I love spending summers with my kids. Each May, as the school year winds down, my kids and I get almost giddy with excitement—park dates, zoo trips, afternoons at the pool, ice cream, the endless adventures mixed with the delight of pajama days!
I noticed, though, an inevitable progression. Somewhere along the way, my kids’ excitement starts to wane. A morning at a local beach followed by a frozen treat—an experience they longed for just a few weeks prior—isn’t enough. Their expectations and sense of entitlement rise, while their appreciation declines. The more I try to invest in them, it seems, the more they expect.
One summer, determined to break the cycle, I made a plan: The Epling Family Day of Kindness. I wanted to gently remind my crew, myself included, to spend time looking outward. We needed one whole day focused on the needs of others, not our own desires.
To get started, I set a budget. I wanted my children to be able to dream big, but I had to maintain a voice of reason as well. Then I brainstormed with my family. “If you could spend one whole day doing kind things for others, what would you do?” And I just let them talk, no idea too big or too small. I didn’t mention the budget yet, because even the over-the-top dreams might have roots we could use on a smaller scale. The kids loved thinking of ways to help others, and I loved seeing how their skills and personalities played into their ideas. We wrote everything down and used that as our starting point.
Once we had a comprehensive list, we started to prioritize. What could we accomplish in one day, with the budget we had set? What would need to be done in advance? For instance, we decided to bake cookies to deliver to neighbors and first responders, but I didn’t want half of our day spent in the kitchen. Even better! We got to spend one day baking together before our big Day of Kindness!
When the morning arrived, I worried my children’s excitement would be replaced with a sense of obligation and drudgery. Instead, we had a blast. I loved watching my kids love on the people around them. They bravely approached new people and situations. They encouraged others and brightened the day of everyone they met. And by the end of the day, they each stood just a little bit taller. In fact, they loved it so much, we did a mini-version (one or two “kindness activities”) once a week for the rest of the summer!
Our first Epling Family Day of Kindness was over two years ago now, and it is still one of my kids’ favorite memories. It has become an honored tradition, one that keeps our excitement level up and our hearts open to those around us. I can’t wait to see what my kids decide to do this year!
Do you want to plan your own service day with your family? Here are a few of our favorite ideas to help you get started:
- Draw pictures or make homemade cards. These can be delivered to a local nursing home, a children’s hospital, or even people you meet along the way who look like they could use a smile.
- Buy some $5 gift cards to a coffee shop, fast food restaurant, or ice cream place. Again, give these to people you pass. My kids would say, “Hi, my name is _____. We are on a mission to make everyone’s day a little better, and we’d love to share this gift card with you!” Practicing ahead of time helped them to approach strangers with confidence, so the emphasis could be on the gifts rather than what to say.
- Head to the dollar store and stock up on coloring books, crayons, and small toys. Deliver them to the local children’s hospital or Child & Family Services department. While they may not get to hand the treats to other kids personally, they can talk to staff and hear how their gifts will help kids in need. (Also, we make it a rule not to spend any money on ourselves during this trip to the store! Our focus is on helping others.)
- Are you stopping for lunch on your Day of Kindness? Take a look around and look for someone who could use a little pick-me-up, then anonymously pay their bill.
- Perform acts of service for your neighbors or the elderly in your community. Rake leaves, pick up sticks, take trash cans in/out, whatever tasks they need done.
- Grab a deck of cards or a board game, then head to a local nursing home for an afternoon. What a blessing your family can be to the residents—and vice versa!
In a society of selfies, it is refreshing to look beyond ourselves in planning our days. What a joy to bring a smile to someone else’s face… and to see how it blesses and excites us in return!
Katy Epling is a writer and speaker who loves to make her mess her message. As an adoptee, she has seen how God has guided the course of her life. As a mom, she has learned to see how we are each made in God’s image. As a special needs mom, she learned that God creates us just as we are for a purpose. As a woman, she knows the struggle of constantly striving to be better, to be more, to be enough, and failing–only to find that Christ is always enough. She has a heart for building women up and pointing them to Christ as the source of light and strength.
Katy loves and lives in northeast Ohio with her husband Jon and three beautiful children. When she’s not in front of her computer, she can be found drinking Chai lattes at Starbucks, curled up with a good book, or cooking up a storm. Find her at katyepling.com.