It is that time of the year again. Christmas is approaching and with it comes the shopping season. But I am not getting too deep into thatÂ in this post. I want to talk about children and their gifts. I have three young children and a host of well-intentioned extended family. That being said, it means that my children get tons of toys, every single year.
I canÂ´t seem to put a hold on my relatives, but I have developed strategies not to be sunk deep in new toys. Mind you, I might seem ungrateful, but one child can have enough toys. And sometimes a interesting and or funÂ experience, or something a child really needs, can be way better.
How do we go about reducing the toy gifts and converting them to something more useful? If you have a large extended family, maybe Christmas is the time of the year to ask for clothes or a good pair of shoes for your little ones. Or you could suggest a special outing. If you have to pay for school books, a good idea is to ask a portion of the money that would be spend on toys to be designated to buy school books, or even go to a college fund.
However, you will meet with plenty of resistance. The older generations were the ones that had one new toy every year, if they where lucky, or none at all. Sometimes they are not thinking only about this child they are gifting now, but remembering their own disappointments of never getting that special toy or game, so they tend to overcompensate. With that in mind, approach them with calm, way before Christmas shopping gets underway, and gently suggest that your child is not deprived of toys, and that an experience would be greatly appreciated, such asÂ tickets to a childâ€™s favourite cartoon character movie, a fun sporting activity like roller skating or wall climbing, a visit to a zoo, theme park or museum etc.Â
On the other hand sometimes we, as parents, are very pressed for cash, and a few good clothing items and new pair of shoes would be a help, because children need lots of clothes! I would like to explain that a little better. When we are grown ups, we donâ€™t â€œloseâ€ clothes so much. We gain weight, we lose weight, clothes tear from too much use so we need to buy new items occasionally. Children on the other hand â€œloseâ€ clothes all the time. Sometimes an entire wardrobe becomes obsolete from one winter to the next. That lovely pair of trainers you kept for outings, suddenly is not fitting anymore, in a short space of one month. Thankfully I get lots of hand me downs, but I am equally passing on a lot of things that my children have grown out of, so bigger clothes are always needed.
So, now the silly season is coming, think about what your children really need or would enjoy rather than toys and conveying that to those well intention relatives who would probably appreciate your suggestions. I am sure children would enjoy something other than just another toy to add to the pile. Â I remember going on outings with my grandmother and otherÂ experiences we had together a lot more than any material gifts I ever received. On the other had I also fondly remember a real nice doll I got one Christmas. I certainly wouldnâ€™t remember that one special giftÂ had I received a dozen similar year after year. Our children willÂ enjoy the season all the more when not being swarmed by it.
Colleen Madsen says
One would think that Christmas would renew its spark for an adult once they have children of their own to enjoy it with. However that never really happened for me. It just added another layer of difficulty. Even to me that seems selfish but nonetheless that is how it felt. I feel very bah humbug about Christmas and have done so since I became an adult and could afford to buy my own things, things I actually wanted. Now I am being subject to online articles of sad old people whose children don’t come home for Christmas. Where are the YouTube videos of the adults with children who live interstate whose retired grandparents never visit them for Christmas. Parents and Children who are expected to use what little vacation time they have each year to travel to visit relatives who rarely go out of their way to visit them. Oh bah humbug!!!!!!
AB Mills says
I like a portion of the content of your website, but I disagree with your statements about retired grandparents who never visit. Many seniors are active, excited travellers who DO visit their children and grandchildren. Other seniors have various reasons for not travelling: pain, edema and risks of blood clots aggravated by sitting for long periods of time, urinary or fecal incontinence, unstable footing, lack of depth perception which increases risks of falling, hearing problems that are magnified by sounds coming from multiple directions, memory lapses, etc. If anyone reading this thinks, “Oh, Mom/Dad have none of those problems,” the reality is that many seniors will not admit to having these problems.
Also, many people have a misguided belief that retired seniors have a lot of money. Many seniors today are having to stretch their retirement savings to last 25-30 years or more. While it is expensive for a young family with children to travel, there is still an opportunity for them to grow their savings in the years to come. Most seniors will not have an opportunity to do this unless they plan to return to the workforce.
For the reasons stated above, we don’t need videos of adults with children whose retired grandparents never visit. That won’t even the score for either side. The discomfort and inconvenience of travelling as young adults with children can’t compare to the discomfort and inconvenience of travelling with age-related limitations. However, if an adult requires that everything be perfectly shared and distributed, one suggestion would be for everyone to take turns with the travelling so it’s not always the same group doing the travelling.
Colleen Madsen says
Hi AB Mills, thank you for your comment. I understand exactly the message you are trying to get across here and I apologise if I offended you. Everyone’s situation is different and I admit that some of my anger at expectations place on me most likely comes from a feeling of guilt and frustration. Especially since I know that it is getting harder and harder for my parents to travel form many reasons. I am however not going to explain myself to you except to say I was out of line but you don’t know my circumstances so please don’t sit in judgement of me.
