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The importance of welcoming a child's contribution

At a time when we had nothing much left with which to buy food for our evening meal, but did have a tank of gas in the car and a 10-year-old with a yen for fishing, I discovered how important it is to allow children to make their own contributions toward supporting their families.

While I worried, my daughter begged me to take her fishing. At first I was upset. I couldn't understand why, at a time like this, she was bothering me with her own recreational desires. After all, I was too busy worrying to take her out fishing.

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Finally, amazed at my obvious obtuseness with what to her was a good solution to the dilemma, she said, ''But, Mom, I could catch some fish for supper.''

I felt a little foolish for not seeing this in the first place. The child was excited to think that she might contribute where I seemed unable to at the moment. So we dug worms and headed for our favorite fishing hole.

My contribution was to bait the hook, applaud each catch, remove it from the hook, point out likely spots to try, then clean and later cook the fish.

When she'd caught what we needed for two meals we headed home. She was a very pleased girl that evening.

Along with a couple of potatoes we had on hand, a few garden greens we harvested, and the fresh fish, plus one beaming child, we enjoyed a delicious meal that night.

Since then I have become increasingly aware of how important it is for us to accept our children's offers of help. Whether that is catching fish for a meal, washing dishes, offering an opinion on some crucial (or even not-so-crucial) family decision, or offering up those hard-earned pennies to help with a bill, it is important that we think carefully before turning down such offers.

These people, although perhaps young and small, are eager to be of service, eager to be useful, contributing members of their families. If we do not allow and encourage this participation, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised if they turn to those who seem to give them the recognition and respect they are striving to gain.

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Sadly, this often takes forms that do not contribute to a healthy and strong society and to the individuals making it up.

Next time that little voice pipes up with ''I have a dollar you could use toward the rent,'' or ''Would my $5 help out with the groceries?'' or ''I could catch some fish for supper,'' don't refuse. Cherish that offer and employ it. And please don't forget a heartfelt ''Thank you, this is a real help.''

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