Okay, I'm not a parent. Someday I want to be though. That doesn't mean I'm going into that blindly if or when that day comes. There are a lot of things I've learned over the years from taking psychology and sociology classes as well as having relatives and friends that took child development classes. The rest I've picked up from being me.
One thing I've learned outright is that materialism doesn't equate parenting. Stuff only distracts. It doesn't provide the attention and love a child genuinely needs. You see it all the time in charity work though. Giving gifts and away they go until next year. They did their good deed by buying and giving stuff. That doesn't really solve anything though. (Barring helping kids overseas and in lesser developed countries by providing sports equipment and other tools to help them develop. That's an entirely different topic to dive into! As is visiting sick kids in the hospital to help them be joyous about the holidays!) A child that may get a broken motorized power wheel can be even happier with it than a working one because it means mommy and daddy have to push them in it and spend time with them. The smile that lights up from those times is even greater than any moment that could have been made with it working. Yes, the power wheel will be fixed the day after Christmas, but that child will remember that day always still for the time their parents spent with them and gave them attention. I've seen children become enamored with the simplest of things like paper airplanes just because it means they were getting attention and had someone that listened and showed them something cool. Someone that was there for them. This kind of early developed passion can then build into sciences like aerodynamics as they get older as well as mathematics and overall help them grow as a person but it starts with simply giving them constant early on kindness and attention. Materialism doesn't give what that actual genuine care and direct attention does. The real charity work that genuinely makes a difference are those that keep coming back to visit them. The ones that sit and play with them. Show them sports, teach them to dance, sing karaoke with them, and genuinely listen to them regularly. Genuinely building a bond with the child to know they have value and are loved. From that all other passions, dreams, aspirations, and careers could blossom.
That's not to say "stuff" can't equate this as well. Personally, I'm a toy collector. So I'm materialistic by nature as a side effect. For me, it's never been about the stuff itself though. It's about the fact I plan on handing it down someday to my own future kids. I try and pick out the best renditions and scales of hero figures across the board alongside Transformers as well. Yes, I favor Generation 1 inspired Transformers because I want to be one of those dads that sits down and watches the original cartoon with his kids. There's more to Transformers and even superheroes than just being "stuff" though. They help creativity and spur parental interaction. A child may have difficulty with a robot to vehicle or animal transformation so they must interact with parents to play with them. Over time it helps build problem solving skills as each Transformer in and of itself is a Rubik's cube that has its own solution. Super hero figures themselves lead to children asking about them and story time. While playing with the figures you can see how they express themselves and notice troubling patterns to help them with based on the stories they create with them. This also helps build and nurture creativity and allows them to explore their own story telling sides early on. All of these mean interacting with children though and not just leaving them to play by themselves. (And yes, the day I have kids and they make my X-23 figures have a tea party, I'm so taking pictures of it! In fact, it'd probably become my new Facebook profile pic the day it happens!)
The same is true with entertainment. The best shows cater to both adults and children at the same time, and by discussing what you watch with them, you can see them grow and learn even more. There are many spots in shows that may go over their heads, or they may infer something else from, and by having these dialogues you can see how your child thinks or what other behaviors or beliefs that may be counter to their development. Did they catch a sex joke at too young an age? You might want to look into that and find out why. The list goes on and on. The same is true for aggressive shows that show onscreen fighting. Is your child trying to mimic that because they think it's cool? Or do they see that it's not the violence, but the teamwork, camaraderie and problem solving involved or protecting others and the other moral lessons involved? In some cases it may be the independence and ability to look out for one self a character demonstrates or even the familial bond of siblings and parents that support one another even with their differences and innate family struggles. There is a wide spectrum of emotions that entertainment can reveal, but it should not be used as a lone babysitter. All of these things stem from real interaction with your children to help them grow.
During the holidays with all the hustle and bustle it's easy to forget that you're not buying stuff for your kids to keep them busy and away from you. It's about memories you can build with them. The things they'll cherish most are the ones that have memories attached. The time mommy sat down and took an interest in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or how daddy knew who was on My Little Pony and even had a favorite himself. How Teddy Ruxpin told both child and parent a story at bed time, or even the Glow Pet nightlight that a grandparent may have gotten them to help them sleep at night. Okay, maybe I'm a sentimental sap. I do still have the windup lamb my own gave me that plays a music box rendition of Mary had a little lamb as well as the Glo Butterfly made by Hasbro in the 80s. Looking back now, it may seem silly to still own these, but they were gifts from family that helped at various times. Be it staying the night at grandma's house and providing a sense of home, or a night light for comfort. These memories attached stay with us. They help build and fashion those bonds of trust long into being adults for who we turn to among family when we need that ear. They are also mementos to remember those that have long passed on and helps carry on their legacy to the next generation. A way for them to still make an impact and help even though they aren't here. A way for them to always be here though they aren't physically.
