Their answer: “All we want are good kids.”
Of course my childhood refrain was, “You always say that, but what else do you want that I can buy for you?”
I knew gift giving would be much easier if I could purchase a drugstore perfume for my mom and a necktie for my dad and have it over with. But no, that was not good enough for my parents. Their expectation of being a good kid was code for living by the values they tried to instill in us.
Fast-forward 50-plus years and it’s clear to me that their request, while a tall order, was really the gift they most wanted, even though being a good kid became a moving target as the years went by.
In our teens, being a good kid meant being a good student, respectful, kind and obedient. In early adulthood, it meant securing a good job, meeting a suitable partner and saving money for our future.
After we were married, being a good kid meant giving my parents grandchildren and visiting whenever possible. In our 40s, it meant working hard, helping others and raising healthy and well-behaved kids of our own.
Today, as my parents move into their mid-80s, being a good kid has again morphed into a whole new set of expectations.
For my sister who lives nearby, a good kid is spending hours trying to fix the remote because one of my parents pressed the wrong button and the TV no longer works. (A really good kid is when she gets the TV fixed before the Patriots game or “Dancing with the Stars” comes on.) She is also a good kid when she and her adult son come over to rake the snow off the roof or clean the gutters.
For me being a good kid is attending the semiannual conference call my parents have with their financial planner and asking a few helpful questions. I’m also a good kid when I place an Amazon order for them because I have an Amazon Prime account, which includes free two-day shipping.
My other sister is a good kid when she uses her artistic skills to help rearrange my parent’s living room furniture and decor to create a warm and cozy environment. I know all of those things will mean more to my parents than getting my mother that red car coat she has longed for or my dad the audio CD of “In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex.” They will get those for Christmas, too.
Every parent has expectations of their children. Many times they are unspoken. And those expectations will change as our parents’ lives and lifestyles change over time.
Most seniors want adult children they can be proud of, which means seeing them embody the values they attempted to teach them growing up: honesty, integrity, family.
So, if one or both of your parents are around, here’s an exercise for your holiday visit.
Ask your parent what it would have meant to be a “good kid” back when you were a child. Then ask them their definition of a good kid at the age you are at today.
It might open up some great conversations and help you to see the real gift you can give your parents this holiday season.