Grandparents As The Voice of Reason
This past holiday I reached the brink of despair when one of my friends’ grandchildren casually stated, “Christmas is all about money.” Neither he, nor his brothers, have any historical or spiritual perspective on the meaning of Christmas. It was all about making sure that they received everything on their list. I noticed that the list has become more lavish each year. The teenager wanted, and expected, not one, not two, but three different guitars – each one costing a few hundred dollars. He “needs” an electric, a bass, and an acoustic guitar. Sadly his parents have neglected to instill any awareness of value. They let slip to me that they were struggling financially. They would actually assume added debt to satisfy his requests. Meanwhile, his little brother only wants a tablet, his own 32” tv, the latest X-Box, and numerous video games.
So much is written about the luxury that grandparents have in their ability to spoil their grandchildren. Ironically, because of America’s high divorce rate and fractured families, children often have, not two sets of grandparents to shower gifts on their progeny, but often four sets of grandparents readily opening their wallets.
Why does every child under the age of 13 need to have his/her very own room, tv, cell phone, X-Box, tablet, laptop, etc., etc., etc.?! How did it come to pass that it is no longer unusual for youngsters to request and to expect a holiday gift list that surpasses $1,000. Yes, you heard me! I said, “More than $1,000!” Stop and ask yourself how many families with young children within your family/friends fit this description. In fact, how often have you been caught up in this frenzy to give your grandchildren the latest gizmo of the year, regardless of the cost, while privately shaking your head in dismay?
How can we, the Boomer generation who became the poster children for rampant consumerism, reverse this “give me”culture? How do we stop the annual “buy everything” frenzy? Do we realize that such consumerism is toxic, that it teaches our children superficial values and obscures the meaning of giving? It fosters bad habits and raises artificial expectations.
We can make a change. We can find and give sustainable gifts that keep on giving. They should be treasures that will yield a substantive, long -range return on our investment in our grandchildren. These gifts can be an intangible “pebble causing ripples in the water.” They can be the stuff of future family traditions.
Boomer Grandparent Gift Ideas That Keep On Giving
Let’s look at several creative, meaningful, long-lasting gifts you can give your grandchildren – non-traditional stuff that you won’t find at the mall, at any big box store or on Amazon.com. Better still, these items of substance won’t end up in the trash bin, in the Good Will store, or the dead-end destiny of attic, basement,or garage.
Instead you will find them within your family heirloom collection for years, perhaps generations to come. Initially, these gifts won’t empty your wallet or deplete your bank account, but they will become permanent fixtures in your grandchildren’s lives. Nor will you find these ideas and items quickly converted from treasures to trash, relegated to the obsolete junk pile within a few months.
The essence of this type of gift giving resides in finding ideas within yourself, your experiences, your values. As such, these gifts are almost limitless in the positive, even life-changing, effect they can have on. Grandpa Bill spent almost two decades of his young life out west, where he became an avid hunter and fisherman. Of course, he was caught up in the whole Western mystique, accumulating enough sports paraphernalia to spark any boy’s interest. Grandpa was especially proud of his collection of western belt buckles which he would parade out occasionally to admire their unique ruggedness. As he began to share stories of his hunting and fishing expeditions with his grandson, he wondered how Zach would react to receiving the buckles as a “special” Christmas gift. The rest of the story is history. It was impossible to determine who received the greatest high – grandpa or Zach — as the he opened the package. In fact, the luminous expression on Zach’s face as he opened his treasures paled in comparison to hearing Zach say that, of all the gifts he received this year, “…the belt buckles were my favorite.” Oh, and let’s not forget the hour that Zach and grandpa spent together on the Web researching the colorful history behind each buckle. In fact, when Zach returned home, he announced that he planned to use some of his Christmas money to buy a small safe to house his new treasures.
Grandma Ethel has since retired and lives on a fixed income. She can hardly participate in the material hoopla that every holiday brings. But she did have an incredibly rich childhood whose memories she wanted to bequeath to her only granddaughter, Emily, for whom she provides after school daycare. On Christmas morning, amid all the traditional trappings of little girl gifts, Emily found within her stocking a ticket for a Mystery Tour Field Trip. Grandma had included a walk/ride map of historical sites that she and Emily would visit on their full-day excursion. Of course, it included a lunch stop at Emily’s favorite ice cream café. On the day of the field trip, Emily borrowed a family digital camera, snapping photos at each spot along the way. By the end of the day, she had gathered pictures of the former chicken farm homestead, the waterfall where grandma used to swim, and the orchards where grandma, as a young girl, had picked apples, strawberries, and pumpkins. A week later, Emily and grandma sat down together and created a digital photo album, complete with script and music. And that’s not the end of the story! The following week, when Emily returned to school, her Mystery Tour Field Trip was the Christmas gift she chose to present to and share with her classmates.
Early on in their marriage, the Ryans had the fortune to meet a young investor who turned them on to the power of compound interest and the potential of the stock market as an income generator/builder. They started small, investing in a modest portfolio of unglamorous but reliable blue chip stocks. Throughout their marriage they had fun watching what started as a tiny nest egg grow into a respectable retirement fund. If only they could instill their successful financial strategies and instincts into their grandchildren. But how could the dull and boring concept of deferring immediate satisfaction for long-term results compete with the shrill bombardment of tv ads, mall frenzy, and peer pressure.They had an idea. Early in the year, they purchased shares in two companies whose products target the early teen market. Over the year, they monitored the stocks’ progress, recording their ups and downs on a simple spreadsheet. When the grandchildren opened their holiday cards, they found a summary of their stocks’ results thus far, with a simple explanation. A few days later, grandpa bookmarked and shared a few sites where the grandchildren could go to experiment with various ‘what if’ scenarios of compound interest formulas.
Probably the most empowering gift of all is the one that the Martins gave their grandchildren several years ago. From the time the children understood the concept of Santa and Christmas and gifts, the grandparents began a tradition where, each year in early December, the kids choose from their daily newspaper listing an anonymous needy boy or girl whose Christmas promised to be bare. Then, with a portion of the money that each grandchild had saved over the year, the Ryan grandparents would go shopping for appropriate clothing and toys for the needy children. It became such an anticipated ritual for both grandparents and children that, even throughout high school, the grandchildren insisted on continuing the tradition. It’s a toss-up to determine who most enjoy their annual day together – the grandparents or the grandchildren.
Yes, we, the Boomer generation, who became the poster children for rampant consumerism, can reverse this ‘give me’ culture that permeates our society. We can confront the addiction to spend and to buy. Grandparents are finding and giving sustainable gifts that keep on giving. These treasures will yield a substantive, long range return on our investment for and in our grandchildren. Such intangible ‘pebble causing ripples in the water’ gifts are the stuff of which future family traditions and values are made.
by: Dr. Marie Langworthy