One of the concerns parents of young children have around Christmas is teaching the kids to value giving as well as receiving. Many of us have difficulty with our own contradictory impulses. We don’t want to turn our kids into greedy little monsters, but at the same time we want to give them the best gifts and experiences we can.
This week I had a chance to think about this dilemma in a new way. I was talking with my daughter about our cancelled November family vacation. Due to last-minute chicken pox, we weren’t able to go on our planned Athens/Istanbul/Egypt/Rome/Barcelona cruise. Instead, we’re taking a shorter and, to me, less interesting cruise. As you read this, I may be on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.
My daughter almost certainly will be on the beach. As we talked about the changed vacation plans, tears welled up in her eyes and she said, "Dad, the Caribbean cruise is my dream vacation."
"So you’re really glad that Davin got the chicken pox and our European cruise was cancelled?" I asked.
"Yes. Dad, I’ve wanted to go to a beach for years now. I mean, you can only look at so many columns and crumbling rock."
Twenty years ago, I am positive my reaction would have been, "Oh, no! Am I raising a spoiled little brat?" At the ripe old age of ten, London has been to Europe at least four times. At that same age, I was pretty much resigned to the fact I would probably never have enough money to travel abroad.
Instead of responding in that manner, however, I was intrigued by her thoughts. Actually, quite pleased. While I do my best to find great values in cruises, it still costs about 50% more to take the kids to Europe than to the Caribbean. Before London had finished her sentence, I had calculated that Marcia and I could hire a babysitter for two weeks of "Parents Only Time," plus take the kids on a separate Caribbean cruise, for the same money it would cost to take them on the European cruise. It would be a win-win for all of us—a beach and kids club vacation for the kids, plus time for Marcia and me to pursue our passion of seeing the world.
This conversation reminded me that choosing "the best" for our kids doesn’t necessarily mean getting the gift or experience that is the most expensive or that seems the most attractive to us as adults. A good example of this might be the traditional family dream vacation to Disney World. For toddlers, who need naptime and who are too little for most of the exhibits, a place like Disney World is too big and overwhelming. They’d be happier with a couple hours at a local attraction like Rapid City’s Storybook Island.
So if you weren’t able this Christmas to get your kids "the best" gifts, don’t feel you’ve failed them. They may well be just as happy with something less lavish. Remember, too, that today’s must-have toy often ends up as tomorrow’s disregarded clutter.
A case in point. My son, with enough toys in his room to fill a flea market booth, has spent hours this week playing in the dirt of a planted pot. He assembled the volcanic rocks into a manger for the baby Jesus from our nativity set. Today the only other actors are a few sheep. Mary and Joseph were there yesterday, but I guess today they are out shopping. Maybe they are looking for the perfect gift for their special child.