The Gift of Selflessness

“What do you want for Christmas this year?” It’s a simple sentence I have uttered at more than one time in my years as a parent. When I ask this innocuous question, I really do have good intent. However, if my goal is to encourage selfless and thankful children, I might be doing more harm than good.

When our children are young, we embark upon an exciting quest, and find, what we hope will be, just the right gift. However, after we do this a few times, we see a gift sitting on the shelf and not getting use, at which time our focus shifts. Out of genuine concern, we ask the question: “What do you want?” This not only shifts our focus, but our kid’s, as well. It’s one thing for a child to independently make a wish list filled with their gift hopes and dreams. It is another thing to specifically ask for that list. Once this occurs, rather than wondering, “What do they want?” I find myself thinking, “What are they expecting?” After all, I did ask.

I gave my Aunt Ursula a small candle when I was young and every time I went to her house I saw it sitting on her windowsill. She said it reminded her of me. Hmmm. I wonder if my children think, “Dad, every time I look at this $20.00 Old Navy gift card, I’ll think of you.”

Have you ever received a less-than-desirable gift, turned your head to the side in confusion, smiled nicely, and said, “Thanks!” Yes. That’s the spirit of the season. You don’t soon forget that gift. My realization? I believe our children’s focus on “getting” is in direct correlation to our focus on “giving”. If we want our children to be thankful, we can’t be so obsessed over whether or not they will like or even use our gift. It truly is about the gesture.