More Meaning, Less Stuff...a new Paradigm for the Holidays
Getting Joy from Getting Less and Giving More
Wondering what in the world to get the over-indulged kid “who has everything”?
It certainly can be a perennial challenge—especially for those soft-hearted parents who had kids, blinked, and then woke up to find that a decade had passed and they hadn’t yet introduced them to the word “No.”
Let’s face it, the prospect of putting up with another season of demanding tykes who use tantrums, pouts and fits of ennui to get their way can suck the holiday spirit out of just about anybody.
The worst part is that, regardless of this bad behavior, and no matter how many threats that Santa will be less than pleased, lots of these children will receive an embarrassing wealth of riches anyway. To top it off, the darlings instantly (or nearly so) will almost surely become disenchanted with their loot and begin to clamor for more, or something different, or less, or someone else’s—whatever represents the opposite of what they have. Happiness soon becomes as elusive as a yeti sighting in a white out.
The big question, then? What’s a loving, engaged, and desperate parent to do?
Ah. That’s a good one.
The answer is a simple one to recommend, but a difficult one to follow through on.
Why? Because children are masters at sizing up their opponents and then playing them like a violin—that is, all whiny and screechy. (After all, violin prodigies are rare.) Yep. If you decide to blaze a new trail to the Land of Less is More this holiday season, lay in a store of earplugs. You’re going to need them in the face of the near-certain mega-tantrum that is coming your way.
You see, generally speaking, kids aren’t very understanding when their gift list is cut and things like “volunteering” and “random acts of kindness” are added to their to-do list.
Still, the switch in focus is worth the temporary temperamental fits that will likely accompany the shift towards a less stuff-oriented life.
And, seriously, of all of the years to make a change in gift giving, this is the one. With the economy looking like a big pile of “presents” shoveled out of Santa’s reindeer barn, parents have every right to wrest control of the holidays out of all of those tiny, chubby hands and their white-hot grips on flashy new gaming consoles.
Yes, in these tough economic times, when even those with eight-figure incomes are feeling the pinch, there’s no better time to think of new ways of approaching the holidays.
Let’s all agree, then, that it’s no longer cool to create a bloated, present-binge holiday for our children. Instead, be steadfast in your desire to institute a new holiday paradigm within your family. Put Meaning, Enrichment, Joy, Love, Selflessness, Giving, Kindness, and Fulfillment on your holiday gift list and don’t look back. After all, it offers a surprising amount of satisfaction for you and your family—and it doesn’t require batteries.
How to Get Started
Dramatic change begins with a single statement: “We’re going to make a dramatic change.”
There, now you’ve done it! You’re on your way!
Don Your Santa Thinking Hat
Before you baldly announce your family’s new direction, do some thinking about each of your family members, as well as your family as a whole. If you have a spouse, do this together.
While it may sound good on paper to go with the obvious (and definitely worthy) choices out there—volunteering to serve a meal at a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving, or buying a gift for a needy child at Christmas—it’s best to align your philanthropy with the kinds of giving and/or volunteerism that can truly enrich your life and each of your family member’s lives. If a service shift at a soup kitchen makes your heart sing, that’s perfect! But if you’re going purely out of a “Volga Boatmen” sense of obligation, you may need to think a little harder.
Bottom line, take some time to consciously consider the interests and passions of everyone in your family. Be creative about the ways that such things may be able to be incorporated in your efforts to infuse deeper meaning into the season.
The Next Step
Schedule a family meeting (again making sure that in two-parent households, both parents are fully in support of making a dramatic change).
With younger children, you will likely need to gauge the ability of your child to understand the concept of “fewer presents/more meaning.” For little, little ones, just go ahead and realign your family’s priorities without a whole lot of discussion about it other than plenty of enthusiasm for giving back. They’ll be fine.
With older children, enlist their help with brainstorming ideas that will suit your family. Expect this meeting to be filled with long, uncomfortable silences, staring contests, and dramatic huffs. Be delighted if you get one or two good ideas.
Do offer up a few of your own thoughts. Expect them to be greeted with disgust, ridicule and whining. Do not back down. It’s a bluff. Most children—humans, in general, really—crave meaning in their lives. Your child is really behaving like a cranky bull, snorting and pawing the ground in the face of imagined (okay, yes, and sometimes real) threats. Just have a rodeo clown ready to distract them until they get too tired to fight. Barring a rodeo clown, just stick to your guns. You’re an experienced hand. You can outlast them.
Once you have made the critical decision to steer your family towards a service-oriented season, follow your dream!! Meaning is just a matter of pitching in and helping others. It’s study-proven to increase happiness. The joy you bring to others will return to you like a DMV form—in triplicate (at least)! Go for it! The only thing you’ll be missing out on is that death match in the toy aisle of your local discount store when they put the latest and greatest on sale for one-day only. Granted, that’s a significant sacrifice, but the rewards of virtue are many. The world thanks you in advance for rescuing your children from the jaws of self-indulgence and setting them on the path of self worth through service—at least for a few weeks of the year.
