We’ve all heard these before: “Be grateful for what you have.” “The secret to having it all is knowing you already do.” “The best things in life aren’t things at all.”
While we can intellectually wrap our minds around the merits of appreciation, simplicity and non-materialism–perhaps even try to get our children on board with these notions, for many, this time of year brings out a deep sense of shame and inadequacy when it comes to parenting. On one hand, we want our children to adopt the values extolled above; on the other, however, we teach them to come up with “wish lists” and then drag them to the mall to snap the requisite photo of them expounding, sometimes ad nauseum, their material desires to an apathetic man in a rented red suit who is more interested in taking off the scratchy beard than hearing how “good” these self-promoting cherubs have been all year.
It is the perfect frame up for all of us: the parents want grateful children but don’t want to run the risk of being a disappointment to their kids; kids want what they want because they’ve been told to want something; capitalism drives the whole show; and by the second weekend in January many of the purchases are broken or forgotten despite the credit card debt that will extend the “season of giving” well into springtime.
Yesterday, I found myself in a retail store under the duress of knowing that I was obligated to get a gift for someone. As I walked up and down the aisles, I implored the gods of consumerism to show me something that would be perfect for me to purchase. (Read that again. Yes: “perfect for me to purchase” was what I was thinking–not “perfect for the recipient.”) I managed to narrow my options by turning over various items and checking the price. When I finally settled on what to get, I was satisfied that the gift would come off as suitable. Or at least suitable enough for someone who has everything already.
(Side note: most every adult I know can be put into the category of “someone who has everything already.” This fact ought to make us feel content with just spending time together, but try to feel comfortable doing that having been sold the idea that you “never show up empty handed.”)
This is not an easy time of year for any of us. For those who are cash-strapped, there is the dreaded reality of deeper debt. For those with unlimited financial resources, there is the ethical strain of thinking of those “less fortunate.” But no one likes to do that: it puts a damper on the “most wonderful time of the year.”
Some children will wonder (out loud) why they didn’t get everything they asked for, especially in light of being so well behaved for the last 51 weeks. Some, the more perceptive and sensitive ones, will know not to point out the inadequacies of their parents. In both cases, we see your disappointment in us and wish we could wipe it away.
But it’s a setup for us all.
So maybe instead of griping over not getting enough, we all take a deep breath and be happy that we’re breathing at all. This life is short and whomever you’re going to be with for the holidays is someone with whom you have chosen to share your life.
Share that life deeply and tell each and every one how they are loved by you, and perhaps those thoughtful actions can challenge the cultural sense of “not enough.”