Yes, you heard me right! I remember one particular year when we were so broke that my parents didn’t have any money to buy us presents for Christmas. We had a Christmas tree set up (it was an artificial one that we’d used for many years), lights (more than half of them were not working because they were old and the bulbs had burnt out) and ornaments (these were poorly coordinated decor collected over the previous few years) up on the tree but there were no presents under the tree.
Even though I was still very young then (probably not even in elementary school yet), I knew full well that my mom felt really bad that she couldn’t afford any gifts for us…..and though she tried to make the best of the situation, I couldn’t help but sense her guilt. But here’s the thing,…..
…….we (my sis and I) spent a lot of our childhood being poor. There were times when my parents didn’t have any money to put food on the table……let alone buy presents for us during Christmas……and I’m sure that many people who are from the 1970’s-1980’s (more so those who grew up in third world countries) would have experienced some form of poverty.
Because so many of us experienced poverty in our childhood (or have witnessed it), lots of us grow up to avoid it at all cost. We work hard in school, we work hard at college, we work hard at work, we climb the corporate ladder, we work hard towards the next promotion……and we do whatever it takes to make sure that our children will never have to experience poverty like we did and so that we can give them the best that we can give.
The best part is that most of us have managed to achieve just that…..to provide a very comfortable life for our children where they eat the best foods, wear the best clothes, have about a gazillion pairs of shoes even before their second birthday, fancy birthday parties, loads of unnecessary gadgets and everything else that we didn’t have as children. And we hope that by providing them with everything we didn’t have, we are giving them the best that they deserve……..and it makes up for all the suffering that we went through as children and being deprived the luxuries that our children now enjoy.
It’s perfect!……or is it? Our children have everything they need and want! We have done our jobs as parents, right?
Sigh! I wish it were that simple but here’s what’s really happening……we now have children who have both parents who are constantly working, most of them spend their early years in daycare or being raised by babysitters or by maids (and those of you who have been following my blogs would know how important these early years are for fostering resilience, and a failure to do so will result in many issues arising from childhood anxiety ranging from temper tantrums to clinginess, difficulties making friends and childhood entitlement).
Also, so many of our children are chalking up hours interacting with these screen gadgets that they aren’t really interacting with their parents (who most likely are also on their gadgets), nor are they running around outdoors (because they are busy being hustled from one extracurricular class to another) or experimenting with the things in their environment ……all of which (as pointless as they may seem) are extremely vital to optimizing children’s holistic development.
The truth is that many parents don’t really give this much thought until it’s a little too late……like when their children start to show difficulties in making friends, or when they can’t listen or follow instructions in class or when they are not developing in independence or when they are irresponsible and don’t have the skills to make good decisions or when they can’t regulate their emotions or when they give up too easily……and the list goes on. If these signs appear during the formative years (before 6 years), then it is still relatively manageable to improve it significantly with little resistance. But once the child is passed the formative years, it will not be an easy fix.
So tell me, ……..are our children really better off when we give them so much?…….I think not! So does that mean that we need to donate all our wealth to the poor and live with the minimum? Not necessarily! But it would help if we knew exactly what matters to our children and what is important to their development and growth and here they are in a nutshell…..
1) Children need to foster a strong bond with their primary caregiver so that they feel comfortable going to them in times of need,
2) Children need unstructured play time which is vital to helping them internalize their learning,
3) Children need time to be outdoors or close to nature on a daily basis to help them normalize and destress.
In case you are wondering, I didn’t whip this out of thin air…….those of you who know me would probably know by now that I’m a huge advocate for using applied child developmental psychology when dealing with young children. And as much as I’d like to explain in detail about what children fundamentally need to grow and thrive, I can’t do it here because there is just a lot of content to cover…..but if you are interested in my free video training series on intentional parenting due to be released in march 2016, feel free to sign up for it HERE.
In the meantime, you can learn about ‘frugal parenting’ in an interview that I did with Laura Grace Weldon from ‘Free Range Learning’ where Laura talks about how we can gift children learning experiences that they NEED to grow and thrive (hint: think bonding and quality time building relationships) in place of typical gifts and if you are thinking about throwing a party or family gathering this christmas and need some ideas for things to do to foster bonding for all ages (instead of watching TV or turning our gadgets on), you can click here for some simple activities that are suitable for all ages and guarantees hours of fun and lasting happy memories.
Have you ever had meaningful gifts you have received that are non-tangible? If so, please share them in the comments section below….