Sugar and spice and everything nice finally gave way to hormones and acne. Now what will you get them for Christmas?
I think I finally understand what people mean by “that awkward age.” It’s not the teenage years, it’s being a middle-aged man trying to figure out what’s going on with his own kids. That discomfort never seems to be more accentuated than at Christmas.
Granted, I’m not up on the latest styles, trends, or make up colors. My kids would be a little surprised, if not disappointed, if I was. But I’ve always tried to be relevant, or “hip” as the old people say. And yet, year and year, Christmas requests become more cryptic, aloof and confusing. New music groups, make up brushes and applicators, and uses for technology I never could have imagined. Here’s how I handle it all.
1. Ask about what you don’t understand
I have to admit that gift shopping can be a little daunting when my kids ask for something and I don’t know what it is. It’s not that I’m afraid of looking foolish but more afraid of the answer.
For months I saw little colored eggs floating around my house. I found them in the strangest places: couch, bathroom, bedroom floor, and even one behind a nightstand. Curious, my mind ran with possibilities, though I never thought to pick one up and examine it. Finally, one morning we ran through a Target store on our way to some place else. “Ooh!” my little girl screeched with joy. “There they are!” It was the first time I’d seen one of those things packaged.
“What is that?” I finally asked. Since it was prominently displayed by the checkout line, I figured it was safe to discuss in public.
“Lip balm,” she said. That made the least sense of all my thought up possibilities, but with that mystery solved, I never could figure out the efficacy of the shape. It seemed difficult to hold and, by the placement of them throughout the house, even more difficult to keep confined.
Since then I’ve seen egg-shaped make up appliers, speakers and massagers. It seems to be a “thing.”
2. Let them tell you want they want
I ask for an online shopping list from my kids. Every year they sign up with Wix.com, or another free web builder and put together their Christmas list requests. That list includes a picture of the item, the price and a link to where it can be ordered. I share that link with the extended family and ask them to tell me what they are buying for the kids. This way, my girls get what they want, and I haven’t wasted my time running all over town looking for something they didn’t want.
We’ve been doing this for several years and their websites have gotten better. In fact, my kids have learned a little bit about building websites along the way, which won’t hurt them when they go job hunting in the next year or so.
I’m a huge fan of simply asking people what they want. Left up to me, I’d flood my kids with shoes, socks and sensible underwear. Then we’d both be disappointed at Christmas.
3. Make at least one of your gifts personal
Since my youngest daughter was a toddler, I’ve called her G. It has nothing whatsoever to do with her legal name. Primarily, it’s a pet name that only I call her, though some of the relatives on my side of the family have adopted. Through the years, I’ve bought her items with G’s on them, which have become special to both of us. As she grows up, her nickname and those gifts become more special.
I’m the first to admit that I suck at gift buying. I’m either too self-centered to think of others, or I’m so left-brained I can’t get out of my logical mind to think creatively. However, it’s important to me to think of something unique or special for each of my kids that goes outside of the requested gifts. Whether it’s a small necklace, a stocking stuffer, or a big ticket item, think of something that you know they would love to get from you.
4. Collaborate with people who know your kid
I am not my kids’ first choice of people to hang out with when they have extra time on their hands. Though I enjoy their company immensely, our interests are vastly different. I pay attention to their social media, friends and outside relationships, but I am not as intimately involved in their lives as I once was. Nor should I be.
Asking their friends or aunts, with whom they share their secrets, for ideas has not only helped me buy better gifts for my kids, but it’s helped me build a better understanding about what’s important to my kids. I get the inside scoop, as it were, without being intrusive.
The reality is that our kids should be psychologically separating from us as parents. In their teen years they are about to go out and make it on their own. One of my children is a year and a half away from college. I would be concerned if our relationship today was the same as when she was six. It is delightfully different and I want to empower her to be her own person. The years of training are done and now my job is to simply love her, guide her where I can and be her biggest supporter. At least, that’s what relieves the guilt when I go behind her back and find out what she’s really like.
Seriously, utilizing my kids’ closest friends helps me think about things in ways I wouldn’t normally see, and opens my eyes to gifts that may have more meaning.
5. It doesn’t have to be all about money
This year I find myself in a unique situation. My fiancé’s family is coming from Southern California to join us for Christmas. They are a poor immigrant family and have struggled frequently to make ends meet. My fiancé and I have pondered what to do about the economic difference between our two families, since my girls have lived a privileged life, by many standards.
This situation gave us the opportunity to talk about what’s important. Rather than shower them with gifts this year, we decided to truly put the focus on relationships, spending time with each other and enjoying each other’s company. We decided to slow down, play games, and hang out.
The idea that the holidays are all about relationships and family is a bit cliché, but never more true in our hectic lives than today.
Those of us who lead our families, whether we are single, in a partnership, or male or female, set the tone for what is essential. Simply saying that family and relationships are important isn’t enough. We are obligated to show it on more days than just the holidays.
Actions are more powerful than words and consistency is more powerful than a single action. Words, however, do have the power to breathe life into what may have otherwise become a tired tradition. Let’s not forget to verbalize our gratitude for the daughters who hold such an important and special place in our lives. At the end of the day, it’s those memories that take center stage.
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Photo – Flickr/Greg Clarke