12/12/2013 03:47 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

Holiday Presence

Written by Rosemary Strembicki

Well, we're in the thick of it now, the holiday rush. The unending reports on Black Friday, how much money we're spending and what we're buying started the season with the anticipation of what we're going to give and get. Over the past few weeks, I've had several conversations with parents who are overwhelmed with meeting standards and finding no joy in the spirit of the season. The universal tradition of giving during the holidays has exploded into a circus of spending, stress and unfulfilled expectations. Let's take a breath and think about how we can reframe the message we're sending to our children.

What if we talked about "presence" rather than "presents"? When I think about the holidays I spent as a child, I do remember a few of the gifts I received that I had longed for; the treasured Barbie, the latest Beatles album, the snow boots to match my favorite coat. But the feelings that linger are those of being with family, whether it was the huge extended family of my youth or the smaller gathering of friends when our children were little, the experience of being together is what lingers. Of course it's not all good and there were those years when tension reigned, but we managed to get through it together and often laugh about it now.

When I read the stories of families who are struggling during the holiday season there is always an element of loss. The tragedies that are most difficult are those that involve the untimely death of a loved one or the feelings of being alone when the rest of the world is celebrating togetherness. Is a gift that I send them really going to make that much of a difference in their lives? I'm sure a helping hand can always brighten the holidays, but why do we limit it to one season, and wouldn't volunteering at an organization to establish some relationships be of more value? Or a visit with a friend or family member I haven't seen in awhile? The sharing of who we are, rather than what we have, may make all the difference.

So, I guess what I'm talking about is the gift of time. The time we spend with our children to truly share who we are and what we believe in is what makes a lasting impression. If we're aware of when we're putting holiday expectations before the needs of our children and make the hard choices to slow things down a bit, we may find ourselves creating lasting memories of happy holiday seasons.

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