I used to own a carded Marvel Universe X-23 figure I was saving mint in package. Either for a future contest here, or for my own collector reasons. Eventually I sold it to a man that had a daughter. It was fun to hear later how it brightened her day even though she didn't know who it was really at first outside of the brief silent appearance in Wolverine and The X-Men. All she knew is that the character was one from the stories her daddy enjoyed. She cherished it and a Giant-man skrull he also bought and had the biggest happiest grin I've ever seen on a kids face from them because it was something they shared. (The symbolism wasn't lost on me that his daughter was playing with a figure that by all accounts was a superhero's daughter itself.) That's the kind of bond you want to make with children.
That's the kind of parent I want to be someday. (I'm not praising me. I'm praising him for how great of a father he is. In fact, he helped inspire this entry! I'm not a parent yet, so I cannot say for certain the kind of one I'll be. All I know is the kind of one I want to be.) One who is around, invested and interested in what they enjoy so they know there is always someone to turn to that'll listen. So that they know and understand both their parents love them dearly and only want the best for them. Do we not owe children this? Do we not owe the ones who don't have that luxury the same? This is the thing that can be the hardest part about children. Once you have them, your life has to become almost entirely about them. Otherwise they will act out to get attention which will start to create a cycle of it. They get attention, albeit negative, from acting out, but it's the only attention they get so they make it a game. How far can they push. What can they do that'll cause a reaction. These behaviors become rewarded by getting what they want from it with garnishing any attention at all.
It's easy to throw piles of stuff at children that you can walk away from and then feel good about yourself from it, or even distract others from your own past behavior by doing so, but that's not really benefiting anyone but your own ego. Spend some time and become a constant in their lives they can trust and feel valued by. That's what matters. Remembering those lost is great, but it's also a form of ego stroking and is a thin line to walk. Never forget them of course and keep them close to your heart, but help those that are here. Be there for those that are here on a regular basis instead of lamenting and using the memory of one that's passed on to further your own ego. (If you truly want to remind families that have dealt with loss that you care and support them even over time, write them a handwritten letter about how that child impacted you and send it to them instead of using that child's memory as a PR boost. It'll mean more to those families too and isn't that supposed to be the point? To help them and show them directly you care?) It may make all the difference for them as they grow up to become the best they can be. Especially if they do have a rough life. This is why programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters matter so much. They make a difference in lives, not for a day, but for a lifetime. This is why role models matter. This is why gender bias needs to be fought against. Children are the future and we owe it to them to make it as bright as we can so they don't have to face the struggles and judgments others have had to face in the past. They need to understand they do matter. Not for some public relations stunt, but for the fact they do indeed matter. Don't be like a politician that washes clean dishes at a soup kitchen for a photo-op. Actually help because it's what children deserve. Do it because it's what they need and not for something you can flaunt and use.
This is why it's so disheartening to see how the media treats others that try to stand up like this to genuinely care. People like Selena Gomez, to name one. She has her own name and rich diverse filmography and music. She has her own clothing lines and jewelry. All of tasteful variety to help children and teens express themselves in hues of individuality(her mix and match clothing line is ingenious in this approach) that can help them find their own voices. She was part of a TV show that displayed the day to day struggles of family life, much through metaphors of fantasy, but still laden with deeply rooted truths and cultural diversity. Yet in the end much of the media world tries to hold her down about it. They treat her as if she needs a famous man to give her name prominence, or that she's simply a pop stars ex-girlfriend. They forget she has her own successes, her own entrepreneurs, her own career, and her own name that stands firmly on its own merits. The rhetoric she faces from both the immaturity of the internet and these media world adults who can't see beyond their own real world soap operas are counter to the attitudes children and young adults need to see. A strong independent successful young woman that should be treated by the merit of herself as an inspiration. The world needs more strong independence like this as examples. It should never be belittled. It should be praised. It gives children and teens something to aspire to as well as look up to. It gives hope for a brighter tomorrow.
The same is true for many stars that do what they do to help and not for the praise. Many of their acts go unnoticed and deliberately never talked about like visiting military hospitals and even more because they don't brag about it, or ever mention it. They don't want it to be used as political machinations. It defeats the purpose and point of the act itself. They don't do it for the praise or the recognition. They simply did it out of the true goodness of their heart. (Like Jennifer Lawrence visiting sick kids in the hospital over the holidays. An act that only showed up because of someone digging for it through twitter feeds of parents that gave her thanks for being there. The same to Selena Gomez visiting Bethesda Naval hospital earlier this year that went completely unnoticed by most. The same can be said of their Christmas messages that showed support of their fans and how much they genuinely care without using the names of others to boost themselves. They gave thanks, genuine support, and appreciation without being pretentious or treating others as props to use. If anything, they showed how much the fans mean to them and keep them moving forward to be the best they can be. They protected them from any kind of backlash but still showed their appreciation and gratitude for the gifts given in their own ways.) There are times when a name or an intellectual property can help a cause, and then there are times when the cause is simply to be there for the family or child and only that family or child. Who cares if the world never knows. That's not the concern. The act was never done for that reason. What matters is that they know you were there for them and only for that reason. It's not about quick easy press points or headlines. It's about people as people and not as objects to use. Never use charity to further yourself, because then it was never really charity was it? Then it was never really about the child.