Christmas is just around the corner and most parents are still trying to figure out the perfect gifts for their kids. While at the same time many grandparents are wondering if the grandkids are going to like the gifts they bought for them five months ago. And we can’t forget the aunts, uncles and friends that are out there buying presents for your kids to get even for something you as the parent did long ago. Yep, Christmas is coming and for many it’s a time of confusion and indecision on what to get kids as gifts.
One of my favorite gifts growing up was a paperback book. For those of you that have been following along with the series, you realize how strange it is for me to have a favorite anything that involves a book. Dyslexic kids don’t like books as a rule, but this book I liked. In the interest of full disclosure, it was also the one item that got me into more trouble with my mom than any other gift I ever received. The book was “How to make your own lures and flies” by Mel Marshall. I like to think that Mel has some level of culpability to all the trouble I got in with my mom. I mean, really, if I was told I needed to read books by my mom and I ended up cutting apart some of her silverware to make pike spoons and walleye jigging spoons like Mel taught in the book; shouldn’t mom and Mel figure out who I should listen to. Just say’n.
On a slightly more serious note, what this gift did for me is unleash my creativity on a constructive activity I loved, fishing. In all reality, it’s probably the genesis of Missouri Secrets Tackle, the company that my teenage boys operate. Receiving this book also has helped me arrive at some principles that my wife and I use to pick out gifts for our kids…and yes…I try to look like I avoid gifts that get the kids in trouble with mom.
The first thing we look for is not what they want or currently like. Instead, we look ahead to what they’re exploring and going to be doing in the upcoming year. Then we get them gifts that allow them to further explore an area of life or help them achieve an upcoming milestone. For one of our boys we picked out a set of reloading dies that matched the rifle he was saving up for and for another son it was sketch pads and all the pencils and charcoal they could handle. What’s important is understanding your kids so that you have a good handle on where they are going and how you can provide them with the tools, vision and motivation to become who they are. If they are an artist, angler, athlete, etc then get them gifts that help them become an artist, angler, athlete, etc.
Next, give gifts with meaning and without strings attached. This is a big deal. When we give gifts with meaning, we build relationships with our kids. Trust me when I say this, if you give a gift to pacify a child, your relationship with that child will suffer. Giving gifts with meaning and without any expectations demonstrates to kids that you care. I remember the year my dad gave me a check for a hundred dollars for Christmas with a note stating that he wished he could give me that much but the money wasn’t in the bank. Without thinking about it I tore the check in half, then looked at him and said it’s ok and with a hug he gave me a small box to open. As I opened it I saw a small lego set from grade school with another note leading to the quonset. That was the day I got my first ice house that dad had worked to get for me. I will never be able to explain what that gift meant to me because I knew what it took to make it possible.
I’m not a big fan of giving gifts that kids deserve. There are things in life that kids have earned and it works out best in the end if you give kids the thing that they have earned as a reward for earning it. I know this is kind of vague but the things I am talking about are different for every kid. Most of our kids have, over the years, received a rod and reel as a gift. But as the older boys started to work for me, we made it a point to give them the gear that they earned for their work, not as gifts. As an example, having a kid earn their first firearm is important and brings with it many valuable lessons that they wouldn’t get if the firearm was given to them as a gift. But as kids get older, giving them a firearm that they can’t afford as a gift for a milestone in life builds upon the lessons that they learned when they earned their first firearm. There is something to defining a gift as something that they don’t deserve but are given because someone cared. Like I said, this is really vague because to get it right, you have to understand your kid, and every kid is different.
I am a big fan of gifts that create opportunities for kids and parents to use the gift together. Raising kids is all about building relationships. Spending time together is one of the key ingredients. Several years ago Grandma and Grandpa got the kids an ice saw, a spear and some fish decoys. We have had so much fun as a family failing to spear a pike. It was a gift with a built-in challenge and exploration, not to mention some physical activity that I am more than willing to watch the boys undertake. Remember that gifts that you get to share together, provide a lot of fun and life-long stories.
Finally, don’t worry about picking out the right or wrong gifts, just spend some time learning about the kids in your life and find gifts that help teach them who they are and build relationships. It’s not about how much money you spend, it’s about how much you care; not to mention if you are lucky, mom won’t even miss the spoons from the drawer after the gifts are opened.
Original Published in November 2019
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