Monday, 18 December 2017

How NOT to Do Christmas: Lessons From My Divorced Parents



Actress Kate Hudson and her rocker beau Matt Bellamy announced this week that they’ve separated after a four-year relationship. The couple have a 3-year-old son Bing, and Hudson also has a 10-year-old son from her marriage to Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson. According to their reps, the split was mutual, and although they separated “some time ago,” they are still great friends. And looking at recent photos of the couple attending various red carpet events together, they do look like great pals. In this festive time, it’s great to see this because the last thing kids need is warring parents fighting over who gets custody on the all important Christmas day.


I should know: My parents split up when my mom was pregnant with me, divorced when I was 3, and then reunited for a few fight-strewn years. My mom then moved in with her boyfriend of a year when I was 11 until I was 15. Meanwhile, my father remarried when I was 14. Suffice to say, instead of Christmas being a time of great joy, I always found it ├╝ber stressful.


Between the ages of 7 and 10, my mom would want me to have Christmas with her and my grandmother; our family was small (I had no siblings), so if I wasn’t around, it would have been particularly quiet. I felt duty bound to be with them, but equally I wanted to spend time with my dad, grandpa, and my aunts and uncles. They were a more rowdy bunch and there was more festive cheer going on. My grandpa celebrated his birthday on Boxing Day, so my mom used to argue that my dad should take me then. Never having much interest in how I spent my free time out of school, suddenly they were beyond concerned. It seemed to be less about what I wanted and more about what they wanted.

The feeling of being torn ruined every Christmas. As I entered my teenage years, I assumed that things would change. But no, they got worse. My dad and would-be step-father didn’t get along (mainly because my step-father dared to call my dad out on his lack of parental responsibility), so who got me for “Christmas lunch” was a war. In the end, to keep the peace, I ate two lunches. I felt sick and bloated, but hey, anything to keep the peace.


I remember escaping to my neighbor’s house every Christmas Eve where I would sit in her room and weep. I worried about not having time for my grandmother because we didn’t live with her anymore; I worried my dad was upset I wasn’t getting to his house until 4pm; I worried that I didn’t have enough pocket money to buy gifts for all of my different families. 
Instead of feeling excited and loved, I just felt stressed and unhappy. Like I could never make everyone happy. Funny enough, no one ever asked me what I wanted. They just used me in their own battles. I remember hating Christmas; willing it to be over so everything could just be normal again.

So, to parents getting all angsty about wanting to have their children all of Christmas when they’re divorced or separated, I have one thing to say: Think of your kids. No, not about what youwant, but about what they want and how they feel. Chances are they feel pretty darn torn, a little bit sad, and a whole lot guilty — like they’re ruining your Christmas if they don’t do what you want.

Let’s all take a step back and have a new perspective on the holidays: It is one day. Of course we’d all love to spend the whole day as a family, but relationships break down and people remarry and circumstances change. So be a grown up. Ask your kid what they want. 
Don’t make them feel guilty. And always, no matter if your heart is breaking, act like whatever time you get with them is enough. Cry alone, never in front of them. If possible, talk to your ex and try to work out a system of alternative years with the kids, spend it together, or split up the day. Don’t make the kids feel like they have to see all the grandparents and in-laws, or else you’ll be pissed at your ex. Try and make your kids feel secure and happy in the plans, even if you feel your ex is being unreasonable. If in doubt, be the bigger person. It will make your kids feel great.

Most importantly, remember what Christmas is really about: love, family, friendship, and remembering how lucky we are. (We don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, so our Christmas is a mix of that as well.) It’s not about winning the battle with your ex and being the parent who gives the best gifts or spends the most money or takes the kids to the best adventure wonderland park. Kids can tell when there is a competition at stake, and it makes them feel bad.


As a kid who went through many teary Christmases (one time I ate my lunch alone, crying, as one parent was busy partying and yet had stopped me from being with the other), I wish my parents had been a bit more mature about the whole thing and made life easier for us all. Ironically, they now get along fine, and when I visit them with my own family, we all get together in the evening for drinks and all is well with the world. Why couldn’t they have done that 25 years ago?! My experience has made me determined that no matter what happens in my marriage, I will always put my kids’ needs first at Christmas.


