What kind of people are we making?

What kind of people are we making?

One of my favourite firestarters at dinner parties is to ask "What builds character?" I get a lot of different answers (which alone surprises me) but I firmly believe that only one thing consistently builds it, and that's hardship. So what does it say about a generation of parents who move Heaven and Earth to ensure their children never experience hardship of any kind?

Visiting the War Memorial in Canberra brought this home to me the other day in a range of ways, but the typical Christmas orgy of gift giving really pushed me over the top. Especially when one of my children, after rifling through all their gifts got down in the mouth because they hadn't received something they'd been hoping for (yes, a very proud moment as a parent).

What do we do about this? We can tell our kids about the disadvantaged all we like but let's be honest, it mostly falls on deaf ears. We could take them on trips overseas to experience real poverty, but who can afford that. We could certainly do more to involve our kids in charitable works locally, and we plan to do that going forward. But I'd really like to get a handle on the nonsense of Christmas spoiling as well.

In previous years we've spread out the giving of gifts over December just to try and ensure our kids appreciated each present (and actually registered who gave it to them ) but that's a band aid solution. So I was interested the other day when a friend of mine told me what he does. Now many of you may have already heard this, but I never had, and he said he picked it up from family friend years ago. The saying goes like this:

Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.

I love this approach for a number of reasons. 1 - it's only 4 gifts! Wouldn't that be a revolution as opposed to the buckets of useless crap they get now. 2 - It forces the kids to think about need versus want, which is one of my personal bugbears. When my kids say they need something, I always correct them. They have their own pocket money and I'm not going to tell them how to spend it, but by hell if they're going to spend it, they're going to get the words right and refer to it as a want, not a need. 3 - One of the gifts is a book, which is always a great idea. Giving your kids the gift of reading (or if you're really lucky, loving reading which will be the gift that keeps giving their whole lives) is something that never goes out of style. And 4 - something to wear never goes out of style either considering my kids either grow out of, or totally demolish their clothes on a regular basis, so there's always room for a clothing upgrade of some sort.

So that's what we'll be doing next Christmas. I can't control what my relatives and friends give my kids, and I'm sure they'll still get too much, of which they'll struggle to recall who gave them what. But at least it's a start if we curb our enthusiasm for consumerism at home. And then with a few other initiatives to try give our kids first hand experience of how life is for people who don't get everything they want, whenever they want it, maybe, just maybe, we have a chance of building strong, independent, charitable human beings that will make the world a better place.

Parents always seem to focus on making sure their kids have more than they did, but I think that's flawed. I think we should be trying to make them better people. And starting in 2018, I'm going to be tweaking our parenting style to try and improve our odds of achieving just that.
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