The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Children
The start of a new year means wrapping up the end of the busy holiday season. If you’re anything like me, you are likely breathing a labored exhale that the craziness of gift-buying is over, at least for now. It’s not that we, parents, don’t like giving gifts to our children, but sometimes it can feel like so much work! Shopping lists and Santa’s lists, holiday food and class parties . . . the list could go on. The holidays can be a stressful time. Yet it makes me wonder if our children will remember any of it. I recently tested this theory with my nine-year old nephew.
“Donte,” I called out to him from the other room.
He came to where I was but barely looked up from his mom’s smartphone.
“What did you get for Christmas last year?”
He paused for a beat, and scanned the kitchen ceiling as if it would render him a clue. “I dunno,” he replied, shrugging his shoulders and refocusing his attention on whatever game he was playing on the phone.
“See?!” I playfully punched my sister. “These kids don’t even appreciate all we go through to get them the perfect gift.”
What I have come to realize is the greatest gift you can ever give to your child is a loving family. If you are married, that means modeling the best marriage you can. If you’re single, that means loving yourself well enough that your children believe they, too, have incredible value and worth.
I grew up in a home where I often questioned my security. My mom was a very loving and present mother, but my stepfather was volatile and scary. I never knew where I stood with him. Unfortunately, they did not have a good marriage. I watched them argue and fight and say ugly things to each other, and all the while, I felt smaller and smaller. I remember going to school with yesterday’s argument on my mind. It’s a wonder I made good grades in school. As a child, I longed for my parents to love each other, though I would have settled for them simply liking each other.
I am convinced that neither of them realized the damage they were causing my sisters or me. As individuals, they were fine people, but together, it was a mishmash of epic proportions. Growing up in the home of a toxic marriage would affect me in ways later uncovered in my twenties with the help of my therapist. I realized that I had begun making some of the same mistakes my parents made. As the old saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Lessons from a Former Volcanic Mom
I could have titled this blog lessons from a former volcanic mom. I had become a very angry woman. My husband, Shaun, is very easy-going and can sometimes be passive. I, on the other hand, am very expressive and do not simply overlook conflict. Our differing traits were designed by God to complement each other, but instead they became a catalyst for conflict. I used to think, “I wasn’t angry until I got married and had kids!” But nothing could be further from the truth. I had a lot of built up anger just swelling beneath the surface. My kids’ behavior was only the stimulus to drive it out of me.
My husband and I married very young, and by the time I was 25, I had been married for seven years and we had three kids, ages 8, 5 and a newborn (our fourth child would come two years later). I was doing the best I could as a mom and wife, but there was always the feeling that I wasn’t doing something right. It was never good enough. I held myself and my family to very high standards, and I had these persistent feelings of insecurity. I would lash out in angry outbursts over minor infractions causing my kids to cry and my husband to distance himself from me. I began searching everywhere for answers to my anger. In my search, I stumbled upon Julie Ann Barnhill’s book, She’s Gonna Blow! Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger. That book saved my sanity! I realized all my childhood trauma had been festering, and now, like a volcano, it was oozing. My kids weren’t the problem. My husband wasn’t the problem. I was, and I had to take responsibility for my pain and for the pain my actions had caused.
Creating the Life I Wanted
Many years and many therapy sessions later, I learned that I could create the home life I wanted. I no longer had to be a victim of my past. I could choose a new path for myself and for my family. I could be happy if I wanted to. I could raise happy kids. I could create an atmosphere of peace in my home if I wanted to. So I went to work on creating the life I so desperately wanted as a child and have shared some tips below on how you, too, can create a loving home and give your child(ren) the greatest gift you ever could:
1. Create a culture of honor in your home
Creating a culture of honor means that as the parent, you set the atmosphere of your home. If you want your home to be peaceful, set the atmosphere by not allowing bickering and unnecessary arguing. Exemplify and require manners in your home. You may even want to have soft, peaceful music playing often. Consider other means of communicating the message to your children that your home is a place of peace and honor. Teach your children there’s more value in serving each other rather than being served. That means giving them chores and reminding them why we serve others when they complain.
How you treat your spouse is super important in displaying honor at home. My husband and I always greet each other with a kiss upon arriving and and leaving home. We do not disagree with each other’s parenting choices in front of the kids. Also, largely because of how I grew up, my husband and I do not argue in front of our kids . . . ever. Honestly, it boils down to self-control. If you can’t wait until the two of you can be alone to air your grievances away from your kids, it shows you have a lack of self-control. You can’t expect your children to be disciplined if you aren’t. We also compliment each other in front of our kids. I often say things like, “Aren’t you guys so grateful that Dad works hard to provide you what you want and need?” Likewise, my husband says to the kids, “Aren’t you guys glad your mom knows how to dress and doesn’t embarrass you in front of your friends?” Give honor liberally. It’s one of the best ways of creating a safe, inviting and peaceful atmosphere in your home.
2. Make Time for What’s Important
There is a famous quote that says, “Love is spelled T-I-M-E. Giving your children the gift of your time is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. I know our schedules are busy, and sometimes it’s easier to let the TV watch our kids. But we have to resist the urge to disconnect from our families. I am guilty of not always making space to spend quality time with my kids, and this is coming from someone who’s primary love language is quality time!
There are a million ways that you can make time for your children, and while you’re at it, make time for your spouse (if you’re married)! Date nights are essential. They are like the walls that bear the load of the marriage. A past Parental Legacy article on “How to Affirm Your Partner with Your Time” gives some great suggestions on practical ways of loving with the gift of time. These suggestions can easily be used for your children as well. If you are not consistently making time for what matters most, your family relationships will suffer.
3. Pump Up the Praise
The best way to get repeat behavior is to praise it. But did you know the same works true in the negative? We have a saying around our house, “If you see something good, say something good.” If you see your child honoring his/her sibling, praise him/her! Let the child know they’ve been “caught” doing good. You get more of what you focus on. This is why so many parents stay frustrated when their child exemplifies poor behavior. Most likely, the parent is focusing too much on the negative behavior and is making vain threats or using excessive punishment. None of us like to be constantly reminded of our failures, so be sure to pump up the praise when your children do positive things.
You might be thinking, What if I don’t see anything positive in my child? I would encourage you to look harder. Everyone has some redeeming quality. Even a negative can be repackaged as a positive with a little creativity. For example, instead of saying to your child, “You’re so strong-willed! Why do you have to fight me on everything I say?!” Try instead, “You are so determined to stand up for what you believe in. That’s a great quality to have. But for now, I need you to obey what I’m telling you.”
Remember, more is caught than taught. Your children are little mirrors of you. They will act how you act and love how they’ve been taught to love. So create a culture of honor that they will emulate. Spend quality time with them in ways they feel special. Praise them when you see them doing something good. If you do these things, you will give them the greatest gift ever, one that will not rust or fade or be forgotten.
Dana Che is an inspirational speaker, author, blogger and host of Real Relationship Talk who is passionate about helping others build and restore relationships. She and her husband, Shaun, have four children and reside in Virginia Beach, VA. For more marriage and relationship encouragement, follow Dana’s blog at realrelationshiptalk.com.