Last Christmas was tricky. Louisette (then aged nearly-6) well and truly understood Christmas, and she knew exactly what she wanted. . . and was loudly disappointed when a gift didn’t live up to her expectations.
She’s a sweet girl really, and we’ve had a lot of conversations since then about how to react when you don’t like a present, including the fact that she can secretly come to me if she truly doesn’t like something and I’ll buy it off her.
This year both kids have been pure adorable. So that’s nice! TJ has been opening incredibly random items and saying things like, “This is what I always wanted!” which is hilarious.
(Those are not oars, by the way. They’re novelty pool noodles; one with a unicorn head and tail and the other with a shark head and tail.)
There is a fundamental problem that permeates virtually every aspect of parenthood. Every parent wants to make their kid’s life better than what they experienced. Did they always desperately want that one special toy? Did they wish with all their heart that they didn’t have to share a room with their siblings?
So we give our kids what we never had… and they take that as normal, because for them it is. Yay. And then they want a BIGGER room, and a more expensive toy… and the parents are left wondering how their kids became so spoiled and ungrateful.
My only advice is to say ‘no’ often, and stick to it. But choose your moment to say “no”, and choose your moment to say “yes”, too. And teach your kids that life is never perfect, but if they work hard and make sacrifices, they can probably get a bigger room (or whatever) when they’re an adult. They still won’t be able to get everything they want, but they can choose what to give up and what really matters.
I looove buying gifts for my kids. But I do get stressed when there are toys all over the floor and/or no room to move because there’s just so much STUFF in my house.
Some parents incorporate charitable giving in their family Christmas traditions (I really like TEAR Australia’s Really Useful Gift Shop for that—keeping in mind that it’s usually more efficient for recipients if you simply give a donation and let the charity sort out where it’s most useful at the time).
There is a famous ‘list’ going around (if you know the original source/s, let me know):
Something you want
Something you need
Something to wear
Something to read
And there are a couple of variations: Something to do and something to love.
I think most kids would be annoyed at getting something they need and/or something to wear. How would you feel to get a new school uniform under the tree? So I personally would only use those if I wanted a few extra things to wrap (and I thought I could get away with it… it very much depends on the kid and the age).
Having said that, TJ is getting an insulated lunch box for Christmas (he’s going into pre-school so he’ll be taking in his own lunch for the first time… and the lunch box has dinosaurs on) and Louisette received drink bottles (Doc Macstuffins ones).
So there’s a different between getting something plain and something that feels special, even when it’s something the kid legitimately needs. But I’d still advise caution.
And I definitely think every xmas gift list should include something to DO. A puzzle, construction set, activity book, etc etc.
In all honesty, one of the reasons I like getting the kids gifts is so that they bother me less when I’m trying to work. Is. . . is that the real meaning of Christmas?
I usually buy more than 4 presents, but then “sell” several to relatives who want to give the kids gifts and ask me what to get them. (FYI That kind of relative is the BEST.) But four gifts is usually plenty.
My mum tends to buy a LOT of gifts (it’s her love language, and definitely expressed in quantity), and one will be the ‘main’ present—considerably more expensive than the rest. That’s a good system in its own right, although not well suited to those who get stressed by large amounts of cheap plastic nonsense in their house.
Sidebar: Christmas is a great time to have family members with inattentive ADD (aka Chris and Louisette). This year Louisette was looking through photos on my phone when she came across a gift I bought for her. It’s literally sitting on our couch, out of the packaging—I took the photo for Chris since I thought he should know what I was spending all our money ON before I wrapped it. It’s a Doc Macstuffins pet carrier including a pet, and one of Louisette’s biggest gifts (she’s obsessed with Doc Macstuffins at present).
“Oh, Mum!” she says. “That is so cute. It would be a really great gift for me for Christmas.”
Me: *internally swearing* Hmm? Oh yes, it’s very cute.
Aand… she accepted that, and has forgotten all about it.
And of course, as far as adult presents go… it’s all about books for me. I buy lots for others, carefully chosen (I get all bewildered with friends who don’t love fantasy novels, but I do like one or two non-fantasy books a year so that’s handy). It’s tradition in my family to read a book before giving it to someone, and then give a kind of review as part of the gift. “This is so deliciously eccentric; you’ll love it” “Watch out! It’s a 4-book series and the cliffhanger at the end of Book 3 will drive you nuts” etc. Great tradition.
I get quite stressed nowadays when I receive physical books, because I vastly prefer reading on my kindle (it’s easier on my wrists and neck). So that’s awkward. But they’re still books, and books are always good.
Between Chris and I, Christmas is an excuse to buy something way more expensive than we’d normally buy for ourselves. Chris is getting ug boots (he likes ‘proper’ ones, and wears them constantly around the house), and I’ve already ordered and received a made-to-order corset from Gallery Serpentine (they make high-quality corsets and are the go-to shop for Canberrans despite the fact they’re based in Sydney).
For many years, when I was living on very little (there were times when I didn’t have enough to eat three meals a day), Christmas was all about tricking people into buying necessities for me, like clothes or a secondhand microwave. My finances revolved around Christmas, and I’d carefully think about what I needed most, that could appear to be a fun and frivolous gift. There are definitely others out there going through the same thing. If you know your friends are super pov, a gift of shoes can make a big difference (obviously you have to figure out where they’d like to buy shoes from, and give them a voucher). Or a gift basket of food (either sensible or silly; both are expensive). Or something they can regift to someone else, because of course gift-giving is very hard when you’re too poor to afford anything much.
Christmas, commercialism, and the sheer push-and-pull of STUFF are all inextricably bound together. It’s worth thinking about what you really want, and what you really want to give.