Make this holiday season about presence, not presents

I’m not the first person to suggest that the gift of time is more valuable than anything else you can give your child for Christmas, but I do come at the issue from a unique perspective. After 25 years working with single parent families through UP KIDS’ Big Brothers Big Sisters program, I’ve trained hundreds of volunteer Big Brothers and Big Sisters to spend a few hours each week focused on one child. I’ve seen the impact that consistent, intentional time with a child can make.

Often, through the years, after a presentation to a local group about the importance of giving children frequent one-to-one attention, community leaders have talked with me about how their own children weren’t getting the one‐to‐one focused attention that our volunteers regularly give to their little brothers and sisters. It’s warmed my heart to hear those Moms and Dads commit to find that time every week for each of their own children.

Most of the time, the adults children interact with are supposed to teach them skills (math, music, soccer, gymnastics, religion) and keep them safe, not get to know them as individual human beings. If a child brings up a subject that isn’t in the teacher’s or coach’s plan for the day, they’re encouraged to talk about it later, not now. Often “later” never comes, because schedules are packed and there’s just too much that has to be done.

Quality time is important, but so is quantity. If you have the luxury of vacation time over the holidays, it’s not the time to finish projects or get their rooms cleaned. It’s time to turn off the electronics, relax, and connect with the people who are most important to you. Stop whatever you’re doing when your child talks; focus and listen. Encourage them to tell you more. Play games together. Have a slumber party. Color. Get out the play‐doh or the paints or cookie dough or Lego blocks and create.

Let them choose what to do next. Take turns reading a favorite story out loud. Walk the dog and look at Christmas lights. Go sledding. Watch Christmas specials or movies as a family, with popcorn. Laugh together. Don’t let your kids grow up without getting to know them and appreciating them.

Who do you have in your circle of family and friends who could benefit from spending time with you, developing skills you already enjoy, learning to love your favorite sports teams, or checking off items on your bucket list? Instead of giving a toy or gift card or stressing over finding the perfect gift, focus instead on your relationships. Seize the season and use your time intentionally. Simplify. Skip some of the non-essential holiday traditions that no longer amuse you, and stay in your pajamas for a couple of days, as a family.

Focus on the people you love and clear your mind of all the issues you’re worried about ‐ work concerns, financial issues, health scares, car problems, furnace issues. Enjoy each other. Remember when you dreamt of how close you and your new baby would be and all the things you’d do together someday? That time is now.

Nancy Bergdahl‐Birondo is program manager for U.P. Kids Big Brothers Big Sisters.

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