Thursday, February 28, 2019

#parentingtruth No. 8 - Experiences Over Things

parenting truths, childhood, experiences over things, making memories

Today’s #parentingtruth is about valuing experiences over things. As a mom, I have often wanted to give my children gifts to express my love for them. But giving them another gift was not always feasible, or even realistic. Maybe it was because they already had too many things in their room, or because buying a present was not in the budget. The truth is most things are temporary, while experiences provide memories that can last a lifetime.

Let me tell you a story

When I was almost three years old, my family moved into the house where my mom still lives today. We had visited a few times over the summer and fall as the house was being built, and I do still have a few distinct memories of those visits. Fast forward a couple of years. On a fall afternoon, my parents took us outside and sat down in the grass in the small side yard. My dad asked my older brother and me to go search and see how many different kinds of leaves we could find in the yard. Since I was still pretty little, it made sense to wait for Autumn, when the leaves were starting to fall off the trees.

While I don’t remember how many kinds of leaves we found, I do still remember the experience. Even though it has been almost 40 years since that afternoon, I can remember my parents sitting side by side, encouraging us to go look for leaves. I remember that it was not a race, or a competition, but rather a chance for them to instill in us a love of discovering the outdoors.

What have you done with your children lately that has created a memory? Memories are the things that matter most to children. Whether you are rich or poor, you can create good memories. But a word of caution: you can also create bad memories, so think before you speak. Think about what memories you want your children to have 40 years from now. Do you want them to remember a stressed out mom, or someone who made cookies with them on snow days? Do you want them to remember an over-exacting father for whom no one ever measured up, or would you rather they remember going hiking with you or playing silly board games?

There are other practical reasons to choose to give your children experiences over things. The less stuff you have in your house, the less time it will take to clean it. I am not a minimalist, but I do appreciate it when everything has place, and gets put away when you’re done using it. Now that our youngest has graduated high school, we are doing another purge of books from the house. We still like having books, but I no longer feel compelled to have our house resemble the Library of Congress with one of everything - LOL! 

When you choose to provide your children with experiences over things you provide them with a lifetime of doing. A life of experiences can be had in any socio-economic class. That means you can be poor and still provide a wonderful, well-balanced experience filled childhood for your kids. I was the queen of doing things on the cheap. These days it is trendy to be frugal, but even back then I knew we could do fun activities without spending money we didn’t have. I would ask around to find out about low and no cost days at local museums. There were activities put on at the local college that were free or practically free for homeschoolers. It just took some effort.

I let my business contacts know that we liked music and art. One of them had a sister who worked for the local symphony. We went to the free school symphony performance multiple times. If we could not afford to pay to go to an event, we could often find a way to volunteer for it and still get some of the benefits. We went to amusement parks through the Read to Succeed program, ate free lunches thanks to Book-It, and asked for memberships for birthday or family gifts.

One of the best choices we have made over the years is to always purchase an Annual Entrance Permit to our state park system. There are a wealth of free programs through our state’s Department of Natural Resources and most of them occur at state parks. With a park pass we could pack up the lunch we were going to eat at home anyway and turn these free events into memorable road trips.

A life of experiences, a life spent doing things, is often a life spent outdoors. 

This was one of my favorite parts of our daughters’ childhoods: going outside! We lived life together, riding bikes, hiking trails, watching birds, eating picnics, searching for pictures in the clouds or watching the meteor showers. We still love to go outside together.

When you buy things, they are often for a specific person. That can be a good thing, like a wedding ring. There is nothing wrong with giving and receiving gifts. I happen to really like dark chocolate and orange roses. But those are things for me, not necessarily things for sharing. 

A life filled with experiences over things is time spent sharing life together. That’s what family is about - being together. You will end up sharing the good and the bad, but hopefully most of it will be good.

Now grab your kids and your spouse and get outside! Go experience some nature together. :)

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