Many parents unknowingly make holidays such as Christmas and birthdays a stressful time for themselves and their children. Giving too much can confuse a child.

It teaches a child to expect too much in the future and dulls their ability to appreciate the "little but important" things in life. Remember in the movie, "Mrs. Doubtfire," how Robin Williams brings in a petting zoo for his son's birthday, and makes his wife's contribution of a cake and a basketball look pretty puny? A nine-year-old who demands a motorcycle has probably exhausted all the appropriate toys for his age in earlier years and has nothing left to look forward to. If giving and demanding too much is a family pattern, it is not too late to rediscover some gifts that can not be overdone.

When my niece died from a sudden illness, I didn't regret that I didn't spend more money on her. I regretted that we didn't have more fun memories. A lasting gift to anyone we love would be to share more of our lives with them so that we have a reservoir of good memories that bind us together.

Making presents and giving gifts of service coupon books put some heart and soul into giving, no matter what the occasion. One of my daughters describes her best Christmas as one of "low fundage," where we decided to make or recycle gifts. She wrote and recorded a song for her dad that she now has on a CD. That kind of giving created lasting memories for all of us.

The late William Glasser, a well-known psychiatrist, says that we do too much to kids and for kids and not enough with kids. Sometimes we try to compensate with things for the time we do not spend with our kids. They probably won't turn away a stereo they've been wanting, but if there is a void in their life, it won't be filled by a material possession. Committing to play more games, take more trips, and have more talks with your child will affect your relationship for life.

A wonderful gift a parent or adult could give is to be a life-long student of parenting. There are so many opportunities available to learn how to communicate with children, to effectively discipline and build self-esteem. Being a biological parent doesn't equip us with parenting skills. If having good relationships and raising healthy kids is important, some time for learning needs to be a priority.

I am not advocating present-less special days. There are definitely times for giving and receiving, and I have great fun doing both. I am suggesting that we moderate the material things so that our kids don't lose the ability to enjoy. Most of the very basic things kids need to be happy and secure cannot be bought. It's not too late to change some patterns, and put more love, time, memory-making, and learning into your giving.

Please submit topics or questions you would like to have addressed in Family Forum to sherryb@reachone.com or send to the attention of Sherry Berteaux, c/o Chinook Observer, P.O. Box 427, Long Beach, WA 98631.

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