They can’t be unwrapped, but your kids will like these ‘any time’ presents
As our kids get older, we find it harder and harder to choose gifts for them, now that we can no longer just scan the toy aisle and pick out something neat and colorful. We ask for wish lists, and on them are items that, not only do I not understand why someone would want them, I don’t even completely know what they are.
But I do know how to give older kids the intangible things they need on the 363 days of the year, when it’s not their birthday or Christmas (and not a single one of them needs a charging cable). These are things that may or may not delight them when they receive them, but may stay with them and help them for the rest of their lives.
- Being needed. Let them feel the feeling of being important to another human being. This can happen automatically in large families, but even there, some kids are good at escaping responsibility. But understanding that we are responsible for other people is a fundamental part of being human, and kids should learn it early. Some families overdo this, and turn kids, especially girls, into mini parents. This is unjust, and will lead to resentment and burnout. But if your child tends to feel that the world is here to serve him, that needs correcting. All kids should be in charge of something important, even if it’s small.
- The gift of being listened to, even if it’s something you don’t personally care about, because you care about your kid. Let them know more than you about something, and be really interested to hear all about it. Teenagers can come across as arrogant know-it-alls, but this, like so many unpleasant teen traits, often stems from insecurity. They desperately want to prove they’re smart and well-informed and interesting and worthy of attention. So sometimes step back and let them show their stuff, and compliment them on how well they know their topic. They may act like they don’t care, but they probably care very much, and will be very pleased to know they’ve impressed you. More importantly, if you are in the habit of listening to them chatter about inconsequential stuff, they are more likely to come to you with stuff that does matter.
- The gift of earning stuff they want. It can be tempting to give teenagers everything they think they need to make them happy, because you want them to be happy and you want them to be happy with you. But you’ll be giving them a much more long-lasting gift if you help them figure out how to do some work to earn some money to get the thing. This will also help them become more discerning about just how badly they want or need some item.
- The gift of getting away with things. Sometimes, let stuff ride. Just don’t notice it. It will be easier on all of you if you just pretend you don’t hear that tone of voice, didn’t notice that mess, aren’t aware of that screw-up, don’t care about that bad habit. It’s okay to have personal limits about what you’ll put up with, but make sure you’re not constantly correcting every last little thing. Prioritise, and save your correcting energy for things that really need it.
- The gift of being surrounded with and formed by interesting, worthwhile cultural goods. Their personal taste is probably uneven at best, but they’re paying more attention than they want to admit, and soaking up more than they realise. So put good pictures on the walls of your home; hang poetry in the bathroom; strew solid, accessible reading material around; play worthwhile music in the kitchen and the car; choose movies and entertainment with care. (Some of this will require you to limit their earbud and phone time so they’re actually able to see and hear what’s going on around them! So be it.)
- The gift of hearing an apology from adults. Sometimes you will be wrong (even if your teenager is even wronger), and when you are, you should apologise simply and sincerely. This gives them the dignity and respect they crave, and it also models how to apologise as an adult, which is something everyone needs to know how to do.
- The gift of not being given up on. Some of the best adults I know were the worst teenagers in the world. It’s a messy, difficult time, but it doesn’t last forever. We may be facing the end of their time living under our roofs, but that doesn’t mean they’re running out of time to become decent people. In reality, they’re just starting. Very few things are set in stone during the teenage years. Be hopeful, and if you can, let them know you feel that way. They may be more discouraged with themselves than they let on.
- The gift of being read to. A tricky one. Many, even most teenagers, are not eager to sit down and let their parents read to them. But if there’s any way you can swing it — maybe by reading to the family in the car (while someone else is driving, of course!), or by cutting off internet hours in the evening and making them desperate enough for entertainment, reading a good adult book out loud is such a rewarding experience, and it’s a shame so many families stop reading aloud when kids become literate. You can even try the trick of ostensibly reading to someone else, younger kids, or a spouse, in a central location in the house, and you may see teens casually drifting in to listen.
- The gift of being prayed for. My husband and I are big on St Joseph these days (and, by coincidence, so is the rest of the universal Church). Now there was a man who had a tricky child to raise. Pray to him for the strength and patience and prudence you need to raise children in these especially complicated times, and pray for peace while you’re doing it.
- The gift of being hugged and kissed and hearing “I love you”. What else is there to say? Teenagers need this. Everybody needs this.
Bonus gift, just for you: Sometimes, shake the dust from your sandals. This may sound heartless, but there will probably come a time when you have been as excellent a parent as you can possibly be, and your kid is still choosing to be . . . un-excellent. It’s good practice to learn how to detach, at least temporarily, and remember that you are you, and they are they, and you can still love them and care about them, but also take a break from thinking about them. Just take a break, okay? You are important, too.
- Simcha Fisher: Humility in parenting can help heal the past
- Council of Catholic School Parents’ diverse learning resource