It was around a decade ago that we really changed the way we traded and began to trade as ethically as we could.
To cut what is a very long story short, Unicef put out a report that told us, British children, our very own children, living in what is the fifth richest country in the word were also the unhappiest!
That shook me, it really did. We aren't rich but my kids were given everything I could possibly give them, things I could only have dreamed of as a child, how could this be true? Well, there's the problem.
The very uncomfortable truth I came to after much soul searching. My kids were drowning in stuff and it wasn't making them nearly as happy to receive it as it was making me happy to give it. I guess I already knew deep down. And what's more, not one of my children have either the disposable income or the parental responsibility to decide on the 'stuff' that comes into our home. That's us, that's our role as parents. We had to set limits and learn to stick to them. We needed to stop giving gifts because we love the look on their faces, because we wish we could have played with toys like that, because it was easier than saying no!
Children are being used as the oil to keep the consumerism machine running. They're constantly bombarded by adverts telling them that they need 'things' that they simply don't need and that affects their perception of their own happiness and why? Because the quickest way to get money out of a parent's pocket is through their child's wish list.
If you doubt it, try this little test. Say to any parent or grandparent "Children have far too much stuff these days" and watch their reaction. Almost always it will be an agreement. 'Absolutely', they'll nod. It's a given, we know it's true, so why are we still giving so very much.
Take a careful look at the product placement in stores. What's at your eye level and what's at theirs? Count the adverts in between programs and ask yourself, who are they selling to and what is the message.
I believe that I was addicted to giving. Addicted to the thrill I got when they opened something new and it alleviated just a little of the guilt I felt at being so busy and not spending as much time as I'd like to on them. But that Unicef report changed things for me. I realised that the thrill of waiting for a gift, the pleasure of playing with a few special toys, the bond I had with my handful of cuddly toys had been taken away from my kids and I was determined to reclaim it for them if I possibly could.
Here's another fact. Kids remember things they do with you, activities, games, together time far, far more than the gifts we give them.
We found it hard to say no to stuff but much easier to make excuses for putting off giving them our time. So we created Promise Jars.
Step 1 - Find an empty jar and decorate it. (if you choose a pickle jar wash it out, no, more than that, I mean really wash it out A LOT, trust me. Five years on an our son's promises still smelled of onions!)
Step 2 - Join our mailing list and we'll send you a free sheet of promises to download and print, If newsletters aren't your bag, you can buy a download for £1 and print and share it as often as you like.Or, make your own
Dear . . . . . . I promise to . . . . . . within . . . . . . of redemption of this promise signed . . . . .
Step 3 - Think of something you'd love to do together, keep it simple to start off with. Maybe an hour of jigsaw, baking or building a den. Try to find favourite activities that you've gotten out of the habit of doing together. Revisit something you did a long time ago (we gave our 26 year old son a promise to go ice skating together, what a squeal!)
Step 4 - Add a time frame. This is harder than you'd imagine and it's important to get it right. These will be promises after all. Keep it achievable and leave yourself some wriggle room to rearrange your busy life. For even the simplest promises I add extra time, after all, you can fulfil a promise straight away if you're free but if you're not, saying "Fantastic, let's do that together tomorrow" is better that breaking a promise. And if there's one hard and fast rule it's don't break promises. Put them first, make the world wait, that's what promising means.
And have fun. Years on, our promise jars have become far more elaborate as you can see from the gorgeous bird topped beauty that lives on my kitchen table and so have our promises. We all have Promise jars and give far less 'Stuff' at Christmas, Birthdays, Mothers day etc and make far, far more wonderful memories.