If you are thinking about gift ideas for your children over the holidays let me appeal to you to give them the most precious gift of all, your undivided time. The holidays can be a wonderful time of homecomings, family gatherings and gift giving. Unfortunately the holidays can also be a time of added stress and anxiety. If you don’t believe me just watch the behavior of individuals vying for a parking spot at a shopping mall. The commercialism of the holidays has reached an all time high, as stores remain open from dawn to midnight and merchants barrage us with advertisements marketing the “perfect gift” for those we love. My own experience raising five children is that long after the batteries die and the toys lose their luster, children will remember best the time you spent with them and the traditions you created as a family.

I was reminded of this fact not too long ago when I decided to clean out the closets of my now grown children. As I unearthed the remnants of past Hanukkah gifts I remembered the countless hours I spent on long lines trying to secure the much-coveted doll or electronic game. Yet what my children remember most about the holidays are the times we spent as a family working on a project together and enjoying one another’s company. For example, for years our family volunteered at the Long Island Shelter and either served Christmas dinner to the homeless or prepared sandwiches to be distributed to those who could not muster the resources to find their way to the shelter. The conversations we had after this experience were always rich and meaningful, and to this day my kids remember what they saw and how it made them feel. Performing this act of hesed together reinforced for our children the importance of sharing one’s good fortune with others.

With a well-earned school vacation on the horizon, I ask you to think about the importance of down time in your life and the lives of your children. High levels of stress have become the byproduct of our over programmed and demanding lives. Children are not immune to the nemesis of stress. Balancing the many demands of the school year means that we often function at a frenzied pace, struggling to accomplish two or three things at once. Children’s school time marching orders are punctuated by frequent demands to “hurry up” and get dressed, finish your breakfast, clean your room, do your homework, practice the piano, get to the soccer game and be on time to the orthodontist. During the vacation, give your child the luxury of slowing down. Perhaps you could make cookies together, play a quiet board game, work on a jigsaw puzzle and choose a book or movie to share. What you do is not so important as that the time you choose be uninterrupted and free from the pressure of the many commitments that fill the school year. Having an opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures of taking a long walk or enjoying a movie together is increasingly rare. I hope that this vacation will afford you and your children the chance to sleep in, relax and enjoy shared time and activities. We all need time to decompress and replenish our physical and emotional reserves. In so doing we can return to the demands of our busy lives reenergized and ready for the winter months that lie ahead.

I wish you a very happy Hanukkah. May this festival of lights serve to remind us not of the things we need to acquire but of the many miracles in our lives, first and foremost – our children. 

Barbara Shea is the Associate Head of School for Program and Instruction at Solomon Schechter Day School.