Does the number of gifts you give your child matter?
“Contentment is the only real wealth.” -Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize
Christmas is a magical season and nobody wants to Scrooge their little ones out of it. Whether you let your children believe in the fantasy of Santa or not, I (Mama/Ami) haven’t heard of a person who dismisses that children fill the holidays with joy and their excitement and anticipation is palpable. We live in a world filled with mortgages and rent raising, work deadlines, stress and difficult relationships. Most of us celebrate some kind of holiday in the winter months that focuses on gift giving. For one season, it doesn’t matter your political beliefs, status or wealth, everyone does the best they can to make the holidays special for their children. It doesn’t even matter the cost of the gifts, even if they are just a delicious treat, but it is the heartfelt intention behind it.
Especially in American culture, which has in many ways affected the rest of the world, commercialism has often usurped the intention of the holidays and many of us struggle to not succumb to self-imposed pressure, guilt and anxieties. This so often bleeds over into the realm of gift giving and our children. I know that most of us have made the mistake of getting toys that end up being played with less than the boxes themselves. This highlights the very fact that so much of what we buy is not needed.
This all leads me to ask, what strategies do you and your family’s use when it comes to picking out gifts for your child? While it is commonplace to stick to a specific budget and divide it up according to how many children you have, I want to hear from you as to how you select the gifts you do for your family? Do your children give you a list and you pick from these items? Do you stick to a group gift or experiences/vacations? Are they purely educational? Do you try to keep them open-ended and imagination inducing? Are your gifts solely homemade? How do you tie in the things your children actually need – such as clothing, books and school supplies? Do you stick to the trendy “four gift rule” popularized by mommy bloggers?
Last year, when Ava and Alexis were four years old, we noticed that they experienced a surge of learning and creativity that far surpassed their previous four years. During their final year of preschool, it was as if things just clicked and particular “why” questions were turning into connections made. Last year Christmas we chose to give them an overwhelming number of gifts (without spending a lot) just to see the joy on their faces. We were so proud of them and who they are becoming and wanted to a Christmas to remember. While we glad to be able to do that last year, soon after we realized that many items had a short “play life” with the girls. It wasn’t because the girls didn’t like them, but a combination of too many choices and complete immersion in a few particular gifts. We were so glad that the gifts of our choosing were well-liked but it still made us realize that less can be more.
Approaching this Christmas, we are taking the lessons we learned from last year and implementing a simpler mentality. Funny thing is, we don’t anticipate that Ava and Alexis will find Christmas morning any less magical then they did last year! In fact, we don’t think they will even notice! They are still making a small Christmas list, Santa will still bring their main gift and we will still of course also be giving gifts of our own — they will just be a bit fewer then they were before. A little over a week ago, we asked the girls what they would like for Christmas and filmed their requests (see below). And oh, the innocence of children. Alexis prioritized a balloon over other things and Ava thinks rather affordable items are super “essspensive”. Our girls don’t consume a lot of media or anything geared towards older children but we do understand that eventually their requests may become a bit more complex. But for now we will bask in the idyllic, innocent bliss that comes from Alexis’ balloon request or Ava’s “Ken” for her “Barbie”. I
Glennon Doyle, a frequent guest on Oprah, eventually adopted a similar, simpler holiday approach realized “she was spending so much time scrambling to buy presents”:
“My kids weren’t even asking for things that they wanted. It was just whatever the commercial was that told them that they should want that thing. All those gifts (eventually) just ended up in the donation pile or in the trash. That gift rush in the morning is like a sugar rush. It’s awesome for five minutes and then it’s over.”
In partnership with our other media platforms, we run a Facebook group called the Discovery Twins Gang. This allows our subscribers to post their own photos so that we can get even deeper glimpses into their everyday lives. Frequently, we post questions, one of which being how parents choose holiday gifts for their children.
Barbie Garyel said:
“Taking a toddler to choose her toys can be very challenging because she will end up choosing according to the colors that catch her attention or you may end up buying the whole shop.”
Kay RM responded:
“My kids got 17 gifts each in 2016, they got 12 gifts each for 2017 and so far for 2018 they have 4 each and a giant one coming in the mail (it’s a dollhouse). And they haven’t complained — in fact they have the same excitement they had when 30 gifts were under the tree.”
90% of our Discovery Twins Gang said that whether times were lean or times were flush, their Christmas memories had very few sentimental differences. Having more clearly does not correlate with more contentment. The opposite of greed and the antidote to envy, contentment is something that is taught over time and fostered by frequently and cheerfully giving to others.
In closing, if you want all the Christmas feels, watch these low-income children choose between something they really wanted and a gift they could give. You can see them trade the item right in front of them to select a gift for their parents. And they do it joyfully! Certainly these lessons are everything to do with family values and nothing to do with having more or less! Even when they justifiably don’t receive all of their needs, forget about wants, 100% of the time, they made the more selfless choice.
Clearly, this famous Christmas quote really is true.
“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” -Roy L. Smith