Is it possible to give too many gifts? As parents, could you be over-gifting at Christmas time? Will giving too much spoil your child or set a precedent you can’t keep up?
For our oldest daughter’s first Christmas, like any new mom, I was eager to buy her lots of cute and fun things. Of course I would be sure to get a great deal on everything (because I just can’t help it), so I knew there wouldn’t be a problem with overspending.
My wise husband was not worried about money either, but he was concerned with overgifting.
“She’s 9 months old,” he reasoned. “She already has plenty of toys and books and clothes. She doesn’t need anything.”
I couldn’t disagree. She didn’t need anything, but I wanted to give her something. I wanted her to have presents to open like the other cousins, aunts, and uncles. We all know that kids (and grown-ups) love tearing through colorful paper.
We compromised by making her something. Together we made her a simple sock puppet we ended up calling “Monster.” It wasn’t fancy, didn’t cost anything, didn’t create clutter, and wasn’t excessive. It was made with lots of love by mom and dad.
That was enough. That was what she wanted and needed. And that’s what I needed.
Since then, we’ve been careful not to over-give to our kids at birthdays, Christmas, and everyday occasions.
Because we held back our (my) initial desire to spend and spoil, we have maintained reasonable expectations while keeping enthusiasm high and the true spirit of the holidays strong.
Maintain Reasonable Expectations
We don’t give our kids the latest and greatest of everything, so they aren’t constantly expecting more and more. Not having TV helps, too. Our kids are excited about what they receive even if it isn’t brand new and doesn’t have fancy big box store packaging. We buy some things new, but many of the gifts we give were purchased second-hand. Our kids don’t know the difference. They are also happy to get clothes and necessities at holidays (yes, even socks and underwear).
A few years ago we gave our two older children (then ages 4 and 5) bikes that we got at the thrift store for a few dollars each. With a little cleaning up and adjusting, they were just fine. The kids were thrilled and did not even notice that they weren’t brand new.
Another way we maintain reasonable expectations is by avoiding wish lists. I am not a fan of Christmas wish lists. I don’t ask my kids what they want for Christmas. Because I know my kids, I have a pretty good idea of what they’d like. I want my gifts to be thoughtful and heartfelt, not just checking off someone’s requests.
Keep Excitement High
The natural result of maintaining reasonable expectations is that excitement remains high.
Since my kids don’t have a list of expectations for gifts, they are pleasantly surprised with whatever they get. They are not de-sensitized to true thoughtfulness.
It might seem counter-intuitive (which is why spoiling can be so tempting for parents), but, in my opinion, kids who don’t get everything they want are happier and more grateful than those who do. Does Veruca Salt ring a bell?
It’s actually good for kids to not get everything they want. It teaches them to be content and grateful for what they do have. Kids (and adults) who always get what they want are always wanting more and more (and bigger and better). When kids grow up getting everything they ask for, real life hits pretty hard. Learning gratitude, contentment and compassion comes easier when we start young.
For most of our children’s birthday parties with friends, we have asked guests not to bring gifts, but instead bring donations for the local food bank. The kids were excited to enlist their friends’ help do something important for their birthday, and they LOVE going to the food bank to deliver the food they collected on their birthday. They still got gifts from us and from grandparents, but we didn’t have new toy overload after birthdays.
Keep the True Holiday Spirit Strong
Instead of talking about what we want for Christmas, we talk a lot about what we want to give at Christmas. Our kids love making gifts for others and really pour themselves into it. They are as excited to see us open gifts they made for us as they are to open their own gifts.
When my oldest was 5, she “made” me a shirt by adding some sparkly embellishments. She enlisted Daddy’s help to reach her vision of what she wanted it to look like. She could barely wait for me to open it up. Of course I put it on immediately. Whenever I wear it, it gets a lot of attention. She just glows. I love that.
Focusing on service is another great way to keep the true holiday spirit strong. Instead of focusing on our own wants, we can teach our kids (by word and deed) to give of themselves in service to others. Our family was inspired by this video to be more intentional about serving others this Christmas season.
The Biggest Favor We Did Ourselves
Giving a simple, thoughtful, made-with-love sock puppet to our daughter eight years ago was the perfect gift-giving precedent to set.
I’m thankful that my wise husband steered us away from the slippery slope of extravagant over-gifting.
Of course it helps our budget, but more importantly it is helping us raise grateful, happy, and thoughtful children.
Is it too late to scale back?
I don’t think it’s ever too late to scale back on holiday giving extravagance, no matter how old you or your kids are.
Start by changing the expectations. Talk to your family about simplifying Christmas giving this year. You can make it about money if you want, but it’s perfectly fine to simplify for simplicity’s sake.
Help the discussion to be a positive one. Be excited about the opportunity to be more thoughtful and intentional with your gifts, rather than spending and spoiling. Help your children focus on others and use their talents to give meaningful gifts.
There may be some growing pains as you scale back, but I would rather console my child who didn’t receive an iPad like his kindergarten classmates now, than deal with a full-blown Veruca Salt later.
How about you?
- How has your gift-giving precedent helped or hurt your holidays?
- How have you made your gifts more heart-felt or less commercial?
- Is anyone else a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas wish lists?
This probably goes without saying, but just to be clear, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert on parenting. Just like you, I’m figuring things out as I go.
This post was originally published Dec 8th, 2014.