Monday, December 21, 2009

The Best Gifts Don't Need Wrapping

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If I had a dollar for every time my mother told me that it was her prerogative as a grandma to spoil her grandchildren...well I would have enough money to buy another house to store all the stuff she buys her grandchildren! I am not the first and I will not be the last parent who has tried to counter and balance the amount of stuff that is given to their children.

My kids are being raised in a very different community than my husband and I. My husband had one uncle on each side of his family and they were very conservative on gifts. I have 5 aunts and uncles and we got piles of presents every year. My kids not only have their 3 aunts and uncles, they have my 5, my husbands 2, two sets of grandparents and all of our friends who are like an additional 5 aunts and uncles. So when the holidays roll around....well it's a lot of stuff! On top of that my child was the first one in our family, it took many, many, many (heck we're still working n it!) conversations to convince my parents that they didn't need to bring a gift/toy/activity with them every time they came over. There was never a sales rack or dollar bin that my mother hasn't visited and found something on!

So what to do? We are trying hard to teach our children values and charity and we don't want them to think that stuff just shows up when they want it. On the same token we don't want to seem ungrateful to those people that want to show their love to our children with gifts.

One thing that we started when my son was an infant was every birthday and Christmas he had to choose one toy and give it to charity, brand new, unopened. This was so much easier when we were the ones choosing for them. Now that we have a 2 year old and 4 year old its getting a little harder but they both happily do it. We choose different charities every year. The last few years they have gone into church raffles and fundraisers, we have also donated them to hospitals and shelters.

Since the kids birthdays are only 10 days apart we always do a joint party, and it's always bigger (see above, family + friends, eek!) than we think kids should have, but it's fun seeing everyone. This year, in an effort to help combat the amount of stuff as well as trying to reinforce our tradition of giving back we asked for no gifts. I included my 4 year old in the whole process and it was an outstanding success. We talked about what other friends had done (collected for a food pantry) and we read about what a kindergarten class in our area had done (collected for a animal shelter) and I asked him who he would want to help. After some very interesting discussions he decided he wanted to help animals and we focused that on a local animal shelter. We collected items for our local animal shelter. He made a big donation box, he helped me shop for items (with money that out of town people sent), and he helped deliver it. It was such a moving experience for all of us! Our friends and family were generous and we filled the whole back of our car! He wowed so many people at the shelter with his generosity and he blew his parent s expectations out of the water with how involved he was. The best part, he asked if he could do it again next year!

These methods haven't changed our family, or the amount of toys we have, overnight. However they are helping and teaching a very valuable lesson to our children. They did get presents for their birthday, but only about ¼ of what they would have received. I think they actually like it better than the overwhelming pile of presents they would have received if everyone brought something. Sure there was the “is that all? Is there more to open?” moment. However 6 month later they are still actually playing with the toys, and know that they were from their birthday. Those few gifts had greater meaning to them than the huge pile.

This time of year I usually start dreading the holidays and how to deal with all the gifts that my kids will get. I usually try to have the conversation with at least one set of grandparents about quality over quantity. But I feel like we are making progress and all learning from it. Last year one of the grandmas gave the kids outings instead of a gift...that was awesome and they loved it. This year my mom asked what they wanted and when I mentioned a larger more expensive toy she actually answered...”well I guess I would rather get them just one gift I know they will love”. So I'm not worried this year. We are learning, as a family (immediate and extended), how to be more appreciative, and charitable and that's really the best gift of all.


Unknown said...

I agree! It is hard to get the family to stop buying things for the kids. We haven't had any luck slowing the flow of toys into the house (as you are well aware :-) but, we did make headway on one front. We got my parents to stop buying Christmas and birthday gifts for the husband and I. Now, for those occasions, they take the money they would have spent (and actually a bit more than that) and put it right into the boys college savings funds. Awesome gift!

Unknown said...

Beautiful post, and I totally agree with you. Things do NOT guarantee happiness for sure :)

Carl -