QUESTION: Christmas makes me feel like such a loser. All anyone ever thinks about is how many presents they’re getting and how much they cost. I’m just an ordinary guy who doesn’t have much to give his wife and kids. I come out of this season of greed just thinking that I just don’t measure up. Can you help me?
ANSWER: Like millions of others, you have fallen into the materialistic trap of thinking that your value as a person is based upon how much you make and spend. While all of us will do our best to buy gifts for our family, try to think of some meaningful and priceless presents that you can give to your wife and children that will not fade, rust, or end up in the back of the closet. Consider giving YOU as a gift, offering your family your:
1. TIME: There is only so much of you to go around. Rethink who you donate you to, perhaps cutting back here or there so as to be able to take your wife out for a walk and a talk, to show up at your daughter’s school play, or just stay at home, rent a video, and enjoy each other’s company.
2. EMPATHY: Instead of getting defensive when your wife or child tells you that their angry or hurt feelings, work hard to listen intently to how they are feeling, summarizing what they said and felt to make sure that you got it right. Whether it be your wife arguing for a new kitchen table or your teenage son for a later curfew, put yourself in their shoes before trying to give your knee-jerk reaction. Whether you end up buying the table or bending on the curfew, your wife and son will know that you care enough to listen.
3. PATIENCE: Waiting without blowing your top while your preschool daughter ties her shoes before you take her to daycare helps her to develop autonomy and you to develop tolerance for life’s ups and downs. Your lower blood pressure will mean less arguments at home, less stress on the job, and more happiness for you.
4. SMILE: Instead of being grumpy, cynical, and an old grouch, try forcing yourself to smile a little bit each day. Amazingly, you will find that it is somewhat contagious, your wife and children exchanging their sad frowns for a happy face, and you yourself reframing what you thought was “a disastrous problem” into “a challenging opportunity”. Gradually, you will be turning your family into optimists and problem solvers, for which all of us will thank you.
So, my advice is that you stop worrying about what you cannot buy, and start thinking about how you impact on your family, more so than any teacher, peer, movie, or book. You have the ability to give them the priceless gift of yourself, which you will not find at Macy’s or Toys R’ Us, or even at the North Pole, just under your own nose.
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