Creative Thinking by the Dozen
Here are 12 potentially awesome ways that you and your family can make a difference this season:
1) ‘Tis better to give! Give each family member a donation budget. Have them come up with three to five ways to donate their budget based on research that they do and what interests them the most. Then, have a family party to write out the checks, stuff the envelopes and include a handwritten note from the family to the charity that will boost their morale—and yours.
2) Love movies? Share the joy! Contact a local shelter or after-school program and offer to plan a movie night for the kids. Make it a night to remember. Send out invitations that include a poll to determine what the guests want to watch. Make sure the A/V equipment is working well in advance. Have your family prepare a selection of favorite movie snacks. Solicit donations for cuddly toys, pillows, blankets and more so that each child who attends will receive a special remembrance of the night. Then, go and enjoy. Feel the love.
3) Raise a little cash! Have your kids man a lemonade/baked goods stand where all of the proceeds go to a food bank (you could also trade cookies for cans of food). Have them keep the books and have a goal in mind for what they’d like to raise. In colder climates, a charity snow shoveling operation would also work well.
4) Love your neighbors? Show them! Plan a family day for baking and assembly treats. Make sure that the whole family goes when it’s time to deliver the goods. Try and hit every house in the neighborhood—not just the houses where you know the people who live there.
5) Cheer up the elderly! This can be a particularly rewarding task. Contact your local retirement home to get the most pertinent suggestions for what is needed there. Would they like donations of magazines and books? Collect some and bring them in. Someone to read to them? Commit to a few hours a week. What about someone to help write out Christmas cards? Plan a card writing party. Could your children put on a talent show with other in the neighborhood? Plan it!
6) Let children help other children! If there is a children’s hospital in your area, contact them to see what the children in that hospital need the most. Are the walls barren? Can a non-toxic mural be painted there? Do they need someone to set up a library corner and organize a book drive? Maybe a cookie decorating party would be fun—you bring the sugar cookies, frosting and sprinkles and set up a table where the kids can decorate their own yummy treats.
7) Plan a Teacher Appreciation Day! Teachers give and give and give, often spending money out of their own pockets to create the kind of enriching classrooms that will have the best chance of engaging their students. Why not organize a surprise for the teachers at your school? Get in touch with the principal and then get the ball rolling. Enlist parents and children from every grade to make a special card or present for their teachers and then invite the parents to attend a special assembly so that they can help honor the teachers along with their children. See if you can get various items donated for door prizes, too.
8) Clean Up Your World! We’ve all done it. We’ve walked or driven past the same junky street or sidewalk and haven’t bothered to bend down to put the trash where it belongs. Have your family lead a neighborhood clean-up day. Greet volunteers at your house with freshly baked goods and hot drinks. Once everyone has assembled, hand out trash bags and set out bins for recycling. Make teams and have everyone draw for the part of the neighborhood that they will clean up. At the end, give a reward for the most trash picked up. Celebrate with a progressive lunch that moves through soup, sandwich and dessert courses at various people’s houses.
9) Perform Random Acts of Kindness! For the days leading up to Christmas, have everyone keep a journal where they can record a random act of kindness that they commit to performing every day. Have everyone try to do their kindness without anyone seeing them. On Christmas Day, take a moment to savor the journal entries by reading them aloud and then discussing what outcome they may have learned that their kindness had.
10) Perform Senseless Acts of Beauty! As a family, see if there is a part of the world that could use a little beautification. Does a fence need painting? Does someone’s yard need attention? Would flowers look nice in a vacant lot? Get permission when necessary, and do what you can to make the world a prettier place.
11) Play elf! Hand out some joy kits! Somehow, for many people, the season of joy has degenerated into the season of obligation and crankiness. As a family, create ripples of good will by throwing a joy pebble in the cranky pond. Buy packets of hot chocolate and microwave popcorn in bulk, along with whatever other sealed treats sound good to your family. Parcel them out into paper treat bags with a cheerful, encouraging note. Tie a bow to close them. Head for the mall during a busy time and start handing them out with a smile. Try and aim for the people who have the sourest faces. (Be prepared to weather some annoyance, but think of it as an exercise in tolerance and staying cheery no matter what.)
12) Love Thy Animals. Many people who volunteer at animal charities are absolutely tireless in their devotion to all manner of wonderful creatures. They don’t complain, but having a little help to lessen the time commitment would be amazing for them, and the animals. Call your local animal rescue group and see what you can do. Perhaps fostering an injured animal during the holidays, walking shelter dogs, volunteering for a few hours to give a little love to some shelter animals—any or all of that would be greatly appreciated. Just be forewarned that you may become the proud owner of a new pet in your lives.
May your holidays be filled with joy this year…even if your stocking is lighter.