By Vicki Little
I have a tradition after Thanksgiving. It doesn’t involve family, long lines or sales, baking or hanging lights. No, it involves toys. Lots of them. After consuming large amounts of caffeine, I head to the children’s rooms, where I organize and get rid of excessive amounts of stuff they won’t even miss. Toys that were never played with or that have been broken for months, clothes that are too small (some with tags still on), and odds-and-ends that I’ve never even seen before. While I do this, I inevitably wonder where the time went. How is it possible that those little socks don’t fit anymore and those books we once read every night are now at the bottom of the pile. Surrounded by things my children have accumulated over the years, I feel nostalgic and sad that time has passed so fast. I wish I had more time to spend on snuggles and story times. But then the room quickly looks empty, so we can fill it again with items from those holiday wish lists.
As parents, we feel good crossing off the “must haves” because we gave them great memories of a wonderful holiday. We want so badly to make their holiday perfect, and at times we are willing to go to any length to get them what they think they need or desperately want. And for a few days, they truly are the happiest of kids. There are so many different gifts, they don’t know what to play with next. (Confession time: I actually have found unopened presents in my children’s rooms a month after Christmas and simply kept them to give again for their birthdays. Guess what? They never noticed.) But then things go back to normal, and the kids just stick to their favorites. In fact, some parenting advice boards suggest rotating toys to give the kids something “new” to help fight boredom. We are still paying off credit cards and trying to save for summer vacations, so the budget is tight, and kids can feel sort of “let down” in the New Year.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could hold on to that holiday feeling for longer than it takes to put wrapping paper into the recycling bin? What if those gifts we painstakingly shopped and paid for kept giving, instead of becoming another item in the donation or recycling bin? What if our holiday memories were filled with moments of laughter that create bonds instead of the hottest toys that will be played with for a month or two, then forgotten? What would it look like if, instead of gifts, we gave time and experiences that will last a lifetime? Not only will we be teaching our children that we treasure our time with them above anything else, but we will be teaching them how to communicate with us. We will create bonds that foster closeness that may just make those teenage years a bit easier. When we look back on this time that flew by when we weren’t looking, will we be able to look back on family memories and moments shared? Children will not remember all the material things that are stuffed into their rooms. They will remember that you made them feel important, loved, safe, and happy.
Time spent like this sounds amazing, but we all know that kids will still want to open something. A homemade coupon book that simply says “family experiences” probably isn’t going to generate that squeal of excitement. But a plane ticket for an upcoming family trip might. So would a voucher for a bucket-list experience like sky-diving lessons or scuba diving. It doesn’t have to be huge. Memberships to family-favorite spots will keep giving all year long, and camping equipment can create multiple family experiences and traditions that everyone will remember. One day, your kids won’t be telling their own children about what toys they got for Christmas, but they will tell them about all of the amazing things they got to see and do with their parents. And hopefully they will continue the tradition for generations to come.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two children. A Colorado native, she spends her time writing, sitting in the bleachers for her daughter’s gymnastics, and engaging in spirited debates with her son. In her free time…well, she is still waiting for some of that.
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