HomeOpinion & AnalysisA present dilemma for a parent

A present dilemma for a parent

by Tim Middleton

It is a question that few of us have to face right now, but at this time of the year it is one, which has stumped many people in the past. The question is this: “What do you give a man, who has everything?” There have been a number of humorous and maybe not so helpful responses to that question over the years.

One suggestion is, “A woman to show him how to use it!” Demitri Martin has proposed we should give him “A conscience. That guy is so greedy.” Then again, when a pretty teenager asked her mother that question, her mother’s quick response was “Encouragement”!

It is similar perhaps to the question that every parent might ask: What present can I give my child? Many here in Zimbabwe would agree with Mahtab Narsimhan, who said that, “A good education is the greatest gift you can give yourself or anyone else.” Indeed, parents, even in these difficult times the greatest gift that we can give is a balanced holistic education, is finding ways and means for paying for what will in the end be priceless.

Let us consider further what really is the best present for our child. In fact, there are two presents, which will be the best for our child. Firstly, the present is the best present we can give our child. Many will know the oft-quoted saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift.

That is why it is called the ‘present’.” Too many people do not live in the present; too many people are deprived of the present, for reasons implied in the saying quoted above.

Many people, including parents, live in the past. They do not forget what happened in the past, which affects how they deal with people in the present. Equally they do not forgive what happened in the past which also affects how they deal with people (especially their child). Nor do they forego what happened in the past, which keeps them from living in the present. The past has gone; the past when we had no children and the past when our child was young, it has gone, it is past, confined to history and memory. Nothing can change that; there are no refunds for the past, only for the present.

It is also true to say that too many people live in the future, instead of the present. They speak of what they will do one day while doing nothing now. They dream of the future, which only delays what they could do in the present. Parents also live in their child’s future, what they think that their child must do in the future, to accommodate their (the parents’) hopes and dreams. In fact, many parents wish away their child’s present by wishing for the next stage to come along — “I can’t wait until my baby crawls” soon becomes “I can’t wait until my baby walks” right through to the point where (in exasperation and exhaustion, perhaps) they say, “I can’t wait for my baby to leave home!”

The best present a parent can give their child is the present, the child’s very own present. Whatever the present brings for our child, we must accept it and use it appropriately (as we would with any present that we are fortunate enough to receive). We must help our child to use the present, all that it offers her, whether neatly wrapped or randomly presented. The present is a gift.

However, the second present which we can give our child as a present is us being present in our child’s life, in all aspects of it. Our child will find her greatest delight in her parent being present, to see her off to school and home from school, to witness important stages in her life, to watch special occasions in her life, to walk and talk and play and read and drive and everything and anything. More than simply being present in body, we need to be present in mind and emotion, hearing, feeling, asking, responding, with a full focus and genuine joy.

At this time of year, the question “What do you give a man who has everything?” is echoed in the well-known Christmas Carol, In The Bleak Mid-Winter, where the last verse says, “What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.” The same advice applies surely to what present we can give our child. After all, the real test of our maturity is when we gain greater joy from giving a present than receiving it, when we see the delight on our youngster’s face. Do not just give a present; give the present! Give your presence! What more encouragement do we need?

 Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.

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