It is a day I will never forget – Christmas 2013 in snowy Chicago, and my parents were visiting from Texas. Christmas carols were playing, festive food and decorated cookies were on the table, and I had buttery egg nog in hand and a big smile on my face as I sat to watch my then 2-year-old daughter, Sofia, open her first gift from under our tree.
The first package was from us, Mom and Dad. It was a “Sofia the First” karaoke machine, which was on her wish list. She looked at it for about three seconds, pushed it aside and reached for the next box. She opened one from Santa, looked at it for another three seconds and tossed it aside. I was heartbroken as I watched my overindulged daughter grab and toss gift after gift without a hint of appreciation. All I heard from her was, “What else?” My husband looked as disturbed and disappointed as I did.
Since that day, we have focused on teaching Sofia to be grateful, kind, appreciative, respectful and compassionate. I read dozens of parenting books and learned that the only way to teach our kids to be grateful and respectful is by example. I felt plenty of pressure come on – to be the good example Sofia needed to follow. I thought to myself, “How can we teach our kids the value of selflessness, hard work and generosity when we barely have time to cook a homemade meal?”
We began with small gestures – as a family – such as taking soup to a sick neighbor, serving food to homeless people on Thanksgiving and collecting books and toys for local charities. We visited adults with disabilities at a nearby home and traded hugs, stories and cookies with senior citizens at a local retirement facility. We noticed Sofia developing a heart for giving and decided to sponsor an 11-year-old girl living in an orphanage in Mexico. We wrote to her and sent her care packages, and eventually decided to make the trip to meet her.
We recently drove into Mexico and spent two days with our sponsored little girl. Though she is older than Sofia, they made a connection by coloring, playing sports and baking together, and I saw my 4-year-old’s spirit grow and shine with happiness. Watching her roll around in the dirt-filled soccer field, hang on the rusty and unpainted monkey bars, bake cookies in a not-so-ideal kitchen with less-than-adequate cooking equipment and sleep on hard and squeaky bunk beds, it was clear that no electronics or toys could come between her and her companion. She asks me every day when we will go back to see our new friend.
As volunteering and giving back became a part of our family life, we realized it is not as hard as we imagined. And the feeling of devastation and failure I felt that Christmas Day started to fade as we witnessed a seed of giving planted in Sofia’s heart. Our holidays and birthdays are very different now. We receive, but we also give so much more. I know it seems almost impossible to find time and energy to volunteer, but it is important to make it a family priority, because it is the legacy we will leave behind for our children.
Daniella Guzman is the anchor on “Today in LA” weekday morning newscast, 4:30–7 a.m. A mother of two, Daniella’s column, On the Record, brings her views on parenting, fun family activities and her take on work-life balance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @daniellanbcla.