‘Tis the season of holiday mayhem. Throngs of folks are on the prowl for just the right gifts for everyone on their list. Expectations are high, money is tight, traffic is crazy and tempers are short. But guess what? Some of the best gifts that you can give your kids don’t require a trip to the mall or even an online shipping charge. Here are four things your kids really want:


This is so important. Your life has a story. So does your child’s. Spend time looking at photos of your life before them and talking about who you were, where you went, what you loved. If you are lucky enough to have pictures of your child’s life before you met, look through these too. Sometimes, the littlest things become treasures. We have very few pictures of my daughter before she came to me at age four, but she is very attached to the copy of her original birth certificate that she keeps clipped to her bedroom wall. To her, it says, “my life has a story. It matters.” Of course, you will also want to tell and retell the stories of your life together—who you are becoming, where you have been, what you love as a family.


Pick a few and make them simple. As a new mom to a preschooler, I made myself frantic trying to make up for lost time, trying to do everything. This did not end well. I was exhausted. My daughter was exhausted. And neither of us were having much fun. Over the years, I’ve learned to pare down during the holiday season. We tell the stories of the ornaments as we put them on the tree. We make hot chocolate and snuggle in to read a stack of Christmas books. We light candles and talk about why we celebrate. And we say no to a lot of things.


Our society seems to have this idealized view that the holidays are only fun, one beautiful, magical moment after another. This is just not true. Lots of people struggle at the holidays (and feel extra bad about struggling because they are “supposed” to be enjoying themselves). Many of our kids are in this situation too. Along with the excitement, there is grief, loss and longing. There is uncertainty and sadness. And there is the unspoken expectation that they should be happy. Only happy.

Tell them the truth. It’s ok to be sad or angry. It ok to miss people that they love. It’s ok to need space, to ask for help, to say “no thanks”. And it’s ok to be happy too.


More than any toy or electronic gadget, what your child wants (whether they have the words and the confidence to admit it or not) is you. Your time. Your undivided attention. Your words of affirmation. Your physical affection. Consider this an excuse to take care of yourself this holiday season. If buying stuff and going places stresses you out, don’t do it. Your children deserve the very best version of you that you can offer. A less stressed parent means less stressed kids. And that’s a pretty awesome gift.

So, take a deep breath. Your holidays will not be perfect, and that is ok. Your kids will not be perfect, and that is ok. You will not be perfect (gasp!) and that is ok too. Tell a story. Savor a tradition. Be honest with your children. Slow down long enough to actually enjoy them, and let the rest take care of itself.