The batteries will die, the toys will break, the kids will be bored again . . . what can I give my kids that will last?
[No instruction manuals needed for these gifts]
One Christmas gift I gave a son stands out in my memory. It was a remote control car he wanted. He remembers that the day after Christmas he ran it into a wall and pretty much destroyed it. I remember he ran it into the swimming pool, although I don’t know why the swimming pool wasn’t covered that time of the year, so maybe he’s right.
I do know that he boxed up his broken car and mailed it off to the manufacturer with a note that read something like this: “Please send me another car. I broke this one and my mother will run me up the wall if I don’t get it fixed. Thank you.”
He got a replacement.
Through the years the toys you spend so much money for and time finding don’t last long, but there are some gifts you can give children that can bless their lives and the generations to come forever. They are still there long after the pile of toys is no longer exciting and the kids are back to whining “I’m so b-o-o-o-r-ed. There’s nothing to do.”
The gift of gentle voices
Yelling at children doesn’t work. They either yell back or surrender in a sad submissiveness. I can’t say that I was always successful as a mother in not yelling, but it was one of my goals. I found that if I really wanted my children to listen, I was much more successful when I spoke with a quiet voice than with a loud voice. Whatever it takes and however you have to achieve it as a parent, find a quiet place within yourself to put your anger before you take it out on your child. Then when you have control of yourself, react to your child calmly and with love.
This doesn’t mean that you surrender your authority as a parent, but you use your authority under the guidelines of D&C 121:41-45. Doing that entitles you to the blessings found in verse 46.
The gift of loving words
The old adage “Stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is just not true. Constant criticism from a parent is damaging to a children’s spirit for years to come. It is possible to teach and correct without insulting or hurting. And I’m not talking about the modern-day parenting techniques of non-authoritative speech and asking for a child’s permission to do everything. That’s a problem in itself that has led to a lot of the discipline problems found in families today.
But if your sentences tend to begin with “What were you thinking when . . . ?” or “Why in the world would you ever . . . ?” or “What kind of . . .?” then maybe you need to rethink what kind of messages you are sending your child in the words you say and the tone you are using when you say them.
I’ve heard that it takes at least 10 kind remarks to a child to undo the damage of one insulting, demeaning remark, and I believe it. I hope they were few, but I still remember unkind things I said to my children and now, removed from the intensity of the situation, cringe at the thought that I ever spoke to them in such a way.
The gift of a safe, secure home
When I was in the fifth grade, we moved to Germany and I was quite unhappy in school the first few months. I had a strict, to the point of being mean, teacher. But I could sit in my classroom and look across the street and see the apartment window that was our home. I knew my mother was there waiting for me to come home, and I knew I would find love, acceptance, safety and security there. That got me through the days at school.
My home as a child and an Army brat traveling throughout the world was always the place of happiness for my sister and me, and I tried to make my children’s home that for them. Home is where you go to be loved and healed and accepted. It’s like a big hug waiting for you at the end of the day when the world has wounded you, whether you are a three-year-old coming home from pre-school, a high school student, or a college student flying home for Christmas. Give that gift to your children.
The gift of family fun
Do something fun with your children. I was distracted enough by housework and laundry when my kids were little, and I’m so thankful I didn’t have the pull of a smart phone and its endless intrigues. I still don’t have one, much to the concern of my grown children. I’m afraid of the impending addiction when I make that jump!
Families actually used to survive without electronic gadgets. Really. Play with blocks or color. Go to a park. Walk by a river. Throw a ball. Have a picnic. Turn off those darn cell phones and iPads and pay attention to your kids or send them off to entertain themselves non-electronically.
My kids used to love to dance after supper. We would push the table aside and put a record, then a CD on-now it’s the iPod with the grandchildren!-and just dance.
My youngest son, now 29, doesn’t like to admit it, but it’s how he learned to appreciate my favorite, Kenny Rogers.
Finally, declare a non-electronics day once a week (maybe Sunday?) and see what happens. You just might survive, and your children might thrive.
The gift of family dinner
Family dinners are important. They protect children from drugs and alcohol use, studies show. They don’t have to be fancy; just get together as a family, talk, be interested in each other and listen to each other. Don’t argue, don’t criticize and don’t make fun of anyone. Make it another safe place within a safe place to be.
Even if it’s Ramen noodles and a grilled cheese sandwich, eat it together.
These are just a few of the gifts that don’t require batteries and will last forever in their memories, and I haven’t even mentioned any of the spiritual ones-all those “Primary answers” that everyone knows! There are plenty of gifts to give in the coming years that cost nothing, won’t break, and don’t need an instruction manual.
Elzey is a writer and college English teacher in beautiful Southern Virginia. Parts of this column appeared in her weekly column for the Danville (Va.) Register & Bee entitled “7XMOM,” which may be found at www.godanriver.com. Her novel “Miracle of the Christmas Star” may be ordered on Amazon.com. (It isn’t a Christmas book at all, regardless of what the marketing people decided to title it!)