little brother build things with blocks.
- Reading to little brother and taking them to the park and on walks; making breakfast for younger siblings; playing games with each other
- Giving back rubs, making a “cozy place” to relax after a long day (blankets, pillows etc.)
- It’s been a special joy to see my oldest (9) sit down and read out loud to our youngest. (She has done this since before she could actually read!) and will patiently go through book after book to his great delight! She will also offer to help him swing on his sensory swing when he needs help regulating.
I have seen her self esteem rise just by being around him because he really looks up to her.Mom of 5 in Atlanta, Georgia
Chores as acts of service
- Walking the dog
- Shoveling snow, taking out the trash
- Sometimes “the cleaning fairy” secretly cleans up a mess or a room . Our youngest (6) actually started this of his own accord! More often though, we all pitch in together for what we call “10 minutes of power” (or 15 or 20) and help each other clean up.
- Our children that are old enough have ‘jurisdictions’ that they are responsible for keeping clean to help our home run better and serve each other.
I am learning to appreciate these differences, honor their personalities/gifting and NOT expect all service to have to look the same.-Mom of 2, Journeying Together
Serving through meals and food
- Lots of cooking together/making meals for each other.
- Each child gets a dinner chore; dishwasher, table, sweep, and counters!
- One small but significant way our children serve one another is before mealtimes. We live in a small apartment, so our six-person kitchen table folds up to fit two chairs while not in use for meals. When we open the table to eat together, the other chairs must be collected from their places around the room. If any of the children is inclined to sit, they look around to see, “Are all the people welcome at the table?” as we have taught them to ask. If not all six chairs are there, they themselves go and get it before sitting.
- The kids love to make their dad his morning coffee.
- My husband serves me daily by getting up with the early birds and being in charge of breakfast so I can get more rest!!
- We often ask our kids, “Mommy and Daddy are serving the family by making dinner. How could you serve the family right now?”
- Recently a dad in our community died of a heart attack. I signed up on the meal train to make a meal for the family. I enlisted my teenage daughter to help with the food prep and we talked about the significant act of making food for others during times of crisis. That when you put effort into a meal, it allows you time to slow down, pray for the family, and make the food smothered with love. This doesn’t mean that delivering take out or dropping of a gift card isn’t helpful – it is! But there is something restorative in the food making process.
When you put effort into a meal, it allows you time to slow down, pray for the family, and make the food smothered with love.Mom of 2 from Minnesota
Serving through gift giving or celebrating special days
- We have six children, and I know many big families have siblings draw names or take turns giving gifts. However, if the kids use their own money or make a gift, they have been enthusiastic about giving gifts for everyone in the family. One of my favorite parts of Christmas and birthdays is watching each child’s delight as others open the gifts they carefully saved for and/or made.
- We built a tradition around breakfast in bed for the birthday person.
- On Valentine’s day my kids have been making cards for each member of the family, often specially tailored to each person’s tastes, such as a card with an excavator with it’s bucket full of hearts for 3-year-old brother who loves machines. This is not something I initiated but I’ve been delighted to see them loving each other in this special way.
- My husband and I equally share household responsibilities. He cooks, cleans, and grocery shops and I do laundry and dishes. We pray for each other!
- Christmas tradition of “fill baby Jesus’s empty manger with hay” all of December: you put a piece of hay in the manger when you serve someone. There’s a book that goes with this called “The Giving Manger.” One of our favorite holiday traditions.
- Surprising each other with their favorite coffee/tea from a local coffee shop
The conversations that we have had about being lights for Jesus in our neighborhood have been really encouraging.Mom of 3 boys, Ontario, Canada
Serving others in your church
- Helping set up for events
- Hosting overseas workers when they travel through
- Praying as a family for overseas workers
- Making snacks for events
- Making meals for people who have had babies
- Caroling/singing for shut-ins
- We once had the opportunity to host children from church in our home for a few days while their parents were at the hospital with a new baby which is a special memory.
- Our church occasionally has service project nights where we pack kits for various outreach projects such as Operation Christmas Child.
- Meals for the food pantry, fill Easter baskets for local food pantries to distribute, etc.
