December has arrived and Christmas is around the corner… Instagram is full of beautiful Christmas goodies… and I have been asked by almost everyone I know if I have finished my shopping. I have to say, I am not that big on the whole Christmas shopping thing, in actual fact I don’t even think about it until a day or two before Christmas. And even then, I hardly shop… I am the classic under buyer and if I never ever needed to shop again then my life would be complete. It just so happens that for us, Christmas is a season with its fun days and traditions, but it occurs in the midst of a long lazy summer. It’s the long lazy summer that I really want to focus on and I definitely don’t want to waste time rushing around the shops, with a trail of kids dragging along behind me.
I know that this is the season to reel in horror at yet another post about gifting your kids… but lets face it the world has simply gone mad. As parents we are literally drowning in the “I must buy my children everything or I am the worst parent ever” season… remember this is not actually normal, and it is just a marketers twist on parental guilt.
The Thing About Wishlists
Firstly, your kids have enough stuff and they really do know that you love them… that’s the truth. The other truth is that they want stuff, they really want stuff and our culture spends a lot of time and money investing in their wishlists, asking our kids what their heart’s desires are… and every online shop has a wish list option… Our culture trains us and our children to want stuff, and that sets us up to feel bad when we can’t give it all to them.
Forget about all the emotional and financial tugs on your heart, start by taking a practical look at the space you live in and then, take a realistic breathe and see what exactly you can fit into your space… If you have a game shelf and it is exploding, then you simply cannot buy another game unless you are planning to give another game away. Boom. Similarly, if you are planning to give your children a beautiful book then is there space on their shelf… it turns out that gifting our children requires us to be filtering out all the things we thought were essential on previous wish lists. I am not even going to mention spontaneous gifting over here, just to say… spontaneous gifts in means spontaneous gifts out.
When I was a child we lived in era where a wishlist meant you wrote down your wildest dreams, and not from a catalogue… you might have seen the neighbour on a bike and thought it was cool, or you might have seen your best friend had a new monopoly game… one kid in my class actually went to Legoland!!! The truth is a wish list was a wish list and not a shopping list, the chances of ever receiving something on your wishlist was somewhat slim. Needless to say, I can guarantee that I never thought to ask my parents for a teepee… but I loved that beautiful fabric tent and its bamboo poles for years. The thing is, wish lists have become “bargaining points, control campaigns and thieves of joy, really they are just disappointments waiting to happen.” They stifle spontaneous gifting and our creativity to pick things for our kids that they would love. The fine line between wants and needs in a child’s eyes is not a line at all, it is a simply a hazy definition.
Really Love Your Kids, Despite their Love Language
Basically, we live in an era where gifting is a way of life, “It’s my love language” is not actually an excuse to drown your children in stuff, or take on a debt larger than a small country. Let’s just clear that up: Your children would most likely prefer to have less stuff in their closet right now, if it means that they won’t be responsible for paying all your bills for you, in their old age. No gift is ever worth going into debt for… ever. And if that means some birthdays your children only get a small gift then so be it. In fact, they don’t have to receive the same gifts year after year after year, that isn’t a tradition, it is a ransom.
Frankly, our kids don’t write wish lists, this is real life over here… and I certainly don’t have time between going for sunset walks and doing laundry, swims at the beach and making the next meal, to go trawling around the internet looking at my kids’ wish lists… its not that I don’t love my kids or that I don’t want them to have their hearts desire. But could I not guide their hearts desires and make sure that they want to spend Christmas day out with friends enjoying the summer sunshine, rather than opening a bazillion gifts that they have to find somewhere to stash.
In order to keep all the “I must have’s” at bay… it is important for your kids to know that something are beautiful to look at, but you don’t have to have them… I don’t mind wandering through a market saying, this is lovely or isn’t that beautiful… appreciation is something in itself… you don’t have to own it to appreciate it. Lots of things I love, but I don’t have to own them. I don’t wander through websites or catalogues saying… I need a gift for a particular child, find something perfect and then buy ten of them. If you are desperate for a giant stash of parcels… wrap some empty boxes, your kids will love them.
I am not a complete Grinch, it is just that I am particularly interested in fulfilling my kids’ needs, and a lot less interested in agonising about their wants. I know they would all want the latest and greatest themed LEGO set… I do know that. And closets filled with all the clothes their friends have…but the truth is… the LEGO would be squeezed into a small space with all the other Lego and nobody really wants to wear what their friends are wearing anyway.