So grab the egg nog, toast your ex, and wish them well. Don’t sweat the small stuff and no matter where your kids are, just make sure they know you’re fine and happy and will celebrate with them some other time/later that day/next holiday. Then they can have the Christmas they deserve.


Source: https://www.babble.com/relationships/how-not-to-do-christmas-lessons-from-my-divorced-parents/

15 Tips for Managing a Divorce Over Christmas


The holidays can be a stressful time for any family. Family members can get lost in a flurry of activity, focusing on deadlines and forgetting about the joy. But if your family has gone through a separation or divorce, this time of the year may have a whole new set of challenges. The holidays can turn into a very complicated and difficult time for the parents and children from separated families, and below are some tips on how to move your family towards a meaningful and memorable holiday season.

The reality is that children who have parents living in two different homes may experience some extra burdens. They may worry about which parent they will be with at what time, and they may fear that their parents will fight over how they share the holidays. As a child and family therapist, I have had many children sit in my office who told me that Christmas used to be their favorite time of the year, but now they are just dreading it. In order for the adults to help manage this season it is important to understand what turns youthful joy into anxiety and fear.

Children may worry they are being disloyal if they start to have too much fun with one parent. They also worry about the parent that they are not with, wondering if that parent is okay. Sometimes they just deeply miss the parent they are not with. The familiar traditions may be gone and this can leave the children feeling as though something or someone is missing.

Here are some tips on how to keep the season both meaningful and joyful for the children:


1. Take care of the practical stuff so your children do not have to worry about it. Have your holiday parenting time schedule figured out far in advance.

2. If you are experiencing difficulty with your ex-spouse in figuring out the schedule or other holiday logistics, keep the conflict away from the children. Managing the details and the schedule is an adult job, not a job for the children.


3. Be respectful to your ex-spouse and recognize that the children have a right to spend time with both parents during the holidays. Remember, that time with both parents is good for your children.


4. Be honest that things have changed in your family. Let the children know what has changed, and what has not. Do not try to pretend that everything is the same.


5. Be aware of your own feelings of sadness, anger or loss. Model to your children that life moves forward and you can still experience joy. This will give them permission to celebrate and be joyful as well.


6. Socialize and share holiday experiences with friends and family.


7. Find quiet times to play games and listen to Christmas music.


8. Watch your favorite Christmas movies together, and read your favorite Christmas books. No child is ever too young or too old for "It was the night before Christmas".


9. Maintain meaningful familiar traditions even if they feel different.


10. Create new traditions, and allow the children to contribute their ideas.


11. Allow the authentic feelings to arise in a natural way. If your child is sad, do not try to talk them into feeling better. Let them be sad and allow the feelings to flow. Keep the feelings moving.


12. Acknowledge the losses.


13. Remind yourself of the things to be grateful for.


14. Do something for someone else. Find a way for your children to contribute to something with meaning.


15. It is not the "stuff" that matters at Christmas, but rather the connection. Create connection for yourself and you children during the holidays and you will all experience the real meaning of Christmas.


Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/alyson-jones/christmas-divorce_b_6305438.html

Friday, 15 December 2017

He’s making a list, checking it twice






I love Christmas time. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (if the song is to be believed).

Once Halloween has passed and the supermarket displays of mince pies, sherry and tinsel start to seem less-ironic and vaguely seasonal I feel justified in allowing myself to enjoy the run up to it. I get excited, I daydream and I anticipate.

I’ve been the same all my life. As a child, the countdown was marked with an advent calendar (which to the shock of my kids didn’t used to feature a nugget of chocolate behind every door, but instead a small festive picture; a robin, a sprig of holly or perhaps a scene from the nativity to mark each passing day; very low-key). Not content with the calendar I would re-read festive books and re-watch favourite Christmas TV series’ and movies; with the skills of a marketing genius I would build myself into a frothing frenzy of festive anticipation by the time Christmas day came around.

