Thursday, December 11, 2014

How to not raise an a-hole

This morning I was at Walgreen’s ordering some prints through the photo kiosk with Charlotte. Errands like this I try to steer clear of with her because her attention span can be short. After sitting quietly in the chair by the photo booth a few minutes she wanted down so I let her play in the aisle because it was early and no one was in the store. About ten minutes into this social experiment a lady walked passed and remarked how well behaved Charlotte was. I turn around and see her organizing the bags of chips and candy canes on the shelves. “That made my day!” said the lady and then I overheard her telling the cashier, “Most children make a mess and that little girl was helping!” On our next errand of the morning another employee at a store commented on how friendly Charlotte was. “Most kids are so shy,” she said. “I’ve never seen one smile so much and be so forward at that age.”

You would think all this good behavior would elicit piles of presents from Santa under our tree. Last year was Charlotte’s first Christmas and at 9 months she didn’t really grasp the concept. This year she’s a little older and enjoys the tree in our house and had no tears sitting on Santa’s lap but she still isn’t old enough to know one day is more celebrated than the next. While we’ve bought Charlotte a few items I have to confess to you this – Charlotte isn’t getting hardly anything for Christmas.

It’s not that we don’t love her or can’t afford it, it’s quite the opposite. My husband and I are leading by example and we want her to grow up to be someone who doesn’t place her self-worth in material possessions. A few years ago our families started a tradition of dirty santa gift giving where instead of buying each other things we play a game involving gag gifts. There’s no awkward “oooh’s” and “ahhh’s” and we don’t bust our bank accounts buying each other items we can afford on our own. My husband and I don’t exchange traditional gifts but instead decide on a joint experience we want to invest in. One year we bought a house, another a trip to San Diego and then another a trip to Costa Rica for me for a yoga retreat. This year we’ve decided to save our money to ski in Telluride and fill our stockings to each other with miscellaneous small items of necessity. I know Charlotte gets her outgoing personality and love of cleaning and organizing from me and it already manifests itself in her world. I’m hoping that as she grows up in a home that puts emphasis of family time and travel that she’ll appreciate the gift of experiences rather than items that can be found on store shelves.

I do not believe you have to spank or punish your children in order for them to grow into good people. I don’t think violence and yelling and fear helps solve anything. I know Charlotte is her own person and she will grow into who she was intended to be but I can still lead by example. If I were to weigh 300lbs and try to teach group fitness, none of my students would listen or take me seriously. I have to motivate them by leading a healthy lifestyle on my own. I feel the same is true for our children and that they will follow in the path we’ve carved out for them whether that’s one of positivity or darkness.

There’s far too much entitlement from children in our society today and the problem is in our parenting. As a parent it’s our jobs to make sure our children are taught values and morals and raised in a home that’s loving and supportive. We can’t reward bad behavior or it will manifest into taking advantage. Our children don’t need more things they need our time and attention. Mental illness isn’t anything new but it’s our job to recognize problems before they spiral out of control. Take your children on trips to see the world so the realize how privileged they are and be kind to others so your children aren’t bullies. Raising a child is tough but what we need to realize as parents is that so much of a child’s behavior isn’t taught it’s mimicked. Charlotte says hi to others because I do. She pets animals “nice” because that’s how she was taught. She loves to read because I’ve been reading to her every night since she was a newborn. These are all moments that require my time not my money and these memories will extend far past the Christmas tree being taken down.

It’s like that line from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (one of my favorites) – maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store…maybe Christmas means a little bit more. Parents I’m telling you what your child needs for Christmas cannot be bought. Don’t stress out if your tree doesn’t have a gazillion (that’s a real measurement btw) presents underneath it like you see others have. Give your child the gift of spending time as a family – going to the zoo together, having a brunch date, learning how to ski or a trip to see the ocean. You’ll teach your child what is important is time and love and moments with family that can’t be replaced. When they see us shop and buy and want we teach them to ask and want as well. I can tell you this from my childhood that my parents went overboard almost every year buying us gifts and the only present I really remember is my ferret and cabbage patch doll. You know what I do remember? Our family cruise and seeing movies and eating Chinese food on Christmas Eve.

So how do you raise a child who turns into a decent human being? I don’t have the answers because I’m still learning every day. I can tell you this though the qualities others admire in Charlotte are the ones I like most about myself and the best I can do is lead by example every day. Stop buying and start loving that’s my advice this holiday season. Experience things don’t own them. Enjoy your children because like Christmas….it comes and goes quick and every year you’re another year older when it does.