- Make decorations for local nursing homes
- Cleaning out flower beds
- Serving coffee
- Changing the corner sign
- 6th grader is a youth helper in 2’s & 3’s Sunday school
- Lead a life group for moms and kids to fellowship
- Serving in kids ministry
- School supplies drive, household needs for refugees… we enjoy involving the kids in shopping/collecting for those things.
- Serving with the youth group, teaching middle school Sunday School once a month
- Helping with the spaghetti dinner fundraiser
- Like most kids, mine love to color and generate a lot of artwork. Instead of covering our own walls, I gathered addresses from members of our church (particularly the elderly) and started mailing out their art when the pandemic hit. We’ve received so much gratitude from the older folks who live alone; many of them have told us they continue to collect it instead of replacing old with new!
- Our teenagers help teach Sunday school
- Our 13-year-old plays violin with me on the worship team
- The 5-month-old makes all the folks smile. 🙂
- We host a house church and the kids help start the fire (we are in the land of forever lock downs), since we meet outside and it’s cold here in Canada. They are also learning how to make the coffee for church as well.
- Kids led scripture memory segment for Vacation Bible School
- Food bank coordinator/ kids assist in sorting and delivering
- My 9-year-old likes to help decorate for VBS and Sunday School.
- Our family leads family life groups
- My kids all switched their bedroom arrangements so our youth pastor could move in during life transitions
- My husband sings, plays guitar, and serves on stage management
- Participate in group prayer over the services
Serving others in your community
- The kids have community service activities through their 4-H club, and our church has a community outreach that we attend often
- Purchasing gifts for needy families and local nursing home residents at Christmas
- Our town has Christmas in May to do projects for the underserved
- Pack meals for people in developing nations at Feed My Starving Children ( the youngest age to serve is 5 (with a 1:1 adult))
- Shoveling, raking, and mowing for neighbors in need
- We live in a large urban area so we frequently encounter homeless people. We assemble and keep kits in our car with water bottles, flavoring packets, fresh socks, granola bars. Sometimes a McDonald’s gift card, transit card, etc.
- We give treats, food, and cards to our neighbors and friends
- Admin a local Buy Nothing Group
- Run a playgroup
- Volunteer to be class parent
- Our family raises puppies that will eventually be Guide Dogs.
- We came together with a few other families and made cookies and hot chocolate, decorated hot cup sleeves with encouraging notes, sang Christmas carols and passed out these goodies on the Boston Common. Leftovers were delivered to two local homeless shelters.
- Frequently, our family makes meals for families who need it.
- Provide part of a meal for a homeless shelter 1 x month
- When COVID first hit, the kids and I walked around the block and drew quick pictures or “hi” at the end of everyone’s driveways. Even a scribble from the toddler is cute and a day-brightener!
- In Bosnia we helped distribute Operation Christmas Child boxes at Christmastime.
- Our kids play violin so at Christmastime, we’ve played on the town promenade while people from our church hand out calendars with Scriptures.
- We give neighbor gifts at each holiday. We have gone to strangers’ homes and introduced ourselves and made some real relationships. We have almost 20 people we deliver to in our community. We try to have a little visit (sometimes hours though!) with each neighbor and see what’s going on in their lives, see if they have any needs, if they need prayer, etc.
- We pick up random trash on walks or hikes.
- We had a single mom live with us for 3.5 years.
- Regular question at dinner: “How were you a blessing to someone today?”
- We serve a meal at a shelter near us.
- We send out thank you postcards to our favorite houses that decorate for Christmas and Halloween.
- Pre-covid we used to host weekly “community dinners” (inspired by “The Gospel Comes with a House Key”) where we’d make bulk meals and invite anyone to come join us.
- We made cards to give to staff at fast food places after they took our order.
- We occasionally pay for the car behind us in the drive-thru line.
- Even when life was still really crazy with young kids, we would go to a nursing home. Each child with a clipboard with paper and a pack of markers. Kids would draw pictures for the folks of whatever they wanted. We came back once after at least a month, and one of our pictures was still taped to the room door of a resident.
Do you have other ideas you’d like to add? We’d love to hear from you (and add them to this list)!
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