Gearing Up for Gift Giving: Do You “Owe” Your Kids a Holiday Bonanza?

Is this what I owe my kids?

As I was mulling over the subject of this post — do we owe it to our kids to give them A Great Holiday? Does your definition of A Great Holiday involve a certain number or type of distribution of gifts? A certain price point? An even-Steven stack for each child? — I read this excellent post by my friend Meagan Francis, over at The Happiest Mom. And wouldn’t you know it’s about the whole “owe” concept. Meagan’s talking here more broadly about ditching the idea that we “owe” our children things, if those things don’t fit in to our own unique worldview. Sounds a lot like what I always say, if you boil it down to its very essence: If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

So anyway, this all brings my actual post idea — holiday gifts for kids — into perspective.

Because my feeling has always been, I don’t owe my children a specific experience when it comes to gifts. A certain number of them, say, or a certain predetermined price value. Before they knew what the whole hoopla meant surrounding Christmas goodies and Santa Claus, in fact, I  didn’t get them any gifts at all.

Or birthday gifts, or birthday cards. I don’t think I’ve ever bought my boys a store birthday card. I remember seeing birthday cards parents had bought for one-year-old children and wondering why? For me, it felt vaguely ridiculous. A commercial card he can’t read, signed love Mommy and Daddy? Who is that card for? I’d argue it’s for you (which is fine if that’s what you want, but my point is that I didn’t feel that I “owed” my child a first birthday gift, much less a first birthday card.) Or a Christmas gift.

My boys have never gotten piles of gifts so high they couldn’t see over them, or so much stuff that they adopted that glazed, shark-frenzy look that I’m sure we’ve all seen when kids are in gift-overload, and all they do is unwrap, toss aside, and look for more. And before you congratulate me for my forward thinking approach: I didn’t arrange it this way on purpose. It just happened. In part because I never saw a reason to buy a child a gift who couldn’t, say, sit all the way up to open a gift, or understand the magic of Santa presents appearing beneath the tree. And in part because I am blessed with parents and parents-in-law who enjoy giving their grandchildren A GIFT. Not twelve gifts. (And they veer toward the practical, which is awesome when we need pajamas and winter coats!)

When my older son was five, he asked for a gift from Santa for the first time ever. He asked for a trumpet. We got him a shiny toy trumpet. The next year he wanted an accordion; that he got. And so it went, until the point we’re at now, when they create lists and we’re sure to get at least one or two of the most reasonable requests on the list (my younger son wants a dictionary, bless him, and an iPod, always; guess which one he’ll actually get this year?). Big boy wants a watch “with lots of features, such as a timer and a stopwatch,” the current Guinness World Book of Records, “and whatever else you think you want to get me.” The rest of their Santa gifts will be as many smaller things as I can afford, wrapped in as many packages as I can muster.

I don’t owe them any particular type of Christmas. But they deserve the feeling of anticipation and delight, don’t you think? And I think one excellent way to extend and foster that feeling, for me, has been to limit expectations, yes. But it’s also important, and useful, to not even start with the notion that anything’s “owed” them. Even if you never utter the actual phrase, “I owe you guys all this stuff,” they feel it if you feel it; they get the idea that they are owed, that the idea is to tick things off a list, or to measure the size of the stacks under the tree or falling out of the stocking.

What do you think?

By the way, Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and I have, in the past, gotten a lot of writerly mileage out of comparing what we have in common as writers and mothers, given our surface differences: She has five kids, and is the self-proclaimed HAPPY mom; I have two, a decidedly more dyspeptic attitude, and am the self-proclaimed MEAN mom. But we’ve known each other for years and I, for one, admire the heck out of her. I invite you — no! I implore you! — to go check out Meagan’s newest project, The Kitchen Hour, and listen to the two of us talking food and family on this podcast, which I had great fun doing with her.

[photo credit:]