I have agonised, alongside millions of parents, the whole wide world over what would be the perfect gift for my “whatever age the next birthday babe” is going to be… only to realise that if I think back I have no idea what their extra special birthday gift was the year before. I need to give my children a wonderful gift for more than they need to receive it, but not every gift has to be absolutely memorable!!!
One Gift is Actually Enough
When it comes to Christmas I have zero budget, and I don’t spend months shopping way in advance either. I do “shop” around the house the night before, and I do go shopping on the 23 or 24 of December with the father person, we head out and buy a few stationary treats… a notebook for everyone, a ball of string, some sticky tape, couple of pens or fancy erasers, to pop into a stocking. And then we head for breakfast together. The best gift we can give our kids is a working relationship and honestly, having a peaceful breakfast together goes a long way towards that. So much more than staying up half the night gift wrapping a bazillion things and being just too exhausted to wrap one more thing and even more exhausted to be slightly pleasant the next day.
When it comes to birthdays, our kids get one thing… one gift from us. Not one thing from everyone, not one thing from each family member… one lovely gift and that’s it. Something that is great for them right where they are in time and space and something they will love. Most things are family things in our house… family books, family games and so on… there is no point in one child receiving a board game every birthday for eternity if it is a game that other children are going to want to take off the shelf and play with. Who needs a permission slip every time they want to play? So we do buy gifts for the whole family. And a lot less gifts for individuals.
Let’s just step back for a second… “We give our child one gift for their birthday?” Yup, one gift… not one experience, not one outing, not a whole lot of other things… one gift. Something to open and something that we have thought about, something we can afford right then and something that they will hopefully love. Our kids have grannies and friends that love to gift them… so they don’t only get one gift, they get a couple of gifts and they get to learn how to be gracious receivers of love and appreciate gifts from every quarter.
Gift as You Would Like to Be Gifted
Which leads to another thing, lots of parents ask me how I cope with over zealous gifters… those folk that gift your kids things you would rather your children didn’t have. We have very specific toy rules… we choose not to have toys that I would never want to clean up, because chances are high that, while our kids clean up mostly, there will be times when they will head for bed and I will be left cleaning things up… no toys with millions of small pieces (by the time they are playing with LEGO it is their responsibility and it never comes into our living space)… no toys that make annoying noises, I have eight kids can you imagine (though one year we did give all our kids hiking whistles!!!)…
So some folk like to tell relatives what they can and can’t gift their children, some folk like to give grannies a wishlist. And some folk say they get what they get and let it be. Honestly, I can’t control what my children are gifted, and I am as happy as they are when someone who loves them gives them a thoughtful gift. The thing is, my kids don’t have a class of thirty kids coming over for their birthday… they do have a handful of close friends that they have over for their birthday.
When it comes to gifts, anyone who knows me knows… that I have no problem passing things on that have lost their magic, I have no problem moving things along that for a week or two my kids loved everyday and now they just don’t love them anymore. The reality of overwhelming stuff hit us one day when we had small visitors that unpacked every thing my kids owned onto the floor, you know while the grownups where having coffee. Every single thing out of every closet… it was a Kon Mari moment long before Kon Mari had written a book. Let me tell you that most of that stuff we had not gifted our children ourselves. Every puzzle piece, every game piece, every soft toy, every toy that wasn’t out for playing with but was in the closet “for rotation” (that is one of the worst ideas of the modern consumer ever!!!). It only took a short while before we realised that we did not want to pack all that stuff away… EVER. We didn’t love it, we didn’t need it and we never wanted another day like that again ever. A day like that went down in family history… and we curbed our material possessions immediately and never looked back. Yes, puzzles are lovely, a couple of them… but we do not need twenty of them. And that goes for every single genre of toy.
So have I done all my Christmas shopping yet… nope, haven’t even started. And I am not worried about it either. I have put Christmas Carols on the calendar, a cookie baking day, a gift making day and so on. Our calendar is loaded with fun and plenty of days blocked off as “nothing days” too… because doing nothing and free time to do whatever they want to do is the best gift we could ever give our kids. Turns out, you absolutely cannot buy free time in a store… which makes it the perfect gift for me to give our kids.