A Reminder for the Season: Waiting Is a Good Thing

By Andrew McPeak


Can you remember back to the greatest gift you’ve ever opened on a holiday? My own epic memory brings a smile to my face.


I remember begging my dad for a video iPod (hello, early 2000s). The problem with my begging was that it occurred in the month of October — a very long time from December 25th. By the time I opened my gift nearly three months later, the anticipation had bubbled into euphoria. The months of waiting made the joy of the moment so much greater. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if it wasn’t the fact that I had to wait so long that made that moment so good. Sadly, I think many kids growing up today are missing out on the joy of waiting for something they really want.


A recent Today.com survey found that 60 percent of parents “reported that their kids were “maybe a little spoiled,” while 32 percent responded that their kids were “spoiled rotten.” It seems that what has traditionally been known as a “season of giving” has instead become a season of “giving much” and “giving in.” So, what’s a parent to do? I think we need to let our kids do a little more waiting this holiday season.


Two Truths About Waiting

Waiting may seem foreign to us today, but it shouldn’t be. After all, the word “advent” literally means “coming” or “preparation.” This is the season of waiting, and if we lean into that season we will discover many benefits — both for us and for our kids. Here are two truths about waiting that should be good reminders in these final days of the holiday season.


1. In Waiting, We Find Growth

Both common sense and science point to “liminal” (transitional) spaces as the places of greatest growth and development. When we achieve the objects of our desire immediately, we miss out on the experience of thinking, stretching, and, ultimately, growing that could have otherwise occurred. Waiting gives us space to stop and ask ourselves very helpful questions like, “Why do I want that?” “How will this make my life better?” or “Why am I so impatient?” One of the easiest ways to create a liminal (or “between”) space for your kids is by simply requiring them to wait before getting what they want. The space of time between desire and fulfillment is where all of the best stuff happens to them on the inside. I once heard author Jeff Henderson sum it up like this:

“Discomfort is the price for growth.”


2. In Waiting, We Find Joy

In an essay I wrote earlier this year on the subject of waiting, I challenged the underlying assumption of the consumeristic mindset by pointing out that the “achievement of desire rarely leads to its fulfillment.” In fact, multiple studies have shown that we get dopamine hits from “anticipating a reward” rather than actually receiving the reward itself. This is why peak excitement on Christmas morning comes as our children are opening a present, not while they are playing with it. Here is the blunt truth for parents: there is no present you can buy that will make your kids happier in the long run. True joy is found in helping our kids learn to make the most of what they have — and learning to enjoy each season for what it is.


In the final days of this holiday season, remind your kids the next time they complain about how long it’s taking to bake the cookies, to drive to a family gathering, or to open a present, that — as hard as it may be — waiting is a good thing.


A Reminder for the Season: Waiting Is a Good Thing