The Inestimable Value of Time Spent With Family

I have fond memories of time spent with family. Being together with cousins and siblings and other extended family for a holiday gathering reminded me of how those memories came about…….through time spent together…. through meals shared over the family table, through shopping trips and fishing trips and sports events and cookouts and shooting off fireworks and playing games and learning new skills from one another and telling stories to one another.

As one gets older there is the realization that those are the really valuable things in life that I have to carry forward from my family. It’s not inheriting a homestead, or quilts, or clothes, or knick-knacks, or savings bonds, or stock certificates, or anything else that is physically grasped.

I did a brief “homily” at the recent extended family’s Christmas gathering as we enjoyed our desserts. My presentation was on the importance of remembering Christ this Christmas, of fostering happy personal remembrances, and doing that through remembering our own special and joyful times as children or with our own children during Christmases of our past. We shared memories together and talked about God’s purpose in giving us the capacity to remember some things so well and to forget other things altogether. I had taken several boxes of gifts to share. The boxes of “whimsies”, as I called them, were assorted personal items from my home, to give to my siblings and nieces and nephews and others present at our family Christmas gathering. Some were family hand-me-downs. Others were dollar store or yard sale finds. I showed some of the “whimsies” from a box and shared a few stories about family gatherings of years past. But the purpose of those “whimsies” was for those present to select and keep something for themselves through which they could recollect a memory and create a story of their own experiences of Christ, Christmas, or family times.
Through the years my family entrusted to me the things that were important to them – the lived-out values and examples of their lives- and that means more to me than any of the “stuff” that found its way into my life.

I remember a shopping trip with my mother, grandmother and some other cousins and receiving my very first pair of low heel pumps with a matching purse that my grandmother bought for me at the original Montgomery Fair store in downtown Montgomery, AL. I remember making crafts, cooking, creating a scrapbook with grandparents, planting flowers, going to the downtown 5&Dime Store or drug store soda fountain. I remember getting small things from grandparents that I myself had admired or asked for, pleased to see the joy they had in giving them to me.

So, as I have struggled to think about what to give my children and grandchildren this year, I have come to the decision that this is my last year of giving gifts…..birthday or Christmas gifts in the way I have been….giving cash or gift cards or reimbursing a parent for getting something they wanted, but having no conversation or even seeing it when it was received. I will still give, as the opportunity presents itself and as the spirit moves me to meet a need or bless a life, such as helping with college graduations, or wedding festivities,. But I will not be giving because of a date on the calendar that says I am obligated to give. Our grandchildren are all at ages either already at or approaching the edge of launching into adulthood. This is the time to change things up.

I am a practical person. I have generally tended toward a preference for either the practical or the memory-maker type of gifts, which generally meant giving someone something that I knew they really wanted or that I believed they would someday value. If one wants a gift to another to have meaning it has to be something that the receiver values, not something that the giver alone values. In keeping with that philosophy, Bill and I started a tradition when our first grandchild was born of giving a practical gift at birthday and Christmas time. We have given a specific financial gift at each occasion for each grandchild’s education fund that our children started for their children. Each grandchild has been given a portion of the financial legacy that we hoped to build up for them as we went along in life…. a grub stake toward an education in life that would serve them as well as our own educations served Bill and me. We had lived out that value with our two children, too, making sacrifices for them to have the things that we valued – quality educations and a grub stake in life – the same things that our parents sacrificed to give us. I think that our children valued our commitment to their educations, as we valued our own, and hope that there will be appreciation for the similar support for the education of our grandchildren.

Parental values and what we feel is important to give to our children is sometimes shaped by the things we received or that we felt we were denied by our own parents. Adults frequently recall something from their own youth that they didn’t get that left disappointment or bitterness. In response, they may become overly indulgent in assuring that their children get all or most of the things on their wish list to avoid inflicting such emotional traumas on their children, creating entitled and spoiled children along the way.

A few years ago we practiced something in a women’s ministry and suggested a rationale for limiting gifts to children at Christmas to no more than three – in keeping with the tradition that there were three wise men’s gifts presented at the Messiah’s birth. Mothers with very limited resources were relieved to implement such a practice and set it as a new tradition!

Recognizing the things I remembered receiving from the extended family from my youth….. which weren’t things at all……I will be implementing a new practice…… If one expects to receive gifts from your grandparents at holiday time, show up and leave us with something memorable in return….. a time of conversation, laughter, a shared meal, some other shared experience, or just an update on what is going on in your life. Connect with us. We tried to create memories for you as you were growing up at Christmas time and other holidays and vacation times when you were young. How about returning the favor now that we are becoming less mobile and less frequently engaged activities of family members on a regular week to week basis?

What we don’t spend on basically meaningless consumerist objects of current trending focus, we will spend on ourselves if you don’t make a check-in visit a few times a year. And our goal will be to pace our spending so that it all disappear about the same time our physical presence in this life does, as well. So…… don’t count on an inheritance. We plan to give it away through satisfying personal contact opportunities… shopping with you, sharing fellowship, getting things or going places together as we talk about the significance of those things .… or we’ll leave what remains of our estate to the institutions that gave us joyful fellowship and memories regularly…. our college alma maters and our church.