What's on your kids' Christmas list this year? If your kids are anything like mine, it probably includes all the toys, video games, movies, and clothes they believe will make them popular at school. As a parent, I want to give my kids all the things that will help them go far in life, but I'm coming to realize that I can't get that from a store.
It's all too easy during the holiday season to get wrapped up in buying stuff for our children. At my very worst, I even kid myself into thinking I can buy their love with the right present. I picture my kids on Christmas morning, eyes shiny and bright as each one of them opens a perfectly chosen present. I imagine them throwing their arms around my neck, thanking me over and over. In that moment, I know, no matter what happens the rest of the month, at least I did one thing right.
But that feeling is fleeting. What my kids really, really need from me doesn't come wrapped with a bow. Actually, less stuff is probably better.
What they need from me are the tools to gain independence and become contributing members of society. Although these five things can't fit in a box for wrapping, these are the five presents kids really need.
All the stuff in the world can't make up for my lack of presence. I need to make a concerted effort each day to give each of my children my undivided attention. That's not an easy task with three busy boys, two jobs, and a household to run. The gift of time takes sacrifice, but it pays off in the long run. It doesn't even matter much how we spend this time, so long as it's a daily occurrence.
In spite of protestations to the contrary, kids need structure from their parents. My kids are relying on me to teach them how to function in an orderly society, and that begins with rules at home. While a strict bedtime won't pop up on their Christmas lists, my boys do better when they have a schedule and predictable rules and consequences to fall back on. Only I can give them that.
Parents, we need to get our act together for the sake of our kids. We need to get our relationships figured out, our money in order, our living situation secure, and find reliable jobs. A recent study found that half of all kids are traumatized, and these early stressors lead to big problems later in life. Our kids deserve growing up in healthy, well-adjusted households.
If you want your kids to perform better, it's time to raise the bar. Our kids will only go as high as we expect them to, so give them meaningful work that pushes them toward their dreams. Expect your kids to contribute in meaningful ways to the household. They may not thank you for it, but it's the best thing you can do to ensure their future success.
Are you a happy parent? Is your home a place where you'd like to spend a childhood? Every time I laugh a little louder and act a little silly, I'm giving my kids the gift of joy. It would sadden me deeply if my boys doubted how much I love being their mother. Kids need to see the joy and fulfillment that comes from family living.
In my house we're putting the catalogs aside. We're editing the Christmas lists. We're scaling back the Christmas gifts. In the end, it's not the physical stuff we give our kids that matters — it's the life lessons we leave them with.
Heather Hale is a fourth-generation Montanan, mom to three crazy boys, and wife to one amazing husband. She writes about passionate parenthood at moderatelycrunchy.com.