I may have matured a little to the extent that I’m able to sleep uninterrupted on Christmas Eve without listening for sleigh bells, but it hasn’t stopped me from feeling the joy of the anticipation. If anything, the sensation is heightened now. I’ve compounded it too by banning from the house all decorations, Christmas movies and music and the consumption of mince pies and mulled wine until December 1st or later. It’s not a standpoint that has won me many fans, but my motives are positive; I want to maintain a sense of perspective, to reinforce for my nearest and dearest that if we’re truly going to enjoy the end-of-year festivities and celebrate for a few days by exchanging gifts and overeating and drinking, then surely we can confine the joy and the anticipation to just one month of the year? Better to make it one good month than a tedious two?

At risk of this descending into a ‘things aren’t the same as they used to be’ piece, I wanted to get the above disclaimer in to ensure that you don’t think of me as someone who can’t feel festive delight or revel in the anticipation of something just as much (if not more than) the event itself. Scrooge, I am not.

What I’ve been reflecting on since the Christmas season arrived, is prompted in observing the annual ritual of my kids preparing their Christmas lists.

When I was a child (there’s the statement you were no doubt expecting) I recall the challenges of compiling my Christmas list of gifts I hoped to receive. Writing it down made sure there could be no misinterpretation, and thanks to my parents who seemed helpfully to have a fast-track in getting it sent to the North Pole, ensured that at least some of the items would appear beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

As a kid, I wasn’t so much focussed on the season of good cheer, but more on the opportunity to get some new toys or to push the boundaries of my material life, to request some coveted item that would bring new meaning to my life. I can’t remember a single Christmas spent feeling anything other than delighted with the gifts I received, surrounded by love and festive joy; for that reason and many others I feel blessed for my childhood and upbringing.

As my reminiscences become wistful and my hindsight more rose-tinted it strikes me just how much the very act of preparing a Christmas list has changed. As a child, with the advent of the Internet being at least 30 years away my research was confined to toy commercials on TV, items I may have spotted in a shop or occasionally from flicking through a home-shopping catalogue. There was a logistical limit around my expectations, and on what my parents (sorry, Santa) might provide me with. It was assumed that what I wanted was available from a shop somewhere in a town near me. At a stretch, it might be something available from a shop in London (in my juvenile mind, a mysterious and wonderful place where shop shelves groaned under the weight of exotic toys the likes of which I could only dream).

Today the assumption is that pretty much any product, be that a toy, article of clothing or item of technology can be obtained for the right price and within little more than a few days priority shipping from anywhere in the world thanks to the web. Therein lays the quandary for the accommodating parent who is hoping to keep their kids’ feet on the ground when it comes to composing their list. The only limit is that enforced by the parents and their budget, and I believe the kids know and believe this too even if their belief in Santa remains intact.

I recall a particularly landmark year for my eldest daughter. She’d turned 12 or 13 that year and as Christmas loomed it was clear that she knew exactly what she wanted and expected. For context, she’s a hard worker and academically astute but like most teens, prone to taking the path of least resistance when it comes to school work. Contrast this work ethic with the time that had been devoted to writing the Christmas list that was presented to me and other members of the family and it was obvious where her priorities lay.

The list itself was truly a thing of beauty, and no small miracle of desktop publishing; A single side of A4 paper, it detailed desired items (ranging as I recall from a very specific tweed jacket through to a number of high-end make-up products) with a list of retail stockists and their web addresses, current prices and even a ranking system to ensure we understood her priorities. The finished article was rolled up like a University Diploma, and tied with string in an ornate bow. She’d even gone as far as holding initial briefing calls with her grandparents, aunts and her mother to ensure they were agreed on what each was expected to buy for her.

The arrival of the list elicited mixed emotions; I’ve still got my copy in a file-box as I want to reminisce over it in years to come alongside finger-paintings and past-school reports with a sense of nostalgic amusement. There was also a sense of slight despair though when we considered how our baby could have become so materialistic and fixated on organised material gain. The spirit of Christmas had well and truly evaporated.

