by Nancy Rue
All year long we drive our kids to lessons, practices, games, and play dates with the efficiency of a personal chauffeur. We buy them hundreds—okay, thousands—of dollars worth of school supplies, sports equipment, and electronic gadgets to keep them occupied while we're hauling them to the aforementioned destinations. We're constantly purchasing clothes to keep up with the bodies that are growing faster than kudzu and food to fuel the energy they need to keep up with schedules that rival that of a corporate executive. And through it all, we're handing out guidance, repairing hurt feelings, and keeping them from doing each other bodily harm in the back seat. In short, we're giving them all we've got, all the time.
And then December rolls around and their wish lists are as long as your arm—and we wonder why they don't seem to be giving a thought to anybody else's list.
Of course you give your kids everything you can. It's in your contract, not to mention your genes, as a mom. But part of our job as parents is to show them that it isn't all about them. The Christmas season provides us with the perfect opportunity to let them experience—to use their vernacular—how much it rocks to make it about somebody else.
So while they're composing their "What I Want For Christmas" lists, we can guide them in that direction by introducing them to six new lists they can compile as Christmas approaches.
#1 The What Are We Going to Get For Everybody List
Include your kids in your gift-giving to other members of the family, starting with a list of who's going to love what. Then let your son spot Grandma's perfect present in the store. Put your daughter to work on the wrapping (and let go of your vision of pristine bows and co-ordinated bags and tags.) Even the smallest young'un can be the one to put that lopsided package in Grandma's lap.
#2 The Get a Job List
Have the kids make a list of possible jobs they could do to earn money to buy their own gifts for folks. Doling out cash won't have the same effect as having them shop with their own "paychecks." Expect them to watch, eyes glowing, as Daddy opens that present and say, "I bought it with my own money."
#3 The To-Make List
If money's tight (and even if it isn't), get them to come up with a list of gifts they could make. If you're not craftsy (I personally would rather have a root canal than try to knit a scarf), books and magazines full of make-it-yourself gift ideas cram the store shelves during the pre-Christmas season. Don't worry if the finished product doesn't turn out like the picture. The receiving grandparent or doting aunt really isn't going to care.
#4 The Do Unto Others List
Help them write down a list of all the people they want to give to and what they could do to make those people's lives a little easier. Two nights of taking big brother's turn loading the dishwasher. Three games of CandyLand with little sister. One Saturday cleaning out the garage with Dad. Provide art supplies for creating Promise Coupons, or check them out on designing them on the computer.
#5 The Look Around You List
Enlist your kids in compiling a list of people you know who are in need of something. Could the widow across the street use a little company this first Christmas season without her husband? Is there a stressed-out single mom at church who would give her left arm to have somebody entertain her four-year-old for an hour? Is there a family that isn't celebrating this year because a member is seriously ill? Would they appreciate a small tree and a bag of goodies? The more your children take part in both the conception of the idea and carrying it out, the better.
#6 The Help Mom List
Don't forget a list of ways your offspring can help you as you take care of 5,000 details. Circle the items on your to-do list that they can polish off for you—as long as it doesn't create more stress for you. Letting them set the table with great-Grandma's china—probably not a good idea. Show them the list, let them choose a few tasks, and set them to work. After they untangle the lights, make gift tags out of last year's Christmas cards, and coach little brother on his line for the Christmas pageant, thank them with enthusiasm, even if the job wasn't done exactly the way you would have done it (if you'd had the time...)
And here's a list for you, Mom. These are the things you WON'T want to do if you actually want to instill a spirit of cheerful giving in your kids:
That moment when you realize your children get what this whole giving thing is about—when they can't wait for Dad to pull that promise coupon out of his stocking, or they wonder if the widow across the street could come for Christmas Eve dinner, or they subtract a few items from the "What I Want" list—that's your own best gift of the season.
When you go back to chauffeuring and shelling out cash for new soccer cleats, you'll probably hear more thank you's and see less WWE in the back seat. You'll know you've taught your children to act like Jesus. That's a keeper. Put it on your list for next year.