Hacking Wednesdays always brings one thing: far too much time spent with my own thoughts and the world questioned, rearranged, and put to rights. To my mind anyway!
Today’s musings has been on my mind for a few weeks, and I think it’s been triggered by the deluge of baby product adverts on my social media, the influx of Christmas adverts, and the scary fact that soon it will be my responsibility to teach morals and values to a little human.
Materialism. The world seems full of it. Kids have so much nowadays, and new toys get cast aside after five minutes inspection. Each year I see photos of children sat next to a huge pile of presents, or surrounded by a sea of ripped wrapping paper and packaging – do they really need so much stuff? It makes me sick, to see how some people have so much whilst some have so little. Not that I’m communist in any way; if you work hard then by all means reap the rewards. I think the sickening part is when I see so much unappreciated things, be it material or the fact you’re surrounded by loving family, a safe home and all those other things so easily taken for granted.
So how do you instil the value of giving, and appreciation of one’s lot in life?
It’s not that I would want to deprive my child of anything, I just want them to value what they do have, and appreciate how lucky they are compared to so many others.
The first idea that I’ve stolen from a friend, is the idea of giving. Each Christmas Eve she and her young daughter go through her things and leave a pile of outgrown clothes and old toys for Santa to collect when he delivers her presents to take to less fortunate children. It’s a double whammy: have a tidy up before the new toys arrive, and teach children about giving. Obviously there will be some skill involved in taking the handmedowns to the charity shop without your child finding out, but I’m up for the challenge.
Another thing that we did when we were younger was Operation Christmas Child. I used to enjoy wrapping up a shoe box and filling it with toys, essentials and sweets. I think I liked the idea of having a direct link to a child in need. It made me feel like I was making a difference and was more effective in teaching the idea of charity then putting money in a tin. So this will be another ritual we will do which will hopefully teach the value of giving, or at least instil some selflessness.
Last year I remember reading about this “Four Present Rule” by which parents only give their child four gifts: something the child needs, something for them to wear, something for them to read, and something that they want. The concept is great, but I don’t think it’s feasible because four is a very small number and there is a huge variation in size and cost of presents which could make some children feel like they’ve drawn the short straw. However, I think it’s a useful check list when thinking of what to buy children, as well as hopefully reducing the number of gifts that they receive but never use.
From this, I was thinking about the types of presents you could give a child. The choice of toys available is phenomenal, but I have discovered that I’m a fan of the activity type of gifts, which teach or enhance skills or interests. Then I thought that in this day and age, where time is a precious commodity, perhaps the way to go is to move away from material presents, and towards gifts that make memories. One of my aunts, who always gave us birthday and Christmas presents, of which were appreciated at the time but I now haven’t a clue what they were, has left one standing memory with me. She was a dab hand with the facepaints. Every time she came to visit we’d dig out the paints and choose a design of increasing complexity. So one of the biggest gifts this aunt gave to my brother and I was the memories and time spent with her having our faces decorated.
So maybe gifts could be a day out at a museum, or a trip to a water park; some quality time spent with you. This is where I get more materialistic. I like trinkets, or souvenirs. I think these physical momentos are memory triggers, allowing you to access memories many years later. For example, the model camel in our spare room is from Dubai – cue a string of memories from our holiday. Or the painted dolphin still hanging up in my bedroom at my parents house, reminds me of a weekend spent with my aunt when we went to a pottery cafe and I painted the dolphin. Or our collection of fridge magnets bought on days out or to remind us of a particular occasion. So maybe the ideal gift for a child is a day out somewhere and a gift from the gift shop?
From a child’s point of view, whilst they may not be able to pay for a day out, I think it’s important for them to understand that an adult will value a homemade gift, because of the time and effort invested in it. And whilst they may not be able to give gifts of material value to family members, they can give their time, conversation, and attention. My Grandparents did a lot of travelling in the 1990s and 2000s, and always came back with various souvenirs. On their trip to South Africa Granny bought four lengths of material and made her four granddaughters a sarong each. I still use mine every holiday we go on, and it means so much more to me than one that was bought in South Africa because it was sewn (lovingly, I hope) by my Granny.
I digress. I guess I like to give, and I’d like my child to receive, gifts that have something special attached to it, such as a memory or the time, talent and love put in to personalise it. Which is where I think that the process of gift giving is so important.
It’s not about ripping into the pile of presents under the tree, which ultimately become anonymous, it’s about seeing the giver, spending time with them (dinner, an afternoon at the park, even just a short conversation, for example) and then exchanging gifts before the vital process of thanking them. I realise this is difficult with Christmas, but when I think back to our family Christmases I can see how my parents tried to make present opening a civilised affair.
Stocking presents were opened in the morning, which usually gave us something to occupy us during the day, and then after dinner (which was always too late to our young minds) we opened the tree presents. This taught us that presents wouldn’t disappear if they weren’t opened upon first sight and that they weren’t the most important part of the day. First I’d open one, then my brother would, then my parents (although they often skipped a turn because there were fewer parcels for them) and lists of the gifts and who it was from was made. This meant that when we returned to our presents in the following days we could link the giver to the gift. And of course write personalised thank you cards. Which our child will be doing, whether they like it or not. The older generation live through their younger counterparts and receiving a letter, full of effort and glee from a child is incredibly uplifting for those who are frail or ill. I don’t think people realise that so much nowadays. My brother hated writing these letters with a passion, whilst I (not surprisingly) could reel off several pages to each person and not duplicate my paragraphs. Whether letter writing comes easily or not, it’s a very useful skill to have and one which gives pleasure to many others.
After all my musings, the one thing that I’m sure about is that it’s not going to be easy and it will take patience and insistence from our part, but I think that teaching a child how to receive presents and that gifts come in a variety of disguises – experiences, activities, or purely sharing someone’s time – is crucial to them fully appreciating all that they’ve got in life and being able to share this with others. I think we’re up for the challenge!