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December 22nd, 2010

The Gift of Good Values

Here’s a Smartmom piece from December 2004 when my kids were younger and the whole present thing was so fraught with longing and disappointment:

The gift-giving time of the year sometimes brings out the worst in OSFO and Teen Spirit. The trouble is: they get way too excited about getting presents, their expectations run sky high, and disappointment is sure to ensue.

Then there’s the fact that they celebrate both Hanukah and Christmas. That is, they do Hanukah with Smartmom’s relatives in New York and Christmas with Hepcat’s family in California. This means that OSFO and Teen Spirit tear through gift wrap on numerous occasions during the holiday season.

Like all happy occasions, a gift giving event often begins or ends in tears. They can be tears of impatience as in:
Child: When are we opening the presents?
Parent: Soon.
Child: Can I just open one?
Parent: No!!
Child: Pleeeeeze? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Or tears can be induced by over-excitement and frustration as in:
Child: Can we please put together my new Karaoke tape player and microphone?
Parent: No, people are still opening their gifts.
Child: Couldn’t you just help me?
Parent: Not now!!
Child: Pleeeeeze? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

Then there are the tears of disappointment as in:
Child: I didn’t get anything I liked.
Parent; Yes you did.
Child: Like what?
Parent: Well, you got that nice…
Child: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

There are also the tears caused by a combination of excitement and disappointment as in:
Child: It’s not working
Parent: “I’m sure it’s working.
Child: No, it’s not working, somebody better fix it now.
Parent: I’m doing the dishes.
Child: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

You get the picture. While these are obviously just made-up scenarios, there is more than a little verisimilitude in each one. And these scenes make Smartmom absolutely livid.

This year, Smartmom has tried to prepare OSFO for the possibility that she might be disappointed on one of these so-called happy occasions. “Sometimes you don’t get what you want,” she said. “And it helps not to set your expectations too high. Smartmom and OSFO have also practiced the art of getting a gift you don’t like.” It is polite,” Smartmom instructed, “to say ‘thank you’ even if you despise the item that you’ve just opened.”

Smartmom and OSFO practiced this a few times until OSFO got sick and tired of the exercise (and the idea that she might get something she doesn’t want.)

Smartmom also told OSFO to guard against becoming a gimme, gimme, gimme kind of person. “Children who get too many gifts get spoiled because they stop appreciating things,” Smartmom warned. “It is important not to take anything for granted,” she said. “Recognize how lucky you are to have what you have.”

Smartmom was just seconds away from saying, “And there are children starving in Africa…”

Truth is, the fact that OSFO and Teen Spirit are “spoiled” is largely the fault of their loving relatives (parents included) who love to shower them with whatever their heart’s desire. It comes from love but it often ends in “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! And that’s just part of the problem. Capitalism absolutely depends on an almost constant desire for things.

So here goes New Year’s resolution #2005:

Smartmom wants to teach her children to be givers not receivers. She wants them to be generous, to be empathic, to enjoy doing unto others (in whatever form that takes). She wants them to know that giving is its own reward and Karma is a boomerang. She wants them to understand that if they are going to be good citizens of this crazy world, they have to be part of the solution not the problem.

Again. Cliche, cliche, cliche. But it’s all true. And so much of parenting is instilling what is true. Even if they are platitudes, even if they are cliches. It’s important to try to give your kids the gift of good values. That’s a parent’s job above all. A gift they will cherish forever.

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