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A Gift that Keeps on Giving



By Mark Merrill

As a husband and father of five adult children, the holidays are particularly meaningful. Great experiences, family dinners and restful time with my family make this the most special time of the year.

Like me, I believe many of the memories my children will hold onto throughout their lives stem from the magical period of time between Thanksgiving and the New Year.

Parents know the anticipation of presents escalates with each passing minute of the season. The options are endless and price tags seem to rise each year. Advertisers compete for kids’ attention and parents’ wallets. Brands court you with the latest device, hoverboard, game console or doll.

Questions, anxiety and uncertainty stack up.

What should I get them? What will their friends get? How much should I spend? What will they remember from this year?

The average parent will spend about $271 per child on presents this year—a statistic that continues to escalate as the definition of “toy” moves from Tonka Trucks to iPads.

Technology isn’t inherently wrong. Our children are growing up in a world where understanding the ability of technology to be used for good, improve business and life, and provide entertainment is important. But it can also dominate their minds, replace in-person interaction and hinder relationships.

When it comes to presents, techno-centered gadgets, gizmos and games can overshadow smaller, more meaningful gifts. My advice this holiday season is: Don’t forget the significance of traditional gifts. In particular, don’t overlook my favorite kind of gift.

A book.

Books open up worlds of excitement and adventure for your children. Books dare kids to dream, to engage and to learn in ways far superior to an Xbox.

What’s more, books offer a chance to spend quality time with your children. The noise, activities and excitement of the season are a legitimate challenge. All the stress and demands on your life might make you feel like you don’t have time to sit down and read. I’d wager that you have the time, if you make the time. Your children need you to clear your schedule, sit down and explore the depths of an unknown world with them — the worlds found in a story.

Studies show that reading to children often increases literacy development, social-emotional gains and overall school success. Yet only 43.5 percent of children between the ages of 3 and 5 are read to every day.

I reach out to you as a father first and president of Family First second. My personal experience has shown the value in taking time to read with my children.

My professional experience has shown the power of empowering other fathers to invest in their children in big and small ways. Family First partners with parents across the U.S. to help them love their families well and connect with their children in authentic ways. To help you engage your children through the gift of reading this holiday season, we developed, “Five Ways to Bond Through Reading” and “Great Books to Read With Your Child.” Access them at AllProDad.com/Read along with a multitude of other resources to help fathers.

We believe parents make a huge difference in their children’s lives through everyday, meaningful acts of love. Quality time spent reading with them is an investment in the future of your children.

You have one shot to raise your children well. Your gift of love and time will change their lives more than any expensive present will.

Have an incredible holiday season with your family.

Mark Merrill is founder and president of Family First, a national non-profit organization dedicated to strengthening the family. All Pro Dad is the fatherhood program of Family First.