Looking Back on The Gift of Experience

There was a lot of talk over the last year about giving experiences instead of gifts, from minimal and cheap (on demand backrubs, drive in the country … the gift of you!) to over-the-top fancy (baloon ride over Everest anyone? Party with a rock star?). Whatever you spend, it’s about how family trips, explorations, and shared projects are the things kids remember, far more than the toy that breaks, runs out of batteries, or just loses its appeal. Kids are adventurers and romantics at heart: just look at many of the toys and games they love. The experience-as-gift movement is an acknowledgement that the world is full of adventure and romance, and kids instantly respond to being out in it, climbing, running, exploring … yes, even learning.

We are parents of adult children (technically, though one is still at home and in school), and we have a complicated perspective on this. As children age, they are less interested in doing things with their parents. I, Dave, ask my 18-year old son almost weekly if he’d like to go for a run, a bike ride, a hike, or even just to “do something”. He says, “No,” a lot these days. If I gave him An Experience for Christmas–say, a “Hike With Dad”–it might not go over too well. He’d rather do other things; gaming with friends, indoors or out. But, honestly his responses would be harder to take if we had never done anything together. Our kids say “No” to such experiences not because they aren’t interested, but because they’ve *been there done that*. And they’ve “been there” because we brought them there. They’ve “done that”, because we did it with them. (And, we know, they aren’t done visiting the places we introduced them to … they’ll keep going back with friends, loved ones.)

Dad can still get the boy out for an experience. It’s hard, but it still happens. The secret is picking an experience that he hasn’t had yet. Two years ago it was a week-long trip to Oregon to race in a triathlon. Next year it’s a trip to the Sierras to climb a peak that dad climbed last when he was 18. Oof. What am I going to follow that with? Space tourism?

But he says “Yes.”


This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog.

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