Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
What our children really want

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Jan. 12, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell “Can we go to the store?” asked my 12-year-old. I felt my dander rise at his question. Only a week had passed since Christmas. Didn’t he have enough stuff?

Yes, he has more than enough stuff. But a late Christmas present had arrived in the mail, a gift card from a chain store and it was burning a hole in his pocket. I took a moment to calm myself. My kids don’t always know the difference between their deepest hungers and the nagging feeling that they need something new to play with. Heck, I don’t always make the distinction. It’s not something to get mad about, I tell myself. It’s something we can work on together.

In the wake of Christmas, it’s a good time to refocus on what our children really need to grow into mature, healthy, compassionate, Christian people. Beyond basic food, clothing and shelter we understand that our children’s most important needs cannot be bought with cash or plastic.

This was confirmed recently by a group called The New American Dream, which asked youngsters of all ages across the country what they want that money can’t buy. The responses – including essays, artwork, and poetry – so profoundly touched organizers that they compiled them into a 200-plus page book: What Kids Really Want that Money Can’t Buy, by Betsy Taylor.

“The answers we received were moving, powerful and simple,” says Taylor. “Our kids do want more than material things. Much more. They want time to enjoy life, and more old-fashioned fun. They want more meaning and purpose and less stress and homework. Kids want respect and friends who will like them for who they really are. Most of all, they are asking for love.”

One of the strongest messages from the kids who responded was that they want time and attention from parents. Not just rides to activities and conversation in passing, they asked for quality listening and family time together. Youngsters also said they wanted more time with extended family, more free time in general, more time to enjoy nature, and – no surprise to parents who know that spirituality is an integral part of life – many kids wrote about God, saying they want inner peace, quiet for the soul, faith and a connection to some greater purpose.

The book goes on to offer parents lots of ideas about how to have fun without buying new toys, as well as encouragement for changing patterns in family life to allow for more free time and less stress. Here are just a few suggestions:

• Set aside time for play. Unstructured play is important for kids’ development as well as giving them down time to relieve stress. In the midst of homework, chores and scheduled activities, take a break and have fun. Play Cat’s Cradle. Move back the furniture and practice simple tumbling. Put on music and dance or sing along.
• Take time to appreciate nature. The earth is filled with beauty and mystery, offering us a window to God. It can be as simple as a walk in the trees, or a few moments watching the clouds in the sky. Children enjoy seeing worms on the sidewalk or a spider building a web. But it’s great to set aside a day now and then for a drive to the mountains or the water.
• Cultivate some silence and stillness in family life. Some families designate one silent meal each week. Another idea is to set aside a quiet zone, perhaps one room of the house. Or take three to five minutes, maybe before bedtime and turn off the TV, computer and CD player. Sit quietly, possibly with eyes closed. Silence and stillness are ancient and proven paths to inner peace and spiritual growth.

It would be easier if things like play, nature and silence could be wrapped up in a box and handed to our children. Just a generation or two ago, most children had these things as a matter of course. Now it often takes effort, planning and commitment to make sure our youngsters get them.

© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

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