As with most kids these days it was apparent just how materially focussed she had become. Far from criticising her for this (for she is a product of the world she lives in and the parenting she has received from us) I now see the same traits emerging in her younger sisters and brother (now aged 13, 11 and 8).

One evening this week, child number three (the 11 year old boy) undertook 10 minutes of maths homework with begrudging-resistance, his mantra being to get the bare-minimum done in the least time required to the lowest acceptable standard. Following this, he applied himself to a diligent hour and a half on an iPad researching and then documenting his Christmas list (the third draft) and annotating and cross-referencing the already comprehensive notes prepared the previous evening. If the work ethic applied to the two tasks were reversed I’m confident that he’d be graduating from Harvard within 5 years.

I’ll confess at this point that the rest of this article in its first draft descended into a rant over the challenge of combatting materialism in kids and how Christmas plays-to and encourages this trait. The article also reflected on the year-round frustrations I feel as a parent in response to the relative efforts my kids will apply towards the tasks that they want to do in comparison to those (e.g. homework) that they have to do.

It is somewhat ironic then that it was during a bit of lunchtime Christmas shopping today, listening to the excellent audio book ‘The Values Factor” by Dr John DeMartini that an alternative angle to this topic crystallized in my mind.

Undoubtedly modern life encourages greater consumerism in our kids who are able to identify absolutely any material product that exists in the world and which they could conceivably want. They also know that with the money and a short wait it can be theirs. I believe that social media and the cult of celebrity also tend to instil the belief that anyone can have anything they want, and no substitute should be accepted. This trait is simply a reality of modern life and it is down to the individual parent to find their own balance between giving their children the things they are able to and want to whilst (hopefully) also ensuring that the kids don’t develop a sense of entitlement or a failure to appreciate the value of things in the process.

As far as my other frustration, well when did any kid ever get on and do their homework willingly and voluntarily when faced with a choice between that and something they really want to do?

The key factor is the relationship between the task at hand and, in Dr DeMartini’s words, the child’s own higher-values. The simple and obvious aspect in each of the two scenarios that I described earlier is that my kids were doing more than just reacting to an inherent desire to accumulate more and add to their armoury of material possessions. Sure, they are kids and are allowed to be excited about Christmas and the prospect of asking Santa for new things. In each example however, they were both demonstrating this desire but in a way that brought out their passion, their values, and emphasizing and honing skills that I am sure will one day become a large part of their identities, their adult lives and their work.

In the case of my daughter, she was using her passion and skill as an artist to create a list that was not only filled with facts and information to convey her wishes, but that was also visually appealing and tastefully presented. Over-engineered certainly, but pretty, nonetheless. She is now an arts student at college and I’m sure that whatever she does in adult life, she will always tend towards the visual and the aesthetic in whatever work she produces, especially when trying to convey a subject or relay content that she is passionate about.

In the case of my son, he has a keen mind for detail and an encyclopaedic knowledge on topics that fire his imagination. He may not leap with joy at the sight of a sheet of mathematics problems, but he can relay details of the 2015/16 Manchester United Football season (and the one before it) to an impressive level of detail and he can identify and recall the key skills and signature moves of hundreds of superheroes at will. In researching the content of his Christmas list to the level of detail that he did, he was demonstrating diligence and an attention to detail on topics that align to his higher values and interests that I’m sure will serve him well in life and his career. Similarly, his skills in employing modern technology to collate his list with zero assistance and supreme focus demonstrate just how seamlessly technology and its use is embedded in him and how he thinks.

As with many things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) as a parent, it’s very easy to jump to conclusions when your child does (or doesn’t do) something. Understanding the cause doesn’t always excuse the action (or effect) but at least it can help offer an alternative perspective and aid your understanding. In some instances, like the above, it can also help you recognise the positive traits and behaviours arising from the situation which are to be encouraged, not quashed. In turn, that can help you to plan future strategies so that when you are next confronted with a similar challenge you can adapt your behaviour or expectations rather than blindly hoping for something different. That is my lesson learned for today.

