Helpfulness is Not Lost on My Millennial Kids


“I need help!”

My six kids—all Millennial adults—would tell you that those three words were their mother’s regular battlecry growing up.  They might also tell you (with a certain disdain and rightly so), that I barked those words far too often. Projected in varied decibels and vocal inflections (depending on my emotional state), those words might evoke a generous response or sure terror.  

Am I embarrassed to admit this? Yeah. Do I wish I could wind back the clock? Of course I do.

Truth be told (during my own youth), I was not a particularly helpful daughter/sibling within my family of origin.  

I won’t go into an analysis here, why I think this was so, but eventually the day would come for the rearing of my own kids and I had a strong desire that they be better people than I myself had been growing up.  

My husband Brendan was a very helpful kid as his mom would later share.  Years later he would dream of raising selfless, kind, helpful kids.

Brendan and I had a bigger family than most, and consequently teamwork was a non-negotiable. We NEEDED help. Tag teaming and picking-up-the-slack for each other was naturally demanded of us. The reciprocity of offering help and receiving it, just fostered more and more selflessness as our family grew.  We needed our kids to be helpful to keep a bustling household managed. I am happy to report, that more often than not, our kids’ responses over the years were positive and willing—when the requests were reasonable and just. Today they remain kind, helpful adults with children of their own.

Helpfulness wasn’t some inherited family trait.

We didn’t have a solid game plan about character formation for our kids when we started our family, other than we wanted a godly family. Back then we wouldn’t have been able to formally name many of the character strengths (virtues) that were identified by the ancient Greeks. We didn’t have a program like Families of Character to accompany our parenting journey, spelled out on colorful web pages to inspire us.  But what we did have was a longing for a harmonious, happy, holy family.

It’s a regrettable fact that we didn’t model some of the character strengths well, but helpfulness as it turns out, happened to be a strong suit in our home.

How did we get there?

This particular character strength demanded a lot of modeling. Having a bigger family than most, just demanded a lot from us and our kids saw this. Our kids naturally saw Brendan and I serving each other and serving them, and once they were toddlers, we utilized what help they could give too. Each stage we asked more from them and expected more from them with age appropriate explanations.

Sometimes we gave no explanations, but a direct command.   

Psychologists might disagree with the enforcing of one’s children in the service of others; that a child’s freedom should always be honored with an option of refusal, but this isn’t wholly realistic or practical over the course of a child’s life—nor does it foster generosity of spirit.

When a whispered pep talk off to the side was appropriate, Brendan and I might explain details of the circumstances of why we needed them to “step up to the plate” to help a certain elderly person, help a young mom with her babies, or clean a mess that we didn’t create, for example. Empathy and selflessness are not always caught and sometime must be taught.

Our kids often knew that a certain glance meant, “Please respond to this, I need your help!”

In retrospect, there were times when I should have given a child the benefit of the doubt about underlying reasons for their refusal or hesitation to help. I regret times when I followed behind a job not done to my satisfaction and “fixed it” which surely didn’t communicate “thank you for doing your best with this help and you accomplished it well”.

Sometimes I took the joy out of chores. To this day, when we are together and I have a request where I could use their help, they will say, “Make a list Mom,” or “Let’s put on some music.” I am reminded to be reasonable and make it pleasant when possible.

Helpfulness is a character strength that prevents self-centeredness later on and is worth every effort to call it forth from your kids today. Helpfulness generates harmonious flourishing of the whole family.

How do you cultivate an attitude of helpfulness around your house with all your children?

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Ellen is a wife, mother to six children, and grandmother to six grandchildren. She resides in Denver, CO with her husband Brendan.