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The editorial that appears in the Dec. 25 Tomahawk Leader: Thoughts from Cherie DuPlayee Brown, a Tomahawk Leader reporter
Keeping modest over the holidays isn’t always easy for a family with young children. Often, Christmas is a time of gifts, gifts and more gifts. My small family is no exception. “Santa” loads up the area under the Christmas tree. With 8- and 5-year-old daughters, it’s just too much fun not to. So how, as a parent, do I ensure perspective with my children when I truly wish to teach them in the long run that it’s about what you give, not get?
In March of last year, when daughter Madison was turning 8, we were bombarded with her ideas of what a perfect birthday would be: a pool party, a bowling party, a big sleepover. I thought she had quite the list in mind. Until, that is, she bestowed on me the list of gifts she was hoping to acquire: another Barbie to add to the Rubbermaid tubful in the play room, play makeup to join the growing collection she already had, video games she knew were not permitted in the house. Yeah, she needed all that like I needed a hole in the head.
It dawned on me that things had gotten out of control. They say acceptance is the first step! All kids should be spoiled to some extent; I firmly believe that. The trick is to strike that delicate balance in between spoiled and fortunate yet appreciative. I told Madison I had a great idea for her party. She got to pick what she wanted to do (settling on bowling), and she was allowed to invite any number of friends. There were balloons and confetti, laughs, cake and gutter balls. The catch was that none of her friends was allowed to bring a gift for her. Rather, they could donate to the charity of her choice, if they felt the desire. We explained this in each invitation, and asked parents not to give more money than they would have spent on a gift.
It took some selling on my part to get across that her birthday would be extra special that year. She was a little apprehensive, but she went along with it. We had many talks leading up to her party that her gift in life is her friends, and the time she gets to spend with them. We promised her, as parents, that we would buy her a gift or two, and her sister, Rya, would love to give her something, too, but it capped out at a maximum of three presents. We advised her to think carefully of what she may want. Her list of must-haves, all of a sudden, magically got much more concise. In the end, the kids had a ball. No one missed a beat, and we got several compliments from parents. Madison raised over $100, which she donated to Mary’s Garden at St. Mary’s School. Because of her donation, she had her name added to a plaque in school, recognizing her gift.
A few months later, when it was Rya’s turn, she followed in the same steps as her much-adored older sister and raised just about the same amount of money for the same fund, although she celebrated with a very splashy pool party. Turning 5, Rya had many more reservations than Madison did about not getting gifts on her special day, but she beamed with as much pride in turning over that check in the end.
The mood is contagious, as my niece recently followed suit and raised money at her bowling party for the Humane Society. Madison is already planning to raise money when she turns 9 for the hospital, so that they can, in her words, “Buy food for the sick people.”
All I can hope for is that we’re starting something that will stick, not at age 5, not at age 8, but well into my children’s lifetime. If I can teach them about giving over getting, maybe I have done a semi-respectable job of parenting. Santa has gone overboard again this year; I will not deny that. I’m working on conquering one celebration a year. My goal is not to destroy happy childhood memories, but maybe this way, I’m providing happy times to the generations that come after Madison and Rya. No gift could be more special than that of a legacy.
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