In this season of giving and getting…in this season of shopping and shipping and lists…I have just one simple bit of advice for parents of young children that I wish someone had told me.
Here’s the thing. When my children were young, it was easy to satisfy their wants. It was relatively easy to cross off all the items they had listed. Trips to Toys R Us, the Lego Store, Pottery Barn Kids…and we were done. Nothing better than a credit card around the holidays.
I think I felt such gratification over making all their dreams come true. Of making them feel so incredibly special and loved. But I got a little lost in it. And for a number of years – maybe the first ten of being a parent, it became almost like a game to win. Chasing after those next great thing that they wanted – stretching ourselves probably too thin – just to make that Christmas morning so perfect.
And what I learned is this: the bar kept getting higher. And the after holiday bills always bigger – so much so that the year end bonus instead of giving us a head start on a new year, went to paying off one morning in December.
By the time my children got to middle school – their wants and desires started to cross lines that I wasn’t willing to cross – that crazy Bad Theft Auto game and those really scary bloody war Xbox games. And here’s the thing – up until that point, they had almost always gotten what they wanted…but now ‘what’ they wanted wasn’t something I was willing to have in the house – and the cost of all of these items just got so incredibly crazy. It wasn’t sustainable. But we had set the bar. We had made Christmas all about all that stuff – all about those lists being crossed off…we had done that.
And then. It stopped. It had too. And I felt foolish. But all of a sudden, there I was trying to dream up what was going to get to make my son happy. I knew I couldn’t get him that iPad on his list – so what was going to substitute? And there I was looking for something and realizing – how no “thing” should never be what it is all about. And that we never should have made it about the stuff. They would have been so happy with less. They would have been fine. It didn’t make us good parents to fill the under the tree. It made us just blind and unconscious parents getting that one more piece of plastic for our family room. And it taught them that by buying or getting stuff, they will feel loved and that they were ‘good’.
And so now Christmas is very different at my house. No more lists. And the gifts are simple. Functional. Stuff that they need. And maybe a very little simple something else- usually small enough to fit in their stocking. It was a transition. And we talked about it. And guess what – they were fine. And now the bills after Christmas make sense. And the credit card debt doesn’t exist. And my kids…they are just happy to be together. They just want the bacon and the together – warmth. Family. That’s really all we need.
So don’t do what I did – don’t think your job as a parent is to fulfill every dream with ‘stuff’. Don’t try to fill up that tree and blow their little mind with the resourcefulness of Santa. Keep it simple. Beautiful. They really don’t need the latest video game or game system. Set different priorities – and stick to it – regardless of their list, their friends, your credit limit or your bank account.
There is no judgment here. Just a sharing and a desire to pass along a little bit of wisdom that I wish someone had shared with me.