My youngest was telling me the other day that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year and how he wishes it could be every day. Being the good Christian parent that I am, I told him, “Well, sweetie we can celebrate Jesus’ birth every day.”
“But we don’t get presents every day,” was his immediate reply.
Yes, I have two little boys who are counting down the days to Christmas when they get to tear through packaging and find all manner of plastic and wooden objects that bring meaning and happiness to their souls. For about 10 minutes, or if we are really lucky, an hour. Then they will move on to fighting about something and arguing about who got more presents.
Can you tell I’m looking forward to this?
Maybe you are planning for a more peaceful celebration, but I’m guessing I am not the only parent in Australia who wishes her kids thought a little less about what they are going to get for Christmas. But I’m also guessing you’re exhausted by the end of the year push, your diary is full of end-of-school barbecues and parties, there are gifts to buy for cricket coaches, pavlovas to whip up and crowded parking lots to navigate.
Don’t underestimate what your children can understand. I’m amazed at the conversations that take place when we expose our kids to the suffering of others.
Our December looks and feels full, and that’s why we put aside time to keep our hearts focused outside of ourselves. If you want to help your children get their eyes off their own wants and needs, here are a few simple ideas.
- A gift-giving shopping trip. We gave our boys $5 per person in our family, and we went shopping to our local centre where they get to pick something for Dad, Mum and brother. There was a mention or two about what they hoped they would get, but I was amazed at how their total focus was on what to get for the people they love.
- Bake treats for your neighbours or friends. Keeping in mind our schedules and our family life, we make this as simple as possible. We baked biscuits the other day and gave a plate to our neighbour next door. I plan to keep making biscuits throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas and finding people we can hand them out to.
- Give the children money to spend on the TEAR gift catalogue. Go through the catalogue together, and let them choose what they want to spend their money on. We’ve looked at the catalogue online, and my oldest plans to give adult literacy classes. He learned how to read at school this year and was shocked to find out there are grown ups who don’t know how to read.
Don’t underestimate what your children can understand. I’m amazed at the conversations that take place when we expose our kids to the suffering of others. Simple sentences can tell them all they need to know, sentences like, “Some children don’t have enough to eat,” “Not all children can go to school because they live too far away,” “Clean, safe drinking water is almost impossible to find in some places.” They respond with questions of their own about why these things happen, and we end up having conversations about need, poverty, violence and development. Hopefully this shapes the way they see the world, their own resources and their responsibility. I hope it will equip them to take action in the future. I think we all, also, become more grateful for what we have.
Our boys will still get presents on Christmas Day, and they will spend every day of Advent excited about what they are getting. I don’t try to fight this. They should be allowed a child-like sense of wonder at the thought of receiving gifts. But instead of letting it be a one-way street of gifts toward them, this year we opened up the other road by giving them opportunities to give to others who are nearby and far away. We empower them in a giving direction by directing their attention to the needs of others.
Devi Duerrmeier is a writer, thinker, wife and mom of two boys living in Melbourne, Australia. She writes about food, family and faith at the table in the middle spaces of life, in between cultures and ideas and faith and desire. You can read her blog at My Daily Bread & Butter and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.