Q: My husband and I have a tradition of getting each other something really nice each Christmas, like jewelry or electronics. However, money is tight this year. How can I give my husband something special without breaking the bank?
Jim: Don't underestimate the power of the homemade gift! In fact, author Dena Dyer says, "Ask anyone to name a favorite gift that he or she has received and you'll probably hear 'the drawing my child did of me' or 'the poem my husband wrote to propose.' Handmade and creative presents are often the most meaningful."
Here are a few of Dyer's economical suggestions:
1) Frame a picture of your spouse in a blank photo mat. Surround the picture with written compliments. List the qualities you adore about him or her, including the little things that usually go unnoticed.
2) Leave short love notes around the house: "You warm my heart" on the oven, "Thanks for putting up with me" on the coat rack, and so on.
3) If you're musically inclined, compose and perform a song for your mate. Consider surprising your spouse with a performance in front of other people.
4) Does he usually clean the kitchen after you cook? Do both chores one night, and let him put his feet up. Is she the carpool and breakfast-and-lunch-making queen? Volunteer to take her shift, so she can sleep in.
5) Remember "mix tapes"? Do the same thing with a computer or digital recorder, alternating favorite songs with spoken memories.
6) Write a love poem -- it doesn't have to be a masterpiece. Try an acrostic: Write your loved one's name vertically and list adjectives that begin with each letter.
You can find Dena Dyer's full list at focusonthefamily.com. It might not seem as glamorous, but I'm guessing a heartfelt, handmade gift from you will be appreciated for years to come, long after an electronic gadget becomes outdated and boring.
Q: Our son, who is 11, was caught stealing. This seems to be an ongoing issue. I am at a loss as to what I need to do. What would be a fair punishment to give him?
Juli: Often, parents are tempted to respond to all bad behaviors in the same way. For example, they use the same punishment for arguing with a sibling as they do for a serious problem like stealing. Parents need to clearly distinguish between childish behavior (such as bouncing a ball in the house or not doing chores) and character issues (such as honesty and respect for others).
To address this issue with your son, you need to communicate to him that stealing is a very serious moral offense. Trying the same old speech or grounding him from video games for yet another week will not get his attention. Your words, and the consequences you give him, should set this apart as a severe infraction. You might even remind him that if he were to steal as an adult (in just a few years) he could go to jail. This is no small matter. I think it is very appropriate to require your son to apologize face-to-face to the person from whom he stole.
I'm also a big believer in the punishment fitting the crime. The Bible tells the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who was stealing money from his fellow citizens. Once he realized the crime he had committed, Zacchaeus repaid his victims four times what he had taken. Perhaps your son needs to feel the pain he has inflicted by giving away some of his most prized possessions. That is a consequence he won't soon forget.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.)
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)