As with most kids, birthdays were a huge deal for mine. Both their dad and I had large extended families and so their birthdays were like their own personal holidays. I loved lavishing the attention on them and making their days special. But at the same time, I wanted them to be aware that their sibling may feel left out and they needed to be considerate of that.
From when they were very young, I started the tradition of having them buy a gift for their brother/sister when it was their own birthday. They carefully chose something special and presented it to their sibling before any festivities could start in celebration of them.
They carried this tradition through many years, even into early adulthood. I believe that instilling this awareness in them at a young age played a huge role in their relationship today. At 23 and 21, they are able to enjoy the blessings of having a sibling and continue to have great love, respect and empathy for one another.
One Christmas a few years back, I wanted to gift something small to my co-workers. It was a small office, but I still needed something that wouldn’t break the bank. I decided on some homemade treats with a $1 scratch off lottery ticket attached. The evening of our gift exchange, I got a call from one of my co-workers. She wanted to thank me for the ticket. It seemed she herself, in the true spirit of giving, had donated money that she really couldn’t afford to donate. When she scratched off the lottery ticket, though, she won the exact amount it would take to replace the funds.
My father often told a story about his brother who suffered from alcoholism. At one point in my uncle's struggles, he was on a retreat in a convent when he went to pray. He spotted several nuns saying their daily devotions. He decided that instead of petitioning for himself that day, he would ask God that the nuns' prayers be answered. As they were all walking out of church together they struck up a conversation. My uncle told the nuns that he had been praying for them…that he petitioned for their prayers to be answered. The nuns simply smiled and said to him, “we were praying for you”. Eventually, he was able to control his alcoholism and went on to counsel others with the same disease.
My kids learned empathy for others early on, starting with their relationship with one another. They were rewarded by sharing a bond and love that has transcended into their adult years. My co-worker extended herself to someone in need creating a deficit for herself that she wasn’t quite sure she could manage. Her return came back to her in the exact amount needed to replenish her budget. And, in the moment my uncle shifted the focus of his prayers onto others, he unknowingly deflected that grace right back unto himself.
Put others first and the blessings will surely follow.