Thanks with Giving

I generally pride myself on being one of those strong mothers – you know, the ones who spend quality time with their children each day, delight in their kids’ successes, and talk through their problems BUT expect them to do their own laundry, make their own lunches, and write their own papers.

I also have been the kind of mother who wants to give her kids the best of everything life has to offer. This includes homey experiences like making playdough (click here for the recipe), chowing down on popcorn while taking in a movie on TV, or spending an afternoon at the local ice skating rink. So, OK, a cup of Swiss Miss hot cocoa seems reasonable and fun in the warming house. But a post ice-skating trip to Starbucks for a peppermint hot chocolate? Make that a grande, not a tall. And while we’re here can we get some of those great looking $2 per cookie treats to take home? A “No” on my part is met with a whiny “Pleeeez” or a pout. At this point, the joy of ice skating is a distant memory and I am asking myself “How did this happen?” More important, how can I, or any of us, keep it from happening on a regular basis?

We live in a materialistic world. Though there are many wonderful things about the technology revolution, one of the big downsides is the 24/7 exposure to advertisements. When I was a kid, I coveted the latest Barbie advertised on TV. But I also spent a lot of time playing with toys and running around outside, completely removed from ads. Very hard to do with the bombardment of popup ads and celebrity sales pitches on cellphones, computers and tablets. Along with that, has come the proliferation of specialty shops. I never cease to be amazed at the round-the-block lines in cities around the country for a customized cupcake or scoop of ice cream. When the holidays approach, the whole obsession with things goes into high gear. We want to give our children things that will make them happy. But, if you’re like me, you cringe at the extravagant wish lists.

What to do?

You Can’t Buy Happiness

This is the good news. Research is clear that reining in consumption is not depriving your kids of happiness. And chances are you have your own informal evidence. Has your kid ever begged for a toy but once he has it, plays with it for a few minutes then moves on to something else? It turns out, the research shows, long-term happiness is related to what you do for others, not what you ask others to do for you.

Create Opportunities to Give

So here’s my thought. Instead of spending so much time this holiday season stressing over the latest and greatest toy or outfit you can buy your kid, maybe spend time with him talking about things he is thankful for. Then create opportunities for her to give to others. Some ideas for activities for your child – what’s appropriate will vary with age:

  • Pick out and deliver a gift for a child at an orphanage or shelter
  • Instead of buying a gift to give away, decorate a large “giving box” and keep it in a prominent place where your child can place toys they have outgrown and now choose to give away
  • Make holiday greetings cards for family and friends
  • Bake holiday treats to give to family and friends
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or, if your child is too young, allow her to choose canned food and have an outing with you to deliver it
  • If your family likes to host parties, give your party a theme of giving. Socks or winter caps. Then give them away – and include your child in the planning.

It All Begins with Thanksgiving

Here we are at Thanksgiving. A wonderful time to get started talking to your child about what they are thankful for. A great time to create energy around ideas for giving back.

One more thing. After the giving and receiving is done, don’t forget the thank yous. Thank you notes are great. Emails are nice too. Also shouts of thanks over the telephone. And in-person hugs and kisses. Enjoy!

Added perk: Your child will be on the receiving end of lots of thank yous from those they give to!

Do you have other ideas for giving projects?

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