I could paint you a vivid word picture of what Christmas for our family is like, but all you need to know is one detail: Our three kids are the only grandchildren, nieces or nephews on both sides of the family.
Yep, you can guess what Christmas is like for our kids – with two sets of grandparents, four uncles and three aunts who love them to pieces.
So, ’tis the season for my yearly struggle: How can I teach my children that Christmas is not an annual toy haul without stealing the joy from my relatives as they shower our children with gifts?
My friend, Anne, has hit this dilemma head-on with her family. When the Christmas presents for her children reached sheer gluttony, she came up with a set of guidelines her family had to follow.
What? You can do that?
Anne did. And she says everyone’s happier for it.
The tipping point happened a few years ago. Anne and her husband, Todd, were leaving their parents’ house after opening presents. They loaded up their SUV to go home and had to have a member of the family drive an additional car full of presents to their home.
An intervention was staged, and Anne spelled out a simple set of guidelines. Grandparents may give three gifts to each child, and the gifts must fall into three categories:
1. Something they can read.
2. Something they can wear.
3. Something they can play with.
“I knew that having two carloads full of Christmas gifts was not normal,” Anne said. “But if we let it continue, then that is what our kids would think is normal. As parents we have the opportunity and the responsibility to shape our kids’ expectations.”
She knew it was also about more than just the stuff: “Our values are reflected in what we spend our money and time on. If we spend the Christmas season shopping for and buying gifts, what are we telling our kids is important?”
After some initial resistance, Anne’s family got on board – and even liked her guidelines.
“Now the grandparents are much more thoughtful about their gifts, instead of just giving a bunch of stuff,” she said. “Not only that, they can see now that the amount of gifts was getting in the way of some important lessons for our kids.”
This whole notion is intriguing to me. I’ve since found several other friends who have given their family members some gift-giving parameters when it comes to their kids.
One friend will not allow her kids to have any toys that use batteries (genius!). She said the expense of replacing batteries and the hassle of disposing of them render them unwelcome in her home.
Another has one simple rule: nothing that breathes or requires upkeep. Amen, sister. (Although I would be lying if I said my kids weren’t totally enjoying the African dwarf frogs from Uncle Sloan!)
I fully understand that having too many presents from a loving family falls into the good- problem- to-have category. However, for parents who are focused on teaching their children that Christmas is about much more than presents, it can be an issue.
How can I teach empathy for those who have nothing if the only thing my kids know is wading through a sea of presents on Christmas morning?
How can I teach them about patience if their every want is met – sometimes even before they know they want it?
How can I teach them about contentment when getting more is so incredibly easy?
And most importantly for me, how in the world can I teach them that the greatest gift of Christmas is Jesus if we make the day all about the presents?
This year, the grandparents in our family have agreed to tone down the number of gifts for our kids at Christmas. I sure hope they do.
Besides, any presents they put under the tree will pale in comparison to the loving presence they provide to our children all year long.
Have you set up any boundaries for gift-giving within your family? If so, please share in the comments!
I wrote this back in 2010 for The Dallas Morning News’ Mom’s Briefing Panel (See article here). Joyfully, we’ve added some cousins to the mix since this was first published, but the struggle is still real….