Give Them The World

From the moment you change that first diaper and notice the wave of discomfort that passes over your tiny newborn’s face when the cold air hits her naked little body, a funny thing happens deep inside. A switch goes on somewhere in your brain. Your heart opens and suddenly you want to pour everything you’ve got into making that child feel safe, comfortable and loved.

Right away, it’s about giving food and warmth and the comfort of your touch. But before long that desire to give goes from satisfying the basic, fundamental needs of that little darling to snagging the latest “must have” at Target. Before you know it, you’re offering up Barbies and bicycles and (hopefully not) a new designer bedroom set just to get the warm, satisfying feeling that comes when you have something great to offer your child.

It’s only natural for a mom to want to give until it hurts when the giving is directed at her child. But here’s the thing (and you knew that was coming, right?): Years from now, after all the toys have been broken or forgotten and your little munchkins are contemplating organic chemistry or struggling to master the basics of living on their own in their first apartment, what will they have to show for all that stuff that was so lovingly showered on them years ago? Probably not too much, because things don’t last.

But experiences do. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you need to live in a yurt and practice self-denial ’til the cows come home in order to raise a happy, grateful child. I am, however, suggesting that in addition to all the ipods, baby dolls and Nok Hockey games you give them that you add something else. Something even better, something more that they can keep in their hearts forever. Why don’t you give them the world?

One spectacular way that you can make a start is to take the time this summer to introduce them to their planet. I’m not talking things here — I’m talking about experiences that allow them to get to know the creatures in the sea; the bugs and the bees in the yard; the birds and the foxes in the woods; the flowers and the trees; the mountains, rivers, lakes and oceans that cover our world.

I’m saying pick one subject that your child has shown an interest in and figure out a way to make it come alive for him. You could help him start a journal or scrap book about, say, whales, for example. He can pack it with fascinating facts and pictures of them that he cuts from magazines or draws on his own.

Next step is to give him access to everything you can find on the subject. Take him to a natural history museum or aquarium that has a life size model. Check out movies like “Free Willy” and books like Humphrey the Lost Whale, Winter Whale, or even Moby Dick and enjoy them together. Rent or buy CD’s that feature songs about whales like Raffi’s “Baby Beluga”. Or, check out Youtube for videos showing whales breaching or travelling with their babies.

If you’re really ambitious, maybe you could even plan a trip to go whale watching some day and he could start earning money to put towards it. And that’s just for starters. There are a million ways that you can help him or her discover and appreciate the world in which they live. This is the very best kind of gift that you can give them. They will be broadened. They will be more interesting. They will learn to value this living, spinning planet that they live on. Who knows? They may grow up to make documentaries about scary subjects like Al Gore did (just kidding).

Now that’s what I call a gift that keeps on giving! And you can be the special person who introduces him to something that he can love and explore his whole life. In return, you will receive his true and long lasting gratitude for making the effort. Believe me, you will never regret giving him this most wonderful of presents (unlike that ill-advised paint ball set).

P.S. Speaking of whales, you must watch this AMAZING video about a real family that came upon a whale in great distress and wound up saving his life. It’s so great! Make sure that you have your kids watch it, too. Truly inspirational!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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