Move over toys, something better is coming.

A few weeks ago my son came into the room and declared, “Mom, since my birthday is so near to Christmas, I am not really into getting gifts this year.  I would rather just be with friends and have cake and ice cream.”    I immediately gave him a hug and said how proud I was of him.

It took me about 30 minutes to realize that everything I have wanted for both of my sons to know, like gratitude and the importance of experiences and good relationships,  they feel and value at their core.   It is evident in the choices they both make, how they live and what they talk about.

The funny thing is when I shared this story with various people, they didn’t respond with enthusiasm.  They either thought I brainwashed my kids or changed the story or they were bummed thinking they couldn’t buy them gifts ever again.  Yes, I understand it is fun to give, I like it too, but shouldn’t it be celebrated that about-to-be 9 year old boys just want to spend time with people?  Why is that concept so hard to embrace?

Sometime I have a hard time functioning in society, not because people are mean, but because we live in a world that doesn’t stop to listen (especially to little kids) and think about the deeper aspects of life.  So many just go along with “the norms”.   The norms for birthdays are gifts, gifts and more gifts.  We have gotten so gift happy that it has become a tradition to send gifts home with kids who attended a birthday party in the form of favor bags.  Even spiritual holidays have turned into mass commercialism.  But if we really listen, all that kids care about deep at their core is having fun, being around people and having experiences.

How many times has your child asked you to play with them or read a book to them?  A gazillion?  Kids just want to be with you.  They want to spend time with you.  .

The sad part is kids stop asking for our time often because they get told “no, not now”, they get half-hearted attention from the adults and they know it doesn’t feel right.  They get adults showering them with toys and stuff.  It is kind of like a loosing battle and at some age they give in to the materialism and then get addicted to getting stuff.  While I admit any kid gets excited in the toy aisle, that is really short lived.  The smiles are there of course, but we all know that after awhile the toy goes to the bottom of the pile.

Experiences last a lifetime and kids know this.  Sometimes adults seem to forget.

I find it painfully hypocritical that we teach our children that what matters is to be kind, thoughtful, grateful, but then the actions of adults don’t often reflect this.  Everyone is so busy or so in their own world that they don’t stop and think about it.  They just gift away out of habit.  They think love equals presents verses time.

A few years ago I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition to be a health coach.  The most eye-opening thing I learned is that as people, we rarely listen.  And when I say rarely, I mean rarely.

True listening doesn’t just mean hearing what the other person is saying, but hearing what they are saying without formulating what you are going to say next or reacting through one’s own lens.  True listening means listening without an agenda, it means giving your time to be present with someone else. 

It is very rare to have a conversation nowadays with someone who is really listening.  But if we truly listened we would have better relationships and life would be less complicated.  You can tell a ton about someone by the word choices they use, their focus of discussion, their phrasing.  You can hear their joy, their resentment, their loneliness, their manipulation, their gratitude, the whole bit.

The best thing we can do with and for our kids is sit and listen.  Just be with them.

You to can win this battle of living life verses buying life.

How can you do this?

Through intention, through being mindful, through spending time and above else, by listening. 

Here are a few concrete examples of cultivating mindfulness.

  • Talk about what you are grateful for, all experiences good and hard.  In our family we often talk about how most often the best lessons come from the hardest things.
  • Live and breathe experiences.  Take your kids places like zoos, art museums, music concerts, parks and soak everything in.  Talk about how beautiful something is, even if it is as simple as a blade of grass.  Ask them what they see in a piece of art.  Find a  tangled mess of trees that would be the perfect place to build  a fort.
  • Drop everything to go look at a beautiful sunset.  See the world around you, it is really quite breathtaking.
  • Stop running and spend nights/weekends together as a family. Forget the busy badge, you are not more important because you are busy.  Just simply be together.  Read together.  Play a game together.  Paint, play ball.
  • Stop making Christmas and birthday lists.  These lists just fuel materialism and tell kids that is not the holiday that matters, but getting the gifts that matter.  I can’t stand them!!!!  Instead talk about the holiday and what it means and what traditions they like.  Growing up I never made a toy list.  I remember one Christmas when my friend asked me what presents I got I replied, “I don’t really remember, but I had a great time sitting by the fire and playing games with my family.”
  • Find stories of people who are less fortunate then you financially that have made a difference in people’s lives. The names Mother Theresa and Gahndi still live on not because of what they had, but what they did.
  • Tell stories.  Just talk with your kids, not at your kids.  There is a big difference.  Drop your agenda and listen to what is important to them.
  • Go Play Outside!  Enough said.  🙂
  • Unplug.  You cannot be connected and mindful if you are always connected to the buzzing little screens…


I would love to hear from you:

What are some of the best experiences you had as a kid?

What are some of the best experiences you have had with your kids?

Share in the comments below!  The more we share as a community, the more we grow.




About The Author

Summer Brackhan

Mom, sociologist, teacher, author, musician, world traveler, parenting and health coach who believes healthy living incorporates body, mind and soul and that life is not about living in little boxes, but experiencing everything at its fullest.

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