I have numerous memories of Christmases past, and many that are no doubt artificially vivid thanks to oft-viewed family photos. One such memory (and possibly representing my best ever Christmas present) was of a Cowboy dressing-up costume comprising a fringed trouser and waistcoat combo made by my Mum and a Leather pistol holster crafted by my Dad. At the age of about 5, the photo of me and my sister that Christmas morning (she wearing the nurses outfit with similar home-made provenance) epitomises to me the sentiment that I want to recapture for my kids in giving them memorable Christmases for years to come.

That isn’t to say that I’ll be ignoring the lists they’ve all so diligently crafted and eschewing the crowds heading out to Black Friday sales in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, in favour of hand-made gifts. Or maybe I will, after all there’s that other adage about gifts and giving;

“It’s the thought that counts!”

Toby Hazlewood

Monday, 4 December 2017

The danger of living on countdown



Most kids I know are counting down the days between to Christmas with a fervour driven from the expectation of new toys, treats and tech that they’ll receive come December 25th. It’s not just the kids either; most adults can tell you how many days of work they’ve got left before a few days of festive R&R.

It seems timely then to reflect on a tendency that many of us have year-round, living our lives counting down, marking the time between now and some point in the future when we can do what we really want; 3 hours until lunch. 4 days until the weekend. 2 weeks until our birthday. 4 months until the family vacation. 2 more years until I can leave this job for something better. You know what I’m getting at.

It’s great to have things to look forward to and anticipate but the danger of this mind-set is that we condition ourselves to another of the scourges of life; believing that now is not good enough and that things will be better at some point in the future. This is more than just a lack of mindfulness that most of us suffer, or a lack of appreciation of the power of now, of being where (and when) we are. It reflects inherent dissatisfaction that many of us have become conditioned to thinking when we consider where we are right now.

There is nothing wrong in looking forwards and I’m a big advocate of focussing on the future rather than the past. We can’t change what has gone; only learn from it and move onwards, hoping for better or indeed for more of the same. Considering our higher values, visualising what we want and guiding our actions towards their achievement are inherently part of assisting ourselves to grow, develop and achieve. If we don’t know where we want to get to, how can we possibly plan how we’ll get there? I’m certainly not advocating living a life without forethought, planning or anticipation.

The danger comes when we cease to appreciate the value of what we have now, right now, here in this moment; a danger that we live in a constant state of putting off our satisfaction to some point in the future when notionally things will be better and life will be more palatable than they are at present. I’m not advocating a life spent in the pursuit of instant-gratification, taking and doing whatever we want without consideration of the consequence. I amsuggesting mindfully appreciating what we have in this moment and seeking the enjoyment or at least appreciation of that.

I remember vividly my early days as a parent. The inherent joy was suffused with inevitable sleepless nights, worry and physical and mental challenge from being tasked with keeping our exceedingly demanding new-born alive and happy. I recall (thankfully with rose-tinted hindsight) the nights spent changing, feeding, winding and pacing around the house, attempting to soothe a crying baby; during those long nights when it seemed like everyone else in the world was enjoying a deep and restful sleep, I comforted myself that it wouldn’t be this way for long. I yearned for the day when a new-born starts to settle, and an uninterrupted 6 hours of sleep wouldn’t seem like an outrageous impossibility.

With the passing of time, the challenges of pacifying a new-born baby were replaced with other equally challenging phases; teething, toddling, the terrible twos, endless colds and bugs, and a myriad of other tests that mark the passing of the early years. In each of these periods I found myself comforted by thoughts that it wouldn’t be this way forever but with hindsight I remember most, if not all phases in the lives of my kids with fondness and wistfulness, not a sense of relief at their passing.

It seems to me that in parenting and in many other aspects of life I’ve been guilty of always looking to the future as the point at which things will be easier and more fulfilling and rewarding rather than keeping myself present in the now and enjoying every aspect of the moment. That the rewards have come and that I can look back fondly on even the most testing events of the past is fortunate for certain, but I can’t help but wonder what happiness I missed out on along the way merely because I was so fixated on what was to come.

