Why I Refuse to Give My Kids Lots of Christmas Gifts

My husband and I are lucky enough to come from very generous families, who shower our 3-year-old twins with presents and books and clothes. Of course, we’re grateful, and our kids are psyched. But because our kids get so much from friends and family, we don’t tend to give them gifts from us. I’ll make elaborate cupcakes or create rituals around lighting our Hanukkah candles, but I rarely hand them a present to open. As a result, I don’t think my boys put a lot of stock in “gifts.” Obviously, they get excited about new stuff, but I think they actually care more about food. For example, when I told them we were swapping candy with the Halloween Fairy, they asked for donuts–yes, donuts–instead of toys. (That’s probably a whole other issue I’ll eventually have to address.)
This year though, they seem to have more of an awareness of all the toys and STUFF out there. The other day, we took a trip to the Disney store and they just about lost their everloving minds. Touching everything. Trying to open everything. Needing to have everything, everything, in the store. I mean, they’ve been shopping with me before. I’m never like, “What do you want, my little pookie wookie, just cause it’s Monday? Everything? Okay, Clerk, we will take all of aisle 5.” I’m not sure where they got the idea that they could just have it cause they asked, but I think it’s just part of being 3-years-old–they want what they want. And I have to admit, as I stood there, watching them in all of their Marvel superhero/Buzz Lightyear/Big Hero 6/giant plush Olaf excitement, I kind of wanted to buy out the store. I did. I wanted to roll out with a cart overflowing with toys, my kids hanging off the sides, shouting, “Merry Christmas to all!” Somehow, I controlled myself though.
Yes, my kids now seem to get the big deal about gifts and, because of that, I want my husband and I to be the ones giving them the cool stuff. I want them to throw their arms around our necks, so excited about what Mommy and Daddy got them. So, when I saw two supehero hoodies at Costco, I bought them. A shadow puppet set for our bedtime story routine, I ordered it. I made one of those personalized puzzles with pictures of our family, that I can’t wait for them to put together. Sure, they would love the giant box of puffy superhero costumes, the life-size Olaf, but what are they going to remember? I hope it’s the thoughtful, sentimental stuff I’ve rounded up. I want to be Big Hero Mommy.
I think that the less gifts they get, the more each one means. It’s not stuff, just for the sake of stuff. It’s toys and books that will build memories, not just get used and forgotten after one day of play. So we aren’t going to give our kids one present for each night of Hanukkah, and there won’t be 25 toys waiting under the Christmas tree at my in-laws. Just a handful of things that we know they’ll love and appreciate.
Because once you start spoiling your kids with too many gifts, you can’t dial it back. You’re setting expectations. You’re also putting too high of a value on “stuff.” I think happy memories are built on the little things, the rituals, the time spent together. Yes, their first bike with a red bow is a big, big deal, but it’s overshadowed if drowning in a sea of stuff. Kids have short attention spans as it is. In my family, we’re going to try and follow the motto of less is more, quality over quantity, gratitude first, and hopefully, we can encourage our boys to be gracious, appreciative little people.

Photo: Jennifer Teeman