After Thanksgiving, our focus usually turns to the holiday season and gift-giving. I must admit that I have been guilty of focusing too much on material gifts at times and not taking the step back to focus on other more substantive gifts.
Though all children look forward to their gifts (the rush of the ripping off the wrapping paper to see the present underneath), parents need to consider the gifts that really make a difference going forward. Many families of lesser means will have fewer presents but hopefully can deliver on the gifts of substance. Families with greater means should also consider on how to deliver on the gifts of substance.
Gifts of substance
What are gifts of substance? Gifts of substance are those that have lasting value and are often considered timeless. These are gifts that touch the heart and soul of human interactions, the essence of the bond between parent and child. These gifts are the ones that should be present everyday but often require a special prod. For parents, these are the ones that require constant attention yet are often pushed to the background in the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life in our increasingly complex technological society. These are ones without an “app.” These gifts require us to take a step back, to pause and reflect on how to devote more time and energy to our most precious gifts, the children that we have been blessed with.
Sometime in the past I heard Isabel Allende, noted author and daughter of a slain South American leader, discuss one of her guiding principles in life – “What you have is what you give.” That is to say, the important components of your life (“What you have”) are determined by what you do for others (“what you give”). Our contributions to the lives of others are the most important thing we do in our lives. These are the gifts of substance.
Let me consider some of the gifts of substance, timeless gifts, that parents can deliver this holiday season. Below I will highlight some gifts and do’s and don’ts.
- Life-long learning – the journey of parenthood requires the desire to be a life-long learner. Such a commitment makes us learners, but it also makes us better teachers for our children. Knowing that we don’t know everything, life-long learning sets us on the path to encouraging our children to be life-long learners and helps us prepare to more engaged citizens. Relationships and our society stagnate without constant learning.
- Work ethic – Whether parents work at home or away from home, they can demonstrate a sound work ethic that children can emulate now and appreciate when they grow up. Children with a sound work ethic learn to do their work (schoolwork) correctly. School work done correctly sets the basis for a sound education and a productive life.
- Compassion – Parents that exhibit compassion for others set the right example for their children. Remember, that means compassion toward our neighbors and our family. Sometimes we tend to be less compassionate toward our own family, but we shouldn’t be. Our actions within our own family are powerful examples for our children to learn. And these are examples of love for others
- Communication – Parenting requires significant communication. Parenting is not a dictatorship but a process with open communication. Parents should always be the parents and make the tough decisions and choices that need to be made, but we have to recognize that we can also make mistakes and might need to adjust our decisions. Sometimes we even have to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” Open lines of communication allow for families to get through the tough times.
- Live by example – Children learn from their parents. Intolerance, hatred, and poor conflict resolution are learned behaviors. Discipline means teaching, and discipline should be always be positive. Yelling and screaming accomplishes nothing, and unfortunately teaches the wrong way to deal with stressful situations. Always remember that children listen and learn from us. They can learn from the wrong examples and they can learn from the right examples. Let’s make sure the latter happens, not the former.
- Forgiveness – This critical skill evolves over time. Our ability to forgive ourselves, to forgive others and to do it now is never easy. But I suspect if we adequately reflect over past and recent events that there are circumstances where forgiveness is needed to settle certain issues and to move on in our lives. The gift of forgiveness is indeed the message of the season. We need to pass this gift along so our children can learn its vital importance and its refreshing redemption.
- Involvement – Some modern child-rearing experts seem to think that parents have become too involved in their children’s lives. While we can overindulge our children, I don’t think it’s possible to get over-involved in their lives. My observations over the last almost half of a century are that most of the children that get into trouble (drugs, violence, poor school performance, teenage pregnancy) don’t have enough parental involvement. Involved parents know what their children are doing and how their education is progressing and have a pulse on their mental health. They know what their adolescents are doing at night – where they are, who they are with, what they are doing, and when they will be home. Parents that are less involved put their children at greater risk overall.
A Parental Example
When I was around 10 years of age while our family was on vacation, I found a ten-dollar bill on the sidewalk at a motel. That was a lot of money back then! I proudly showed my mother my new treasure, and she promptly told me that I was going to return it to the office. “Whoever lost it might be looking for it,” she said. “But Mom, I found it. I should be able to keep it,” I pleaded. “No son, that’s not right. The right thing to do is to return it. Even if the owner doesn’t claim it, you will know that you did the right thing,” she explained in her proper role as my parent. She taught me to do the right thing. Even though I didn’t believe her at the time, I now know that she was correct. She was indeed the proper role model for my brother and me and gave us a timeless gift.
Do’s and Don’ts
Parents must be proper role models for their children. Children learn by example. If parents do the right thing, children will learn the right way. If children witness their parents doing the wrong thing, they will learn to do the same when they grow up. Let me suggest a few do’s and don’ts for parents when they are with their children.
- Do smile and tell a stranger “hello”
- Do treat your spouse and children with respect at all times
- Do treat your neighbors as your family
- Do remember that discipline means to teach your children, not to yell or hit them
- Do anticipate the needs of your children
- Do look for ways to give your children positive reinforcement, not ways to constantly badger them into submission
- Do demonstrate good behavior for your children
- Do the right thing even if it is unpopular
- Do bend over backward to consider someone else’s side of the story
- Do maintain the proper prospective for events in life – God, family, and work
- Do thank someone for an act of kindness
- Do hold the door open for someone
- Don’t call someone an idiot or stupid
- Don’t honk at a traffic light (unless absolutely necessary)
- Don’t assume someone was wrong before you know for sure
- Don’t assume you’re the “best” just because you made a good play or won a game
- Don’t tell someone to shut up
- Don’t yell at other people
So, this holiday season, let’s consider the above gifts of substance as the most important gifts to share with our children and family. These “atypical” gifts should be the norm all year-long but most of time we need reminders. Let’s celebrate the holiday season with these meaningful gifts as we are mindful of what we should do (do’s) and what we shouldn’t do (don’ts). Let’s be gracious to all, especially those of lesser means, since their struggles are accentuated at this time of the year. Happy Holidays!