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a child, I vividly remember counting down the days to the weekend, the number of sleeps until a family holiday and in adolescence, the number of shifts left at work until the summer break or how many semesters before graduation. In the early years of my career I was permanently fixated on the next role, the promotion that would finally endow me with the authority (and pay-check) that I desired, and the material possessions that would eventually be mine. I have been way too guilty in the past of taking my eye off the here and now in favour of considering the shinier and happier future, and it’s one of the many traits I hope not to pass on to my kids.

When the going gets tough it’s a natural tendency to remind ourselves or those around us sharing the period of challenge that things won’t always be this way, and inevitably that can be a source of comfort. Perhaps an alternative means of tackling these challenges would be to mindfully acknowledge and accept the way that things are and to consider what the lessons are we can take from what we’re currently experiencing, or even, dare I suggest it, to enjoy the feeling of taking on the challenges?

This is of course easier said than done at times. In the midst of a busy period at work or in the run up to exams or assignment deadlines at school or college it can be hard to see anything very positive about the now; rather, we focus on that point in the future when it will all be over. Perhaps though in this moment if we can elevate ourselves to see things from a slightly greater altitude, we may just take off the pressure. If we can acknowledge that we are undoubtedly in the midst of stress, challenge and even emotional, psychological or intellectual hardship, we may also be simultaneously proving to ourselves and others just how much we can handle and the circumstances within which we can thrive. Such realisations can be a great source of happiness, comfort and empowerment.

Such realisations may only dawn on us in reflection, once the time of challenge has passed and we have weathered the storm. It is this tendency that often gives us the rose-tinted hindsight that most enjoy. The lessons we can take from times of difficulty and the opportunities we have for growth in the aftermath will undoubtedly be heightened if we can not only get through them as quickly as possible, but actually be mindful of the challenges at the time and to learn and grow as we go rather than waiting until some point in the future.

It isn’t necessarily intuitive to be mindful and present as we contemplate the challenges of the now, but if we can get better at recognising quicker that we didn’t just get through challenging times, but that we thrived, grew and owned the moment then that is a huge positive step.

In mastering this skill, we can then enjoy both the big things that are forthcoming such as Christmas, but also the little things too. More joy sounds good to me!

Toby

Sunday, 3 December 2017

He’s making a list, checking it twice



I love Christmas time. It’s the most wonderful time of the year (if the song is to be believed).
Once Halloween has passed and the supermarket displays of mince pies, sherry and tinsel start to seem less-ironic and vaguely seasonal I feel justified in allowing myself to enjoy the run up to it. I get excited, I daydream and I anticipate.


I’ve been the same all my life. As a child, the countdown was marked with an advent calendar (which to the shock of my kids didn’t used to feature a nugget of chocolate behind every door, but instead a small festive picture; a robin, a sprig of holly or perhaps a scene from the nativity to mark each passing day; very low-key). Not content with the calendar I would re-read festive books and re-watch favourite Christmas TV series’ and movies; with the skills of a marketing genius I would build myself into a frothing frenzy of festive anticipation by the time Christmas day came around.


I may have matured a little to the extent that I’m able to sleep uninterrupted on Christmas Eve without listening for sleigh bells, but it hasn’t stopped me from feeling the joy of the anticipation. If anything, the sensation is heightened now. I’ve compounded it too by banning from the house all decorations, Christmas movies and music and the consumption of mince pies and mulled wine until December 1st or later. It’s not a standpoint that has won me many fans, but my motives are positive; I want to maintain a sense of perspective, to reinforce for my nearest and dearest that if we’re truly going to enjoy the end-of-year festivities and celebrate for a few days by exchanging gifts and overeating and drinking, then surely we can confine the joy and the anticipation to just one month of the year? Better to make it one good month than a tedious two?


