It’s December. I have heard from many parents how stressful this time of year can be because of the pressure to find the perfect gift for their children. Stressful financial situations, particularly this year, combined with kids who are inundated with consumerist messages and braggy friends can weigh down parents’ hearts. All we want to do is provide our kids with magical childhood memories! And make everything perfect! And avoid all feelings of disappointment! Is that too much to ask?
We’re not immune to these feelings at my house but at this moment my children are busy doing “bounty chores.” They are frantically cleaning my house to earn a quarter here and a dollar there. How did I get this army of house elves? My children use their own money to buy each other Christmas gifts.
Tip #1: Have your kids spend their own money to buy Christmas presents
Do you remember the first Christmas you made money? When I was sixteen I got a job at In N Out burger. It was only a few months before Christmas and I was hired at $8.25/hour, which in the year 2000 was great money. My eyes bulged out when I got my first paycheck. It was such a vast sum, more than I had been able to make babysitting a couple nights a week. I felt rich.
I immediately began planning out the gifts I would buy my family for Christmas. I was so excited to give them something they actually wanted, they would actually like. And with money that I earned myself. What a magical feeling.
In remembrance of that feeling, I’ve never bought presents on behalf of my kids for anyone at Christmas time. When they were little, they made art projects or would give a toy of their own to their sibling. Now that they’re older and can do more lucrative jobs, the dollar store is their best friend. Candy is a common gift around here. Last year, my sweet nine year old hoarded all of her money for months so she could buy “good” colored pencils and a “good” coloring book for her little sister, not the cheap stuff from the dollar store. She was so excited to give. It filled up my mother-heart.
Tip #2: Take turns giving instead of receiving
I take each of my kids on a date to go Christmas shopping sometime in December. While we’re out I let them pick out a roll of wrapping paper that I purchase for them. When we get home they wrap all the gifts they bought in the wrapping paper they picked out and put it under the tree. No one else uses that wrapping paper. (I stick it in a box and use it myself the following year).
On Christmas morning, we start with the youngest child and each take turns giving presents. I love watching the face of the giver. The anticipation and joy that they experience is greater than the recipient.
Around my house, talk in December is less about what my kids want for Christmas and more about what they think their siblings or Dad might want for Christmas. We talk a lot with the younger kids about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and thinking about what they would like.
Tip #3: Model Joyful Giving
At Christmas time, my feelings of joy are renewed as I remember the hope that the Savior’s birth brought to the world. Those feelings of joy and gratitude are what inspire my celebrations and giving. That’s what you do when your insides are too full to contain, you explode with gifts.
If we give our children gifts reluctantly or resentfully, with warnings about behavior or mutterings about how spoiled they are, we are not modeling joy. Our children will pick up on this attitude and be reluctant to give gifts themselves.
It also helps to give good reactions when your kids give you gifts. Most of the time when my kids give me something, especially when its a craft they’ve made, it’s not exactly what I always wanted. But they’ve given me something from their sweet little hearts and I try to react appropriately.
Here’s a hilarious video if you’d like to get better at reacting to presents you don’t love.