Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Something you WANT. Something you NEED.

“I need that mommy.”  This is what Bella, my two year old, says to me about everything from her binky – don’t judge me on the binky thing we are working on it - to the remote control.  She needs to paint, she needs to blow bubbles, she needs to talk to her brother on Skype, she needs to play in the sink, she needs, needs, needs.  I am not sure how she learned the word need and not the word want.  When she says she needs gum, which is the most needed thing in our house these days, I ask her, “do you need gum or do you want gum.”  To which she always replies, “I want gum.”  But only because she wants me to give her the gum and does not want the lecture about how she NEEDS air, food, sleep, exercise but she does not NEED gum.
We recently took Bella to a rural primary school in Jamaica, to deliver some supplies they needed and to begin the process of teaching her to give to others, what we hope will be a lifelong endeavor for her.  It was her first foray into hands on philanthropy.  It is our hope that Bella would start to learn what NEED really looks like and juxtapose that to what WANT looks like.
Now I know that WANT and NEED are close cousins, I know that WANT can be as strong a word as NEED in some circumstances.  I also hope that Bella becomes a self assured woman that can make her WANTS known and have her NEEDS met.  But what we are trying to teach her right now, by teaching her the difference between WANT and NEED, is that sometimes we have to set aside our own WANTS to attend to the NEEDS of others.  That it is not inherently bad to WANT, but that it must be tempered with the NEEDS around us. 

picture by Anna Skladmann

The bottom line is that I don’t wish to raise a Paris Hilton, whose main goal is the pursuit of getting all she wants, acquiring lots of stuff, having the best and shiniest things, and showing the world how great she is by this very pursuit.   I hope to have a daughter who has, wrapped up in the pursuit of her own happiness, the desire to help others.  That her desire to meet the NEEDS of others is wound up so tightly in her being, that her very happiness demands she think of others too – not instead of herself like a martyr, not at the cost of her NEEDS, but certainly at the cost of some of her WANTS.  I hope that she has all she NEEDS for the rest of her life, but I hope that she willingly and at some point automatically gives up some of her WANTS in the fulfillment of the NEEDS of others.
It seems to me the gulf between NEED and WANT is no greater demonstrated than at Christmas time.  This is a time when many families rush about buying up as much stuff as they possibly can in an effort to give their children a fabulously magical Christmas.  It is also a time when many children go without even the basic needs like warm clothes or heat in their homes.  It is a time when families gather together for huge meals, parties and happy laughing times.  But it is also a time when many are very lonely, some devastatingly so. 
It was with this thought – about the disparity that occurs at Christmas – that my husband and I decided to adopt a new philosophy about gifts and Christmas. One that we hope will begin to teach the difference between NEED and WANT, one that will engage us in thinking and doing for others and one that will still give our children a memorable Christmas.   It is a two-fold approach; keep Christmas magically manageable while turning the larger focus on helping others.  This Christmas I think gave me a great foundation for the first ½ of this equation; keeping Christmas magically manageable.
Our children still get gifts.  But they are just a few well thought out ones, rather than a crazy abundance that has become the hallmark of Christmas for many.  Here I have to pause to reflect on Christmases past when I went ridiculously crazy and filled rooms with gifts.  I understand the thrill of the hunt for the hot new gifts, I get the beauty of overabundance, I certainly have felt the thrill of having my oldest child come down to more gifts than he could have possibly opened in a week – no joke, the poor little guy begged to stop opening gifts.  So I say this, few gifts and well thought out gifts, with no judgment on those who like me have done the overboard thing. 
Thanks to a pin on pinterest, our gift giving is simply four gifts; something you want, something you need, something you wear, something you read.  I had a great time researching perfect gift to fit each category and ended up with great gifts for each of the children.  Now two of my children are so young that everything Christmas is new to them, starting a new tradition with them was easy.  Luckily my oldest just rolls with the punches and has never been one to care for lots and lots of gifts – I think I ruined him with that one Christmas of crazy overabundance.
The four well thought out gifts for each child, a large family gift and fun filled stockings – that’s it!  It made for a less stressful Christmas for us in terms of shopping, and took not one iota of magic away from Christmas.  In fact I would argue it may have been even more magical as our focus was not on a bunch of gifts, but on the few we had and enjoying them together.
As for the second half of the equation - turning the larger focus on helping others - it’s a new work in progress.  We certainly are always open to opportunities that present themselves, but for now we are working on establishing a family mission statement that we hope will inform our focus on helping others during the holidays and beyond.   We have some ideas and are excited to see what happens this next year! 
Two asides:
  I am aware these are not a completely novel ideas, they might not even be the best ones, but they are what we think will work for our family and I believe it will be fun to see our kids start to take a more active role in helping others as they grow up.  Our youngest ones are one and two years old, but it is my hope that if we pattern this new Christmas equation for them, they will eagerly join as able and even help shape and expand the ideas and traditions as they grow up. 
You may also wonder where God is in this conversation and these decisions, especially in light of the fact that we are talking about Christmas. He is at the very heart of this.  He is in the reduction of the gifts and in the magnification of helping others.  He is in the desire to raise children who think of others as automatically as breathing.  He just does not have to be mentioned at every turn, for us He is bigger than that.