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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

“Don’t Buy Me Any Stuff” Gift Guide

December 11, 2013

I originally wrote a version of this essay back in ’05 BT  (before Twitter). People have requested a reprint. Here you go. Enjoy… in joy.

The year our daughter Fayette turned 15 she said she didn’t want us to buy her “stuff” for Hanukkah. Huh? What was going on? Didn’t she still love us? Wasn’t she grateful for the many carefully selected gifts she’d received since… birth? Was she running away and needing to travel light?!

Get creative with those coupons

The truth was less sinister and more profoundly personal. As she put it, “I’ve had it with holiday commercialism.” This led to a lively family discussion about Needs vs. Desires. Form vs. Substance. Carnivores vs. Vegetarians.

NOTE1: Our son Ezra was then 9 and while he dearly loved and coveted all kinds of “stuff,” (except when it came to clearing it off the floor) he agreed his sister’s idea merited serious philosophical consideration.

NOTE2: Ezra now holds an undergraduate degree in philosophy.

Despite a holiday moratorium on buying stuff there were no restrictions on loving acts of giving. So we each faced the creative challenge of figuring out what to give. That first year we abandoned traditional gift-giving our tokens of affection and admiration became more experiential and far-reaching. There were live performances and other cultural outings, food factory tours, waterfall hikes, baked desserts, multi-media presentations, and hand-crafted treasures. But the best innovation was the advent of personalized coupons books, i.e., hand-made packets offering a variety of customized “goods, services and special privileges.” The key to coupon success is knowing your recipient.

Fayette, who frequently got busted for talking on the phone after lights out, was thrilled to get: “This coupon entitles you to use the phone between 11-11:30 on a school night. Homework and all getting ready for bed preparations must first be completed.”

Ezra, who has always loved sweets, got: “This coupon entitles you to 2 dozen of your choice of home-made cookies that you don’t have to share with anyone (unless you happen to be feeling particularly generous). Minimum 24 hour notice required.”

"Goldfish Tea" by Fayette Fox

I remember happily receiving: “I will water all the plants in the house for you for 1 week.” And David, who spends lots of time hunched over his computer keyboard, was delighted to get: “I will give you a 10 minute shoulder massage.”

Just to be clear, I’m not proposing a “No Buy” Zone. We’re emerging from tough economic times and retailers (large and small) are hoping we’ve regained enough confidence in our future earning power to do our part for the recovery. The Don’t Buy Me Any Stuff” Gift Guide is not an all or nothing deal. Let’s face, there is very cool stuff in stores. And sometimes the special something your kid craves is just what you want to give, and if you can, go for it. Then knock yourself out on the kid’s joy when he/she receives your gift. All I’m saying is that you are not and never have been required to go into debt buying stuff that’s out of synch with your innate sense of what’s appropriate and healthy for your child.

So, if you’re looking for extra meaning this holiday season and a little less wear and tear on your family values, talk to your kids about alternatives to traditional gift-giving. It may not be coupons, but your family will likely come up with all kinds of great ideas. When we explore more creative ways to show our love for each other, we celebrate the uniqueness of each of family member. Now there’s a gift!


Happy holidays from our family to yours


What is a gift?

December 2, 2013

Let there be light and laughter and love

Most of us don’t remember what our nearest and dearest gave us last year for a holiday gift. (Unless it was nada when we expected mucho. In that case we’ve still got those hurt feelings to cherish always.) We probably can’t remember what we gave them either!

We’re wired to remember how we feel. What was in the box… not so much. So why spend all the time and money stressing about, shopping for, then wrapping and delivering stuff for the most precious people on our list?  Because we love them!

If we could, we’d show our love with every interaction. If we could, we’d tell our kids, “My life is enriched beyond measure because you are my child. I am grateful for my relationship with you. I love teaching you and learning from you. I understand who you are and I respect your uniqueness. All that you bring to this family is precious to me.”

Unfortunately we don’t know how to say any of that, so instead we give them stuff. And sometimes, when carefully chosen, the material gifts we give actually manage to transcend their innate stuffness.

When I was 15 my mother gave me a guitar for Chanukah. She’d “purchased” it with thousands of saved up S & H Green Stamps. Mom seemed to know exactly what my soul would respond to and her gift led me to new realms of self-expression and self-discovery. Playing music and singing became such a part of my identity that as a 22-year old teacher’s aide, my students presented me with a birthday cake in the shape of a guitar.

Curious about other peoples’ experiences, I asked a few folks to describe a very special gift they received as a child:

“When I was 9 my Dad & Mom gave me my first bike. I was so touched and happy because we had just moved and I knew times were very difficult for them. My first car was not as exciting.” R.C.

“When I was 5 my parents gave me a box of new crayons, which I enjoyed so much, lying on the floor coloring by the warm fireplace.” A.M.

“When I saw and smelled my first magnolia blossom I asked my parents if we could get a magnolia tree. They bought me one and as a family we planted it together in the yard. I now live 3,000 miles away from my parents’ home, but I still love to “visit” the magnolia tree whenever I’m there.” T.R.

“When I was a teen, my parents gave me a wooden box that looked like a pirate treasure chest. I think it held something that was supposed to be the real present, but I’ve long since forgotten what. But the box itself immediately became my favorite repository for special keepsakes. I’ve passed it on to my daughter who quickly put it to the same use. It gives me a happy glow to see it on her bookshelf.” N.F.

At the start of this gift-giving season, talk to your kids about what’s most important to each of you. Share your own stories about special gifts you’ve received. Think about ways your family can help others either locally and/or globally. Plan special time together – the best gift of all.

When you give, remember that your gift is an opportunity to show your deep understanding of and appreciation for the recipient. Gift-giving is all about love. Love is the gift. And if you choose wisely, something in a box may go straight to the heart.

Enjoy... in joy

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