At risk of this descending into a ‘things aren’t the same as they used to be’ piece, I wanted to get the above disclaimer in to ensure that you don’t think of me as someone who can’t feel festive delight or revel in the anticipation of something just as much (if not more than) the event itself. Scrooge, I am not.


What I’ve been reflecting on since the Christmas season arrived, is prompted in observing the annual ritual of my kids preparing their Christmas lists.


When I was a child (there’s the statement you were no doubt expecting) I recall the challenges of compiling my Christmas list of gifts I hoped to receive. Writing it down made sure there could be no misinterpretation, and thanks to my parents who seemed helpfully to have a fast-track in getting it sent to the North Pole, ensured that at least some of the items would appear beneath the tree on Christmas morning.


As a kid, I wasn’t so much focussed on the season of good cheer, but more on the opportunity to get some new toys or to push the boundaries of my material life, to request some coveted item that would bring new meaning to my life. I can’t remember a single Christmas spent feeling anything other than delighted with the gifts I received, surrounded by love and festive joy; for that reason and many others I feel blessed for my childhood and upbringing.


As my reminiscences become wistful and my hindsight more rose-tinted it strikes me just how much the very act of preparing a Christmas list has changed. As a child, with the advent of the Internet being at least 30 years away my research was confined to toy commercials on TV, items I may have spotted in a shop or occasionally from flicking through a home-shopping catalogue. There was a logistical limit around my expectations, and on what my parents (sorry, Santa) might provide me with. It was assumed that what I wanted was available from a shop somewhere in a town near me. At a stretch, it might be something available from a shop in London (in my juvenile mind, a mysterious and wonderful place where shop shelves groaned under the weight of exotic toys the likes of which I could only dream).


Today the assumption is that pretty much any product, be that a toy, article of clothing or item of technology can be obtained for the right price and within little more than a few days priority shipping from anywhere in the world thanks to the web. Therein lays the quandary for the accommodating parent who is hoping to keep their kids’ feet on the ground when it comes to composing their list. The only limit is that enforced by the parents and their budget, and I believe the kids know and believe this too even if their belief in Santa remains intact.


I recall a particularly landmark year for my eldest daughter. She’d turned 12 or 13 that year and as Christmas loomed it was clear that she knew exactly what she wanted and expected. For context, she’s a hard worker and academically astute but like most teens, prone to taking the path of least resistance when it comes to school work. Contrast this work ethic with the time that had been devoted to writing the Christmas list that was presented to me and other members of the family and it was obvious where her priorities lay.


The list itself was truly a thing of beauty, and no small miracle of desktop publishing; A single side of A4 paper, it detailed desired items (ranging as I recall from a very specific tweed jacket through to a number of high-end make-up products) with a list of retail stockists and their web addresses, current prices and even a ranking system to ensure we understood her priorities. The finished article was rolled up like a University Diploma, and tied with string in an ornate bow. She’d even gone as far as holding initial briefing calls with her grandparents, aunts and her mother to ensure they were agreed on what each was expected to buy for her.


The arrival of the list elicited mixed emotions; I’ve still got my copy in a file-box as I want to reminisce over it in years to come alongside finger-paintings and past-school reports with a sense of nostalgic amusement. There was also a sense of slight despair though when we considered how our baby could have become so materialistic and fixated on organised material gain. The spirit of Christmas had well and truly evaporated.


As with most kids these days it was apparent just how materially focussed she had become. Far from criticising her for this (for she is a product of the world she lives in and the parenting she has received from us) I now see the same traits emerging in her younger sisters and brother (now aged 13, 11 and 8).


One evening this week, child number three (the 11 year old boy) undertook 10 minutes of maths homework with begrudging-resistance, his mantra being to get the bare-minimum done in the least time required to the lowest acceptable standard. Following this, he applied himself to a diligent hour and a half on an iPad researching and then documenting his Christmas list (the third draft) and annotating and cross-referencing the already comprehensive notes prepared the previous evening. If the work ethic applied to the two tasks were reversed I’m confident that he’d be graduating from Harvard within 5 years.



