Our airwaves, newspapers, and news feeds are saturated with commercials for the latest toy or gadget to get our kids this holiday. It stresses me out – what do I buy my kids for Christmas?! What do they need? The older they get, the more I feel the pressure to make sure what my husband and I (and Santa) put under the tree measures up to their expectations.
That pressure conflicts with my desire to make sure my kids understand what the holiday is really all about. When I was a kid, my well-intentioned mother bought me so many presents it sometimes took me days to open them. I am grateful for her generosity and know it was born out of enthusiasm for the holiday, but that is not the tradition I want repeated for my children.
This month, Women AdvaNCe will spend time focusing on the most valuable gifts we can give our children: education, security, nutritious food, a healthy ambition, and love. It breaks my heart to think that not all of our kids in the state, or the country, have those things. My daughter goes to school with kids who have empty pantries in their home, whose parents are struggling so much to survive that they can’t offer their children the love and security children need.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, 25% of North Carolina children live in poor families — which is defined as families with incomes below 100% of the federal poverty level. There are even more children who qualify as impoverished when you consider that, according to research, families need an income of about twice the federal poverty threshold to meet their basic needs.
What are we doing as a state to give our children the gift of a future? There are thousands of teachers, social workers, community action agency employees and others doing their best to improve the lives of our children, but they need to have the tools to get their job done. Our state needs to increase its investment in early childhood education, childcare, and K-12 education. Beyond that, we need to create policies to improve the lives of the parents of these children. Mounting evidence suggests that when parents feel secure and healthy, they’re better able to care for their children — and at the end of the day, isn’t that what we want? To have parents parent their children, instead of a system?
I hate to use a cliche, but giving back to all of our children (not just our own) is the gift that keeps on giving. We’re raising little human beings that will either give back to this world, or become a responsibility for the rest of us.
And back to my kids — I’m trying to give them the gift of my time this holiday season. Because for me, when I look back on my childhood, it’s not the insane amount of gifts I remember most fondly. It’s the TIME my parents spent with me. I remember doing crafts with my Mom, and I remember the time my dad scored insanely great seats to a Billy Joel concert. The memories of those experiences with them are more vivid in my mind than any shiny Barbie car or designer purse.