When our eldest child was in kindergarten, I was refusing invitations for him for play dates because I didn't feel I could reciprocate. I wasn't confident that I could supervise another five- year- old, whom I didn't know well, in addition to our baby and toddler, nor did I want to wake them to pick up our son after a play date. When I explained to another parent why I wasn't accepting her invitation for our son, she assured me that since her kindergartener was her youngest child, she was happy to have our son over after school and drop him off afterwards, not expecting anything in return. She explained how in the past friends had done her such favors when she had babies and toddlers at home, and now, she was "paying those friends back by passing the favor forward".
In third grade, my son wanted to join cub scouts, but we knew it was an organization that depended on parent volunteers. The group met at a time my husband was not available, and my own plate seemed very full. My son would linger longingly near the table where the scouts met after school. The parent leading the den called me and asked if our son might join. Upon hearing my explanation of why we were reluctant to sign him up, she emphatically stated, "No child should be excluded from scouts because a parent is not participating." I later learned that she had recently remarried, but for many years she had been raising her young kids on her own while working full time. She was happy to extend a pass on participation to us, a kindness she wished she had received from others when her time and energy were stretched. She welcomed our son to the den, understanding that for that year our involvement would be limited.
There have been other times during the last fifteen years that we have leaned on our community: the birth of each of our children, our daughter's hospitalization, and my father's long illness. I wrote a lot of thank you notes so folks would know how much their efforts were appreciated, and while writing I enjoyed remembering the nurturing and kindness we received.
A great part about passing it forward is it gives folks the flexibility to pay it back in ways that honor their life circumstances, strengths and gifts. The kindness can be passed forward within the family towards children, a spouse or a relative, in the local community, the workplace or the wider world. It all counts.
This Thanksgiving, I give thanks for the friends and relatives who support our family. I also give thanks for the friends and family who trust us to support them during their challenging times, allowing us to pass our gratitude forward.