Raising Richmond: A culture of caring

One practical way we’re teaching our son that caring for others is just something our family does.

There’s something in the water at our church–or maybe the communion wine. I figured that’s the only explanation for why this community of about 200 people will have welcomed over 20 new babies by the time we bid adieu to 2013.1 And judging by all of the Facebook announcements I’ve seen lately, 2014 is already shaping up to be a pretty fruitful year in its own right.

Like many other churches, I’m sure, ours has a tradition of providing parents (and siblings, should there be any) with meals a few times a week for a couple of months after a new baby arrives. We’ve got a pretty great system down: the couple announces the birth of their wee babe; our hospitality team picks a point person for the family; the point person sets up a meal schedule; sign-up information gets sent out to our church’s mailing list; and bing-bang-boom, hot meals arrive at the new parents’ door. Having been on the receiving end of this process almost five years ago, I can tell you that it’s a truly, truly magical thing. Food just…shows up. Without you having to do anything. And sometimes there’s wine!

While my meal-receiving days are behind me,2 my fertile fellow church members keep those of us on the giving end plenty busy. With two or more babies arriving each month, rarely does a week go by that I’m not preparing (or, more often, purchasing) a meal3 and delivering it into the incredibly tired but incredibly grateful hands of brand new parents. I love doing it, for three reasons:

  1. Being able to serve these people falls right in line with my Love Language.4 It also appeals to my southern ways: “Oh! You gave birth/lost a loved one/got sick/had a bad day? Here, have this casserole and don’t you even think about getting that dish back to me, I never use it.”
  2. When you deliver the meal you usually get to hold the baby. As the mother of an almost-five-year-old, I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with my face buried in the folds of a heavenly-scented baby neck.5 So while the parents take a breather and maybe dig into the dinner I’ve dropped off, I giddily coo and babble like an idiot at the newest member of the family. I look at it as a win-win for everyone.
  3. Establishing this as “something our family does” is a very practical way to remind our son, JR, that he is not, in fact, the only person in the world. 

I don’t want to imply that JR is a snot-nosed, selfish brat. Because he’s not.6 And we’d really, really like to keep it that way. The way I see it, the best way to do that is to not only model what it means to care for others but to also actively involve him in the process. I want to give him a concrete example of a friend caring for another friend, of one person serving another.

So, when the time comes to schedule one of these meal deliveries, I do my best to select a date and time when I can have JR with me. If we’re purchasing the meal, we go to the store together, and he helps pick out each dish. Sometimes he’ll even carry one of the bags out to the car for me. When we arrive at the family’s home, I bring JR inside with me to hand the meal off, meet the baby, and chat with the new mom and dad (if they’re up for it).

Now, I’ll admit that JR does not always participate in this little ritual joyfully…or even indifferently. There are some days when he is just not into it, and our trips to the grocery store and car rides around town are filled with extraordinarily whiny renditions of questions and comments like:

  • Why do they get a good dinner and we have to go home and eat soup?7
  •  They’re your friends, they aren’t my friends.
  •  Is the baby going to cry? I don’t like it when they dooooooooo that.
  •  Mama, just don’t talk a lot. I don’t want to be at their house for forever.

But! We press on. We talk about how part of really caring for people means doing it when it’s hard or you don’t feel like it. We talk about how many of these people would do the same thing for us if we had a new baby or if one of us got really sick. We talk about how this is just what you do when your friends need a little help and some extra love.

Although JR still fights me on the process from time to time, I see ocassional glimmers of hope that this practice is taking root somewhere inside of him. Sometimes if the new baby we’re visiting has older siblings, JR will insist that we pick out a special treat for them so they don’t feel left out. He makes sure that I never include green beans in any of the meals we deliver–horror of horrors, you know. He also got very upset when a recent meal delivery didn’t go as planned.

Last week we were supposed to take dinner out to the West End to a couple who welcomed their first baby–a sweet little boy–back in September. JR and I both had been fighting off what seemed to be a fairly innocuous cold, but I didn’t want to risk passing anything along to the baby and his surely exhausted parents. So before picking JR up from school, I arranged to have a pizza delivered to their house later that evening.

As JR and I drove home that day, I told him we weren’t dropping off a meal after all, figuring he’d be stoked; he gave me a lot of grief when I mentioned the errand that morning. But when I glanced in the rearview mirror, he looked a little pink around the eyes, like he was about to cry.

“Whoa, what’s wrong? You ok?”

“But Mama, what are they going to do?”

“What are they going to do about what, bud?”

“We made them a promise to bring them dinner,” he said, chin quivering. “And now they won’t have anything to eat. The baby needs to eat!” 

Once I regained my ability to speak–what with the cuteness of it all–I filled him on the whole pizza plan, explaining that no promises were broken, everyone was going to eat, and all was well with the world.

“That’s very kind of you to be worried about them though. I’m so proud of you. You’ve got such a good heart,” I added.

“Thank you,” he said, wiping his nose with his sleeve.

We sat in silence for a few several minutes after that–him staring out the window, me bursting with parental pride. Then a little voice chirped up from the backseat, brimming with hope…

“Mama? Does that mean we can get pizza, too?”

I mean, can you really blame him for trying?

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. I guess the fact that most of our members are of prime baby-making age has something to do with it, too. 
  2. We think…for now, anyway
  3. If things get crazy and I’m unable to provide someone with a meal during those first few weeks, I usually end up waiting until the kid is about six months old. Do you know who really loves not having to cook? Parents of six-month-olds. 
  4. Yes, Love Language. I’m “Acts of Service.” Don’t know yours? Go find out. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s also, oh I dunno, TOTALLY LIFE-CHANGING. 
  5. I will say, however, that while these babies all smell AH-mazing, my kid still smells the best. Like cookies and maple syrup all the time. 
  6. Well, sometimes his nose does have literal snot in it, but you know what I mean. 
  7. Soup is The Worst Thing Ever, in JR’s opinion. Even though he’s never actually had it. We never, ever try to serve it to him either. 

Photo by: sethbaur

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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