I’ll confess at this point that the rest of this article in its first draft descended into a rant over the challenge of combatting materialism in kids and how Christmas plays-to and encourages this trait. The article also reflected on the year-round frustrations I feel as a parent in response to the relative efforts my kids will apply towards the tasks that they want to do in comparison to those (e.g. homework) that they have to do.

It is somewhat ironic then that it was during a bit of lunchtime Christmas shopping today, listening to the excellent audio book ‘The Values Factor” by Dr John DeMartini that an alternative angle to this topic crystallized in my mind.


Undoubtedly modern life encourages greater consumerism in our kids who are able to identify absolutely any material product that exists in the world and which they could conceivably want. They also know that with the money and a short wait it can be theirs. I believe that social media and the cult of celebrity also tend to instil the belief that anyone can have anything they want, and no substitute should be accepted. This trait is simply a reality of modern life and it is down to the individual parent to find their own balance between giving their children the things they are able to and want to whilst (hopefully) also ensuring that the kids don’t develop a sense of entitlement or a failure to appreciate the value of things in the process.


As far as my other frustration, well when did any kid ever get on and do their homework willingly and voluntarily when faced with a choice between that and something they really want to do?


The key factor is the relationship between the task at hand and, in Dr DeMartini’s words, the child’s own higher-values. The simple and obvious aspect in each of the two scenarios that I described earlier is that my kids were doing more than just reacting to an inherent desire to accumulate more and add to their armoury of material possessions. Sure, they are kids and are allowed to be excited about Christmas and the prospect of asking Santa for new things. In each example however, they were both demonstrating this desire but in a way that brought out their passion, their values, and emphasizing and honing skills that I am sure will one day become a large part of their identities, their adult lives and their work.


In the case of my daughter, she was using her passion and skill as an artist to create a list that was not only filled with facts and information to convey her wishes, but that was also visually appealing and tastefully presented. Over-engineered certainly, but pretty, nonetheless. She is now an arts student at college and I’m sure that whatever she does in adult life, she will always tend towards the visual and the aesthetic in whatever work she produces, especially when trying to convey a subject or relay content that she is passionate about.


In the case of my son, he has a keen mind for detail and an encyclopaedic knowledge on topics that fire his imagination. He may not leap with joy at the sight of a sheet of mathematics problems, but he can relay details of the 2015/16 Manchester United Football season (and the one before it) to an impressive level of detail and he can identify and recall the key skills and signature moves of hundreds of superheroes at will. In researching the content of his Christmas list to the level of detail that he did, he was demonstrating diligence and an attention to detail on topics that align to his higher values and interests that I’m sure will serve him well in life and his career. Similarly, his skills in employing modern technology to collate his list with zero assistance and supreme focus demonstrate just how seamlessly technology and its use is embedded in him and how he thinks.


As with many things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) as a parent, it’s very easy to jump to conclusions when your child does (or doesn’t do) something. Understanding the cause doesn’t always excuse the action (or effect) but at least it can help offer an alternative perspective and aid your understanding. In some instances, like the above, it can also help you recognise the positive traits and behaviours arising from the situation which are to be encouraged, not quashed. In turn, that can help you to plan future strategies so that when you are next confronted with a similar challenge you can adapt your behaviour or expectations rather than blindly hoping for something different. That is my lesson learned for today.


I have numerous memories of Christmases past, and many that are no doubt artificially vivid thanks to oft-viewed family photos. One such memory (and possibly representing my best ever Christmas present) was of a Cowboy dressing-up costume comprising a fringed trouser and waistcoat combo made by my Mum and a Leather pistol holster crafted by my Dad. At the age of about 5, the photo of me and my sister that Christmas morning (she wearing the nurses outfit with similar home-made provenance) epitomises to me the sentiment that I want to recapture for my kids in giving them memorable Christmases for years to come.

That isn’t to say that I’ll be ignoring the lists they’ve all so diligently crafted and eschewing the crowds heading out to Black Friday sales in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, in favour of hand-made gifts. Or maybe I will, after all there’s that other adage about gifts and giving;

“It’s the thought that counts!”


Toby