Friday, 7 December 2012

It's the little things that matter

Sometimes it's easy to get distracted by all the big things we feel like we should be getting or doing for our kids, thanks to the marketing geniuses who are well aware that parents will plunk down money for anything they think their kids might want or need.

I'm no exception - we go WAY overboard for birthday and Christmas gifts, every birthday party is planned to outdo the one before, we start budgeting and planning for the next year's Disney trip as soon as we get home from the previous year's and if a single weekend goes by without a fair, festival or field trip we feel like lazy parents.

But the kids don't actually need all that. They don't even necessarily want all that.

My boys love our annual trip to Walt Disney World. But they also have fun going to Great Wolf Lodge for a couple of days - an hour and a half away in Niagara Falls. The themed, coordinated birthday parties at the bowling alley or swimming pool or indoor playplace are super fun and something to remember each year. But equally so is an afternoon of street hockey with their buddies and a couple of bags of potato chips.

The going overboard, if we're completely honest with ourselves, is just as much for us as for them. We like knowing that every item on their wish list is under the tree because we look forward to seeing their faces when they tear off the wrapping paper - they wouldn't care if they got half as many gifts. We like going over-the-top with decorations and themes and coordinated cakes and pinatas at some crazy fun location for their birthday parties because we love seeing their reactions and having the photos for memories - they'd be just as happy with a bunch of friends, a soccer ball and some cake in the backyard. We like going to Disney just as much as they do - a week on the beach and at the Magic Kingdom is just as much fun for grown-ups as it is for kids. And the compulsion to always have a field trip or event on the horizon is more about building up the memory bank than the children's need for entertainment - they're equally happy playing in the backyard or at the park. Don't get me wrong, special treats are fun for the whole family - but they are a treat. They're not necessary.

The other morning when we were getting ready for school I told the boys I'd pick them up and bring them home for lunch. The excitement level was the same as the first year we announced we were going to Disney for March Break, and when the lunchtime bell rang that day they both came bursting out of their classrooms and jumped into my arms with the biggest smiles I've ever seen. When my husband came home with lobsters for a special dinner one night the kids were just as fascinated by poking and prodding and watching and asking questions about them as they've ever been on a trip to the Science Centre. A picnic at the park or popcorn and a movie in Mommy's room generates the same reaction as an afternoon at one of the local fairs or festivals. The promise of one of our special coffee dates on the upcoming weekend is all they'll talk about the rest of the week.

It really doesn't take much, and though those big things are super fun, they don't need to be the focus. For kids, it really is the little things that matter, it's the little things that are special. And it's all those little  things that will make up most of their memories when they grow up.

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