A few years ago, I was painting my boys’ bedroom over Winter Break. The paint smell was pretty noxious, so my sons ended up sleeping in the living room for a few nights. It was all very exciting as they each lay under a part of the Christmas tree, with the lights aglow on their faces.
As they fell asleep under the tree, I watched over them and it struck me how similar they looked at that moment, but how different they truly are. I started thinking about the presents they have received over the years and began considering the impact of those gifts.
My boys are opposites through and through. My 8-year-old is interested in all things mechanical, while my 6-year-old is an artist at heart. There are of course, common activities that they share, each seeing the activity with their specific mindset. For example, they both love making shrinky dinks, but their approach is very different. The 6-year-old enjoys coloring them, while the 8-year-old appreciates the “firing” of the works of art and how the different sized pieces shrink at different times.
Now as I look under the tree, I see very contrasting stacks of presents. A karaoke machine, pastels, paints, and brushes for the 6-year-old and a telescope, science kits, and building materials for the 8-year-old (by the way, it doesn’t go unnoticed that science-y things tend to yield larger packages than art supplies). By focusing on their keen interests, I can’t help but wonder – are we creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? A vicious cycle whereby a particular interest is fostered, which leads to encouragement (lessons, materials, extra practice), which enhances skill, and consequently, reinforces interest…nature vs. nurture.
Fortunately, there are activities that they have in common – anything involving speed, wheels (biking, skateboarding, cars), as well as ball games and video games. These shared interests make gift giving a little easier, despite the intensity of their individual “artsy” or “mechanical” interests.
Sleeping under the tree has now become a tradition for at least one night during the Christmas season and we consider it a treat for our family. But I can’t help but wonder about those packages of cheer and their significance (or not) in the years to come.
As a parent or grandparent, do you consider choosing gender neutral presents or presents that foster a particular interest? Do you think that fostering a particular interest can “pigeonhole” a youngster into a particular direction? If your children or grandchildren hold dissimilar interests, how do you handle it? Please share.