The holidays have increasingly become less about family and more about shopping. Heck, we even have a list of some of our most useful travel stuff (guilty as charged), however this time of year is about much more than retail. The older we get (and the older our kids get), the more it becomes abundantly clear that what our kids really want is TIME. Time with us, one-on-one, without distractions.
I’m convinced this is the reason why our son Miles loves Lego sets so much: it’s not actually the toy itself, but rather that it forces us to sit down with him and help guide him through the process of putting the pieces together (even though most of the time he is more than able to do it himself). Likewise, it’s why our daughter Penny is all about reading books at bedtime. Sure, she loves the stories, but more than that she likes sitting on our lap without anything else going on, commanding our undivided attention. We are very much a work-in-progress, but we try to minimize the amount of stuff in our lives. A clean, uncluttered, existence helps us think better, function more efficiently, and be better parents (and partners). These ideals have helped us forge our philosophy on birthdays and Christmas: We try to give experiences, not objects.
In our living room, we have a chest that is full of toys. One chest. When it can’t close, something inside has to go, as we refuse to have our kids’ stuff take over our living space. Surprisingly, we’ve noticed that our kids don’t even seem to mind! Most of the time they don’t play with those toys anyway, as after a few days a new toy quickly grows stale and slowly finds its way to the bottom of the chest. Instead of giving something that will quickly be discarded, we try to give experiences that our kids can remember, learn from, and that may shape who they become for way longer than a few days.
For Miles’ 4th birthday, we took a family trip to Toyko Disney. His head nearly exploded from the excitement, and the desire to grow tall enough to ride the “big kid” rides has fueled the motivation for him to eat veggies every night for nearly an entire year. For his 5th birthday, we went to KidZania, an amusement park in Toyko, where he could “work” at several different jobs and earn money that he could deposit into an account at the bank or go to a store and spend. Since that time, he has kept a list of things he wants to be when he grows up, constantly adding (but never subtracting) to the list when he finds something else he is interested in.
Giving experiences gives your family another avenue to spend quality time together, all the while minimizing the amount of extra stuff you have around your house. The added benefit is that your kids feel important. Whether they verbalize it or not, they realize that in order to make that experience happen you had to spend some of your time: Just. For. Them. Now this sounds great, right? Less stuff, quality time with your family, and lasting memories…why isn’t everyone doing this? The truth is that people don’t do it because it’s hard! It is WAY easier to get your kid an iPad, put some games on it and let them disappear for a few hours while you take care of laundry, clean the house, make some work calls, or catch up on email (we get it, we’ve been there).
By giving experiences though, you are teaching your kids that they are important and that your most important job is to shape them into awesome little human beings. THAT is the gift that keeps on giving. Perhaps the University of Toronto said it best when they concluded that “experiential gifts are more socially connecting as they tend to be more emotionally evocative” than material gifts. We want our kids to think back and have real, lasting, emotional memories of the places they have been and of the time we’ve spent as a family. These memories will last way longer than that Nintendo Switch, Pokémon, or Lego set.
Tip: Last year for Christmas some of our family members gave US a really cool gift. No, it wasn’t an experience, but it was something that has unexpectedly helped reinforce the way we parent. Britt’s sisters (and their spouses) gave us an awesome Wi-Fi connected picture frame. We always thought electronic picture frames were for grandmas in nursing homes, but we set this thing up in our kitchen, updating it automatically with our favorite pics from everything we do. They constantly cycle through, serving as a reminder to us, Miles, and Penny about all our our amazing experiences. It makes us so happy every time Miles makes us stop in our tracks to look at the picture and remember the time he fed elephants, or rode in a tuk tuk, or played with huge ball in Taroko National Park (Taiwan). This AWESOME gift is perfect in pointing out that this article isn’t intended to suggest that giving material objects is a bad idea. Not everyone can give experiences, but it’s easy for gifts to ADD to the experience – those are the kind of gifts that won’t find their way to the bottom of the toy chest anytime soon.