Life can get complicated.

And expensive!

If you have kids, you know there are infinite ways to spend money on them. To quote The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, “Pop guns! And bicycles! Roller skates! Drums! Checkerboards! Tricycles! Popcorn! And plums!”

If that were written today the list might look a bit different: “Hockey and dance lessons, iPads and gadgets, horse riding, skiing, lightsabers, tablets!”

My wife and I aren’t rich. But we’re not poor. I would say we’re comfortable.

And I realize that because our household makes more than $48,000 a year that puts us in the top 4% of the world’s wage earners. Yup, you read correctly.

So this is definitely a first-world “problem.”

But as our kids grow, I’m beginning to realize how many pressures there are to get “the best” for them.

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That includes stuff–and also certain experiences like lessons or sports.

And I get where it comes from. I love my kids. You love your kids. Plus, kids are a sacred trust from God. So how could we not want the best for them?

But what is “the best”?

Some of the confusion stems from the fact that the parent-child relationship has changed. In her book about parenting, Jennifer Senior explains how attitudes shifted after World War Two. Children stopped contributing to the family economy: “Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard. Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”

None of us would agree with that. But a lot of us live like it.

Another part of the problem is that we live in a consumer culture. A side-effect is that we are encouraged–sometimes aggressively–to spend dollars to express ourselves.

Love someone? Better buy them something. Want a perfect holiday? Better break your budget!

Just think about fashions. Why do you think they change so much? It’s not because fashions magically “change.” It’s because an industry needs to manufacture attitudinal change to sell more product.

It must look weird with all of us walking around with hooks in our mouths.

But here’s the thing: Giving your kids “the best” has little to do with stuff–or even experiences.

Some stuff is good, yes. And some activities are great–especially those that encourage exercise, service and friendship. I’m with you on that.

But too much stuff may actually put a child at a disadvantage in life. They can…

  • feel more entitled
  • feel less thankful
  • be less likely to cope with stress and failure
  • and be less likely to develop a strong work ethic

So here’s a very practical way to give your kids the best without giving them “the best.”

Spend time with them.

As the saying goes, kids don’t want more presents–they want your presence.

It’s as difficult and beautiful as that. In his book Spiritual Evolution, psychiatrist George Vaillant makes this conclusion: “Joy is connection.”

And he’s not talking about WiFi.

How we use our time teaches the people we love what we think is important.

Unfortunately, as people get busier and busier, fewer and fewer children get to spend time with their parents and siblings.

It’s made tricky because of shift work, family heartbreak, travel schedules, and common distraction. But the net result for kids is often less face-to-face time with the people who have the greatest impact on them.

So it takes some planning. But you can do it.

Just imagine…

  • evenings together with limited screen time
  • walks outside or family sports
  • Lego towers and books
  • praying together
  • volunteering as a team
  • a games night or taking in some music

girl crop writingI saw a video by IKEA where kids were asked to write Christmas letters to the Three Kings. (In Spain kids write to the Three Kings instead of Santa.)

The kids wrote down all the predictable stuff.

Then they were asked to write another letter–to their parents: “What would you ask your parents for this Christmas?”

Do you want to know what they said?

“I want you to spend more time with me… that we do more experiments at home… I’d like you to pay a little bit more attention to us… I’d like it if you would have dinner with us more often… I want you to tickle me… and read me a story… I want us to be together one whole day… to play soccer with me… I want you to play, mama, I want you to play cowboys with me…”

The kids were then asked which letter they would send if they could only send one letter.

“The one to my mother… The one to my parents… To mom and dad…”

Presence beat presents.

As an old saying goes, “How do you spell love? T-I-M-E.”

It’s ironic that the video was produced by IKEA. Even stuff-makers know the snares of stuff.

To give your kids the best, don’t fret about the Joneses, or for making up for lost time with stuff. None of it lasts and too much of it might actually jeopardize their character.

Give them you. It doesn’t need to be ALL the time. But it needs to be SOME of the time.

When it comes to stuff and schedules, you know what? It kind of makes me think of a hamster wheel. I love watching it. Just not being in it.

And I’m guessing your kids don’t either.

One of the greatest things you can do for your kids, is doing for them what only you can give…

You.

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