Jim Daly: This Christmas, your children need your presence far more than presents

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According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend, on average, almost $1,000 this year on Christmas.

Gift-giving accounts for the lion’s share of that seasonal expenditure, but before you start stressing out about what to buy for your children (if you haven’t already), I want to assure you of something of which I am one-hundred percent certain.

Yes, kids like receiving fun things – but there’s something they like far more, something that won’t break or in which they won’t lose interest by the final days of the year.

You.

Our children need and want our presence in their lives more than they want or need the latest electronic gadget we might gift them.

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My father abandoned our family when I was just 5 years old. His departure proved devastating for me, my mother and my siblings. To try and make ends meet, my mom began waitressing. It was something, but there was no denying we were poor.

I remember one year pleading for a real football uniform. Come Christmas morning there was just one present under the tree for me. Surely that had to be it. 

Only it wasn’t.

Instead of receiving a football uniform, I received a pair of Los Angeles Rams pajamas. My mother had been forced to compromise. She knew I was crazy about football – but that I also needed clothes to sleep in.

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Tearing open the package, I donned the pajamas and hustled outside to play football with my friends. A neighborhood kid had received what I wanted and was quick to show it off to me.

“Check out my new uniform, Jim!” he shouted. “Yeah, mine, too,” I hollered back. 

“What?” he asked incredulously. “That’s not a uniform. Those are pajamas!” 

“No, it’s not!” I responded. “It’s a football uniform.” 

What I wouldn’t have given to have my father in my life that Christmas, putting his big arm around me and affirming me as his youngest son.

Outside, I was tossing my shoulders, stiffening my chin back and digging in my heels, putting up a brave front.

Inside, I was crushed and demoralized. Even embarrassed. 

What I wouldn’t have given to have my father in my life that Christmas, putting his big arm around me and affirming me as his youngest son.

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Instead, he was off fighting his addiction to alcohol and there I was trying, alone, to convince myself that my pajamas were a real football unform. 

The physical absence of my father was significant, but I fear there are many kids growing up today with parents in the home who are nevertheless ignoring them because of a host of distractions. 

Parenting is a constant juggling act as we balance what has to get done with what we want to get done. The pressures are real – but the years with kids in the home go all too quickly.

Years ago, the writer Arthur Gordon told of his father promising him and his brother a trip to the circus. But just before they were to leave, the phone rang and his dad was summoned to his office downtown. 

“No, I won’t be down,” he heard his father say. “It’ll have to wait.”

After hanging up, Arthur’s mother smiled and said to his dad, “The circus keeps coming back, you know.”

“I know,” replied the elder Mr. Gordon. “But childhood doesn’t.”

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Speaking personally, I believe God is all about abundance, a loving Father who lacks nothing and has everything. But it’s the presence of a new baby we celebrate this Christmas. For Christians, it’s Jesus’ presence in our lives that makes all the difference – and it’s the presence of a parent in the life of a child that sets them up to appreciate the power of all relationships for many years to come.

So, I hope you’ll give to your children this year what nobody else can give them – your time and your attention. It’ll cost you – but it’s a price you should be willing to pay because there’s nothing better to give to someone we love than the gift of ourselves.

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