Happy Holidays: Prevent the Gimmes by Tempering the Givers

Even though our offspring are deep into their teens and twenties and we just now threw out the jack-o-lantern, the grandparents have been badgering the kids and me for their wish lists for Christmas gifts. This is an annual ritual as familiar as the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. You, too? Even during an economically depressed decade, the largesse of loved ones can overwhelm both our storage space and our best plans to raise content, un-materialistic children who are thankful for more important things than things.

Here are some  things The Husband and I did to help make the holidays happy:
Practice Clutter Control:

• Box up about half of the only-occasionally-played-with-not-best-loved toys. Rotate with the other half every three or four months. Amazing how much more they enjoyed them when I did this regularly!

• If it is broke, don’t fix it! If it is a cheap, never-should-have-been-made-sold-or-given kind of toy, out it goes… For a long time, too, our kids did not know that batteries could be changed in electronic toys we’d have rather they had never been given. When it ran out, “Oh, too bad, it doesn’t work anymore…”

• Donate, donate, donate. I used to let the kids keep all monies earned from toys they were willing to yard sale. If you are smart like me and now donate instead of all that bother, you could “pay” your kids the amount you’ll be able to take off your taxes for the donations of toys. More important than any money, help them see and feel the delight of giving all by itself. Early November through Early December is the time when charities station drop boxes all over town for toy donations. Visit early and visit often and take your child with you.

Determine and Enforce Your Standards, with Love:
• We decided early on that we didn’t want Playstation, X-Box, and their ilk to be part of our family’s life. We communicated that clearly to gift purchasers, explaining that if anyone was determined to get something like that it would need to live at their house and be a fun thing to look forward to during visits.

• We also, and this is where your good opinion of me will probably die, seriously/jokingly let everybody know that really loud, annoying toys would live at their own houses, too. We like to think we have an endearingly backward idea that the best toys are the ones where the child provides the vroom-vroom and the moo-moo. And we were trying to maintain our sanity at least until we got the kids old enough to drive. I am sure all my relatives think we are humorless, ogre parents. We are ok with that.

Quality, Not Quantity:
• Select a couple of well-made, set-building types of toys and encourage givers to first start and later add to the set. In our family, Lego, Playmobil, and Brio gifts were always welcomed, loved, and played with by all.
• Help each set of grandparents or other gift-givers in your children’s lives think through a little math. If Gma and Gpa X give each of our three children three new toys apiece, and Gma and Gpa Y and Auntie N and Uncle L all do as well, each child will have received NINE new toys without Mom and Dad (not to mention the S-man) giving them a thing. Our house is not that large! We asked grandparents – we have three sets in our family – to limit themselves to two gifts per child each Christmas. They were gracious to try to do that. We still felt it was too much, but it was a compromise.
• We ourselves bought our kids very little and most of it practical, so the grandparents could buy the “fun” stuff.

• If you have a grandparent set who are willing, help them think creatively about gifts that are not just more toys and trinkets. Let them help you buy “fun” educational extras. Books! Think about fun craft and science kits. If they want more for the kids to unwrap, encourage them to give food or other consumable treats — our kids looked forward to unwrapping a box of poptarts or sugary cereal or a six pack of soda, which were only occasional treats for them. Items for their bedrooms can be terrific and very well-received – how about a new comforter or hand-made quilt, their very own alarm clock or a nightlight?
• With all your might, encourage “experience gifts” instead of things. The whole family will attend a concert, go to a museum, a sporting event, make a special recipe together, whatever. The giver can make a certificate announcing the gift to be opened at present time. These have been some of our most treasured gifts – time we have spent together doing things and going places.

All of these strategies have to be implemented with kindness, humility, and the understanding that for some people material gifts really do equal love, a love they may have trouble expressing in other ways. Have the grace to understand that if it is true in the life of a family member, and let time and your own well-taught children gently show them there is another way. When they see the kids get more excited about a drive to look at holiday lights with a hot chocolate/cookies finale than about an electronic beepy-shrieky “book,” they may start to have a new idea. When enough holidays have gone by and enough warm memories have been made, it may turn out that everybody learns a life-changing lesson.

What strategies have worked for you?

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  1. Posted November 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    AMEN, AMEN, AMEN! And you said all of this so tactfully!

  2. Posted November 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful points. I have some friends who set up a balancing scale – when the kids got new toys, the new stuff goes on one side, and the kids choose out of their older toys items they are willing to part with/donate, and put them on the other side until the scale is balanced. I think its a great idea to keep from getting overwhelmed with too many toys/things. 🙂

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