Learning to Count: Gift Giving This Holiday Season


I used to feel joyful and jubilant as the holidays approached, but a time came in my mothering years when the holidays approached and I literally cringed.  Some years, it seemed as if the Christmas season had become less about celebrating the birth of Christ and more about worrying about toy storage, dreading the day when my family opened all those lovely, brightly wrapped, thoughtful gifts. 

I have four kids.  That’s four times the amount of stuff.  From us.  From grandmas and grandpas.  From aunts and uncles.  From friends.  From Santa.  

img_2164_1_1I know the gifts are all given with the best of intentions.  What better way to show your love than to shower someone with gifts?  I’m guilty of it myself.  I vow to skimp on the stuff year after year, knowing that they’ll receive a plethora from adoring relatives, yet as I wander through the stores, something will catch my eye that just seems perfect for one of my darling little children.

Then one year a few years back, we managed to hit both sets of grandparents in one day (we usually alternate years with grandparents) and then arrived home to a room full of gifts under our own Christmas tree. 

The joy of opening gifts was completely lost on our kids at that point.  They were tired and fussy and just going through the motions.  Rip, tear, toss.  Repeat. 

My husband and I surveyed the living room as we slumped on the couch in exhaustion at the end of the day.  Toys were strewn from one end of the room to the other.  Just what exactly were we going to do with all this?  It was a Christmas with three kids and another on the way.  We could only imagine the following year when there would be four kids in the mix. 

Something had to change.

My husband and I want our kids to learn the art of appreciation.  To understand that there is beauty in simple things.  To internalize the idea that they are not entitled to piles of gifts or new toys or even soccer lessons just because they exist.  The only entitlements that come with being a child are forgiving love, gentle guidance, and loving discipline.  Love isn’t given with a pile of Christmas gifts.  Guidance isn’t something we wrap up with a bow.  Discipline doesn’t come in a gift bag.  Those are the abstract ideas that we want to instill in our children but so often we get sidetracked and try to make up for it by showing our love with a dollar sign.

That isn’t to say that gift giving is bad.  On the contrary, gift giving is a beautiful opportunity to try to express our love in a tangible way.  But we’ve been trained by our culture and the media to believe that gift giving is about stuff.  And that stuff brings happiness.  It doesn’t.  And as soon as we pile up the gifts under the tree and train our children to begin to think that way, we plant the seed for deep rooted dissatisfaction in their lives.  Gift giving should be just as much about showing love as learning the language of appreciation. And when there’s too much piled up, it’s hard to appreciate anything with sincerity.  Less is more.  I promise.december-2014-185_1_1

So this year as you plan your gift giving lists, think outside the box.  Think of gift giving as an expression of your love.  How do you best describe the love you have for your child with a gift?  Is it with an experience?  Like a membership to the aquarium or maybe a season pass to the Hooks games where you can spend quality time together?  Maybe it’s sports.  Yep, the time you use to cart them to practice is a GIFT and the lessons themselves, which are often very costly, are not entitlements… Treat them as the gifts they are.  Maybe it’s a chance to spend time together, fueled by gift certificates to the movies or an afternoon at Funtrackers on the go-cart track.

Or maybe you’re not quite ready to do away with giving stuff, but perhaps you could pare down.  Maybe 2 or 3 thoughtful gifts would be more meaningful and better appreciated than twenty deal of the day bargains.

Let your gifts be a reflection of what you value. 

Do you value imagination?  Consider giving toys that have open opportunities (as opposed to a character toy which only does one thing) or a selection of art supplies.  Do you value literature?  Then give well-loved books, you know, the ones that you remember from your childhood.  Do you value beauty?  Then mass produced plastic toys don’t really reflect that value.

Choose gifts that are useful.  Like clothes.  Yep, clothes.  That fancy dress she wants.  The cool tennis shoes he’s been drooling over.  While we have a responsibility to provide clothing for our kids, no where in the manual does it say it must be name brand or trendy…save those as special gifts for the holidays.  Or perhaps a useful gift that allows your child to grow in his or her passions.  Like a camera for the budding photographer or guitar lessons for your musical genius.

Give gifts that help your child grow, not gifts that just keep him busy and help him pass the time.  He doesn’t need gifts to entertain him.  He’s quite capable of doing that with some sticks and rocks.  Your job is to give a gift that nurtures his childhood, not numbs him to the curiosity around him.  How about a camping trip together?  A weekend on the river?  Even a tent to pitch in the backyard and the ingredients to make s’mores together is a magical gift that captures a child’s imagination.

Maybe you just need a chance to carve out time to spend together.  How about tickets to the theater?  A day at the spa for the girls?  Maybe those are out of your budget so you have to get a little more creative…nail polish for an at-home spa experience.  Baking mixes and mixing bowls for an afternoon of cookie making.

Maybe your child is still too young for any of the suggestions.  In that case, let me let you in on a little secret.  They only care about the gift wrap.  So it doesn’t matter what you put inside.  It took me four kids to figure that out. 

It’s not about the money.  It’s not about the quantity.  It’s not about keeping up with the Joneses.  It’s the appreciation that we feel in our hearts knowing that someone we love loves us, too.  It really is the thought that counts. So make it count this holiday season. 


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