My busy family of 5 resides in a NYC loft and we live our lives by each and every minute. As the holidays are upon us yet again, I know it's my duty to make sure my kids know the importance of giving back and that spending quality time with family is just as important as receiving gifts from them.
Each and every year as life gets more hectic, I stress myself out trying to create perfect moments during the holiday season for my family. I've realized that no matter how much I accomplish, there’s always something more that could have been done and the "perfect" vision I have in my head will have to be postponed to next year... or the next year.... or the year after that...
Since we have a mixed religion household, sometimes the holidays can get out of hand with so many celebrations and gift exchanges. It's difficult to tell extended family members that we do not want or need so many gifts and it’s equally as difficult to deny a gift to your kids. I have learned that you can’t stop family members from gifting the oversized, battery operated, loud, million pieces toys – so it’s better to just say thank you and focus on making sure your children appreciate the actual significance of the holidays.
Here’s how I tried to teach my children the true meaning of the holiday season:
My 8-year-old son Marc is my biggest challenge when it comes the holidays and gifts. He loves the thrill of opening gifts. He alerts family members months in advance of the next big thing he is interested in. He is also a collector. He must have the entire set, no exceptions. Since he was very little, I have explained to him that not every child is so lucky and we constantly discuss how nice it is to donate some of his old (and new) toys to less fortunate kids. It took him awhile to understand, but now we regularly go through all of his bins and clean out his toys every 2 months or so.
My 3-year-old daughter has also started to help. We gather everything in the living room and basically dump the bins on the floor. Of course, we do get side tracked when they find an old toy they had forgotten about but we quickly regain our focus and make piles of what to keep, donate, or just trash all together. It’s great to talk to them about the memories they’ve had with some of their old toys and then remind them how they will help less fortunate children make some of their own new memories with these toys. It's a therapeutic process for us all and we feel so good when all is said and done.
Luckily, there are plenty of donation places in the NYC area and around the holidays there is always a place to make drop offs for clothing, toys and food. My son's school holds a canned food drive and we make sure to donate every year. Bring your kids to the grocery store and let them pick out a few cans to donate – they get excited to participate and it really helps them understand the act of giving. Also, at my daughter's pre-school there is a toy donation box. It makes kids feel special to give back and help others. I also make a point to explain what we are doing instead of just dropping the donations off so they understand from a young age.
I was raised in a house that gifts were only given for special occasions such as a birthday or Christmas. I had so much excitement and joy waiting for the special day with anticipation. It was always worth the wait and no matter what I received, I would always be happy and appreciative. I was hoping I would be able to create the same type of upbringing for my children but this definitely did not happen. Times have changed and there are plenty of extended family members who want to put smiles on our children's faces. I also am a blogger in NYC, which means that toys are often sent to me to review and there are no places to hide them in my apartment. I have accepted that my children’s childhood is different from mine, but I still hope to instill the most important values in them. Even though at times I wish my kids could experience the simpler world I grew up in, I remind myself that it’s a blessing they are able have so toys because it means they get to give back so often that it becomes a way of life.
The other aspect of teaching the true value of the holidays is to remind my children that we are so blessed to have family members near and far to celebrate with us each and every year. It’s important that around the holidays we appreciate how lucky we are to have time to spend with the people we love most. Life slows down for just a bit and we get to stay up a little later, visit with the people we haven’t seen in a while, and stop to think about what fortunate lives we lead. We always keep one thing constant, which is that we watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and celebrate Thanksgiving in our apartment every year. We invite our local family members and my son looks forward to this day every year. It makes him so happy to have everyone come to his home and we look forward to prepping the house and eating the same food each year no matter how good or bad it may be! At the end of the day, it's all about the special feeling you get of having your loved ones nearby. I can tell that while in the moment, the presents might seem to overshadow everything, my kids get so excited about seeing their family and the annual rituals, that they do understand the true meaning of the holidays. We are extra lucky this year to also have family members visiting for Christmas and we have already been planning what fun sites we will see and the activities we will do together.
Creating our own traditions has been the key to teaching the importance of holidays and has been really important to our family. Whether it’s cleaning out the toy boxes together to choose what should be donated, picking out canned goods for food drives, or even the annual routines we do with our family, these are now the memories my kids look forward to and will hold onto instead of presents they receive.
I wish everyone the happiest of holiday seasons!