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  • Writer's pictureJodie Finney


My oldest daughter just had her 12th birthday. It is amazing how fast time flies! I could go on and on about the passage of time and how incredibly fast and painfully slow certain moments can seem. However, this post is not about the passage of time. Instead, it's about birthday presents and the want, need, over excess, of "things." What do you get a kid that has everything she needs?

I am not really sure, but to begin, Spencer and I don’t give the girls everything they ask for. There are several reasons for this, first, we would be broke. Second, we see value in "wanting" something and believe it’s a good motivator. Third, the item in question is not age or family appropriate, for example, a TV in my 6-year-olds bedroom or a puppy. Fourth, getting everything you want can lead to many more problems than good. Entitlement, selfish, unappreciative, self-centeredness, and the list of adjectives goes on. We all know children and adults alike that have been given everything they have ever wanted.

As I write the words above, I also feel like when is enough, enough? We are so blessed, she is so blessed and how could we possibly need anything more? There are so many people much more deserving than she is. This concept of how much to buy or not buy has been a struggle for me. Do I have nothing for her but a card and a distant connection to a charity we picked out of a hat? Or do I give her a mound of presents that she rips through and tosses haphazardly on the floor, with a hug and thanks that seems empty and semi-sincere? There has to be a happy medium.

So what do you do? Hell if I know! Seriously though, do I get her nothing and tell her I am donating all the money I would spend on her "stuff" to charity? Sure, that would be amazing and I commend all families that can make that happen on a consistent basis for all their children year after year. But the truth of the matter is, she does need things. I have purposely pushed off items so I can give them to her for her birthday. Second, there is something magical and special about giving your child a gift they have wanted for no other reason than say I love you in a very tangible way.

One thing to note is there are two groups of present givers, friends and family. We don't have a party every year for the girls, I just can't get my act together to do that every year for every kid. But when we have had friend parties, we have stated on the invite that all presents brought will be donated to charity. The girls have then chosen where they would like to take their gifts and we do it together. If we decide to have a birthday party, that has been a fantastic way to teach the girls to give back.

But what about mom, dad, grandparents, sisters and brothers? How do I teach my other girls they need to think of their sister and in the same breath, say, "No Nana, the girls do not need ALL this stuff."

So here is what I did and it seemed to work well. Will I do it again next year, at this moment in time, yes.

I did a combo of a little give and a little take. I got Margot about five things from her list of 12 items. Bobby pins being a yes and the cell phone was a no. And then I took advantage of the Walk to End Alzheimers that just so happened to land on her real birthday, lucky, I know. I asked her if she would like to help raise money for the Alzheimers Association, in Mamie's honor, as part of her birthday present. She loved the idea. (P.S. Mamie is my Mom's name.) So we created Team Mamie and signed up as a family. We set our goal at $1,000, and together we created a Facebook fundraising post. It was a huge success, and in 24 hours, we had doubled our goal, tripping it after a week. She loved watching the money come in and was excited to see people she knew and loved helping her reach her goal. The walk itself was fantastic. All the girls loved it and we had a remarkable time as a family.

All in all, the whole thing was impactful and heartwarming. Margot took ownership of the fundraiser and felt like the charity she choose was close to her heart. She made an impact on something greater than herself and I could see her joy in that. She is writing notes or emails thanking those that donated, which she does not love as much. We had a long and beneficial talk about thanking those that give on your behalf — another good blog topic for another time.

I challenge each of us, especially heading into the holiday season, to continue to evaluate what it is our children need versus what they want. Could we be giving them something more than just a tangible pair of jeans, could we find something more intangible yet more impactful that will ultimately stick with them well past the latest tech toy or outfit?

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