How many times have you heard a young child run up to a loved one who has just come back from a work trip, or been away, and say: "What did you get for me?" as opposed to just being happy their parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent is back or simply visiting?
Living here in the UAE, many of us travel with our work, or are away for long hours, and so we find ourselves buying gifts to make up for our absences with materialistic things.
I do not believe that this is the right way to go about things, and my advice is, don't do it, especially when it comes to children. On the one hand, toys and things will never take the place of time spent and experiences shared, but there's also the issue of expecting presents as a right, rather than a privilege.
It can lead a child to make associations such as: trip equals gift, love equals toy, as opposed to"Hooray. Daddy's back". Your child won't love you less if you don't bring the toy - as you have every other time since he/she was a baby - but you may be creating a potential problem by doing this without thinking through the consequences for your child, and for your relationship with your little one.
I sound like such a miserable miser don't I? Go on, you can say it.
But as clichéd as this sounds, it is for your own good as well as your child's.
You know, we are ruining our children when we don't instil a respect of and appreciation for money; what it can do for us, and what we need to do in order to get it.
And these associations carry themselves into adulthood, and find their way into future relationships, and simply put, they can end up ruining your little ones' marriages.
But whoa. Hold on, let's deal with the here and now first.
I've been to think tanks and gatherings where parents are pulling their hair out, asking for help to get their children to stop demanding more "things" and get a dose of "reality" - these parents are genuinely worried about how their children will handle themselves when they end up fending for themselves, say at university, or in the "real world". Perhaps many of them gave their children what they wanted up until that point without thinking through the consequences.
Sure there is peer pressure to deal with here in the UAE, but let us remember that not all the possessions your impressionable young ones see their friends with are necessarily what their parents can afford. Many people are in a lot of debt here and keeping up appearances should not be a priority. Most children will understand if the situation is explained in a frank and open discussion.
Someone has to say no; explain why, and set new standards and ways of living, gifting, loving and being.
So are you going to do it? It gets much harder to set new rules and ways of interaction the older we get. And even if you can afford to give all that's being asked for, are you really doing what's best for your flesh and blood?
A therapist friend told me there was a spike in the number of parents seeking her help during and after the credit crunch hit. They needed her professional input to be able to handle their children, who, up until that point had been showered with whatever they desired.
But then mummy and daddy could no longer afford to continue, and the children rebelled.
The therapist was asked the "Why?" question: Why had the rules, the game, the love, changed? It will be a long time for some of them to be able to deal with the emotional fallout.
And so we go full circle. Some children believe that money is happiness and an expression of love. These same children can grow into adults who believe the same thing. It is the job of the parents to ensure that love and happiness exist and are acknowledged irrespective of the material possessions money can buy.
Gifts and possessions are fine - but love and belonging trump them.
Achieving that balance is the goal.