Family First: What really matters during the holiday season

giftBy Sabrina Bong — After nearly half a year as a middle school counselor, I have started making a list of things I wish could be forbidden: girl drama, dating before high school, parents who have absolutely no interest in their child’s life, and parents who take a little bit too much of an interest in their child’s life.

But most of all, I wish I could eliminate poverty among the families in my school. As an intern, I knew that several of my students were struggling to get by: a lot of them were on free or reduced lunch, or came to school in the same dirty clothes for the entire week. But now that the holiday season is in full swing, I am seeing firsthand how poverty can frustrate a family.

This past month, I have had several families reach out to me, asking for help. Many times, the parents start off the phone call or email with, “I am so embarrassed to ask, but …” Some of the stories I have heard are absolutely heartbreaking: parents who have lost their jobs, parents who suddenly have more medical bills than they expected, or parents who lost their home and are now moving from friend to friend in an effort to keep their children fed and sheltered. Of course, this struggle has also meant that they are worried about creating a happy holiday for their children.

Sometimes, the students aren’t aware of this. But sometimes, you run into students who are painfully aware of their difficult circumstances. I remember one of my students coming into my office and telling me how, if he had any money, he would spend it on his little sister so she can get the Barbie she wants. When I asked him why he would do that, he explained that his sister was only in second grade, so it was more important that she get a toy instead of him. I was shocked. At the tender young age of 12, he was able to keep the spirit of Christmas alive, despite the circumstances.

As hard as it is to hear these stories, they also touch my heart. It is incredible hearing the selfless acts that people do in an effort to make Christmas a happy time for others. Teachers will willingly donate their time and money to ensure that their students get a little present. Local organizations have “giving trees,” where employees can pick the name of a child and buy them a present. Friends of students are making sure that everyone has a place to have Christmas dinner and celebrate.

Every day, I am thankful to have a job that I enjoy. It is a struggle on some days, but it is also a lot of fun. Most importantly, this job reminds me that I am incredibly blessed in life. Many of my students have been, unconsciously, showing me what really is important this holiday season. It is not the presents, the food, or the cards. Truly and simply, the holiday is about being with family. And whether family consists of parents, grandparents, or best friends, we should all be thankful for who we have surrounding us.

May you have a blessed Christmas season, and a wonderful start to 2014!

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