Hi Andreia, this is something my husband and I have been trying to do for the last three or four years, especially as I come from a big family and it is easy for the nieces and nephews to get overwhelmed with toys. We ask the parents if there is anything special they need or want for the kids like clothes or school supplies etc. We have also gone in with a group of family members and bought big items like a trampoline, or swing set. Sometimes we have taken the older kids on outings like the movies (we are taking a couple of the older nephews to Star Wars this year), the zoo, the reptile park or laser tag. As it is summer here at Christmas sometimes the kids need new togs or things for the beach. We also find sometimes the kids go to school camp not long after they get back to school after the holidays or need items like tablets or laptops for school now, so donations towards these are also welcome Christmas presents. Also we have found books are a good idea, especially to help encourage those who are just learning to read.
Being brutally honest, I probably wouldn’t have liked this idea when my children were tots (I was a very different person on the shopping and toys front) but with the youngest about to head off to University, an annual contribution to an education fund would have been really appreciated around this point.
Other than my donations to Toys for Tots, other Toy drives and the Giving Tree, I have not had young children to buy gifts for, for many years. My nephew and his wife welcomed twins this year. I decided that each Christmas, I would purchase each of them a special ornament for their tree along with money for their savings accounts. That way when they have left the nest, they will have a good start on their own Christmas tree. Ornaments that were gifted to me as a child have always held a special memory, even though my Mother still holds on tight to them in her own collection…another story. I have spoken to many friends over the years, both male and female, and they all love seeing the ornaments from their childhood come out year after year.
Nicole V says
Hi, AndrÃ©ia. 🙂 Knowing when your children are drowning in stuff and speaking up about it does not make you ungrateful, at least not in my book. You’ve provided a great list of alternative gift suggestions.
Giving the gift of your time is one of the nicest ways to show that you care. Experience gifts can strengthen bonds and create cherished memories that last.
In my extended family there is a new generation coming about (2 little ones under a year), so this topic will become more and more urgent.
When I think back of when I was a child myself, we were drowned in stuff, especially by grandparents but also other relatives. I think most of my relatives wouldn’t have been happy about the idea not to give a physical present.
The probably best presents I remember from that time (presents that I was happy about then, that were probably much appreciated by my parents and would be approved even by my clutter-averse self today) were presents that contributed to a hobby of me. For me, those were sports (gifts included a new bike, roller skates or ice skates, knee pads,…), and music lessons (gifts included recorders, reeds for the clarinet, sheet music, a music stand, a new mouth piece for the clarinet, …)
I guess my relatives wouldn’t have liked to only give me “sensible” things like clothes or money, but because I was really fond of those hobbies, it was clear that I would be overjoyed with a new music stand etc. – and those things were often necessities for me in order to join the school orchestra or a band with friends – or to visit friends by bike – , so it was also some financial help for my parents in order for me to be able to pursue that hobby more.
As I was a bookworm, too, books were also always welcome. But as I know first-hand, my siblings took years to read their books, if they ever did, so I guess a book isn’t always the best present for a child.
I think that family tend to over-give gifts to children as they are trying to generate the excitement and delightedness which ripping wrapping off generates. Its the anticipation during those seconds that holds the key to all this.
I would suggest perhaps a ‘treasure hunt’ with clues located around the house which eventually would lead to the (hidden) present. I can remember taking part in treasure hunts as a child and they were so much fun.
I would also suggest making some Promise Vouchers – eg build and sleep in a blanket fort, go to a movie of your choice (chances are you would probably going to take them to a movie during the holidays anyway), buy fixings and make magnificent Banana Splits, have a friend over for a sleepover etc.
If you had restricted the number of actual gifts that were under the tree, perhaps you could include a voucher to pick a toy of their choice during the boxing day sales.
My kids loved blanket forts. Because December is Summer here, there were other options for promise vouchers such as day trips, which they probably would have gone on anyway, but they loved redeeming a voucher.
One of my favorite things to do while growing up was build forts using chairs, blankets and sheets.
There have been many days when I think building a fort as an adult would be lovely 🙂
I just may do it 🙂
Nicole V says
Hi, Kimberley. I loved what you wrote … It reminded me of an equally lovely story that a certain someone (Hi, Colleen! ;-)) shared about being one of only two adults who had so much fun in the snow with a group of children.
Do build that fort and play! Childhood might end but why should our desire to play have to? And, just in case you need further encouragement ;-):
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“We donâ€™t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw
You are spot on in everything you wrote. I remember reading a quote by Walt Disney, “That’s the trouble with the world. Too many people grow up”. Mahalo (thank you) for your encouragement to just do it!
I think I may build my own Christmas fort 🙂
Nicole V says
Go, Kimberley! 🙂
Great Disney quote, btw.
I saw on FB a poster for “Reverse Advent Calendar” where each day you put an item (food or toiletries) in a basket and on Christmas Eve you donate the contents to a foodbank 🙂
What a lovely idea! The holiday food/toiletries drives I participate in, end mid-December.
Mahalo for sharing.
Great post! We don’t’ have kids, but if we did, I would definitely implement these suggestions. It seems to me that kids today get a lot of things year-round, whereas that wasn’t the case for previous generations. I can see why Christmas can get so overwhelming for parents.
I really love the idea of “experience” gifts. Those are my favorite to give and receive. Movies, bowling, pizza, spa, horseback riding, day at the park, playing a game or sportâ€¦â€¦the ideas are limitless and don’t’ even have to cost very much.
One year (in the 1980s) I gave my brother a membership to Rock Hounds club (they scavenge for semi precious rocks). I think it cost $1 plus 12 stamped & addressed envelopes (for their monthly mailing to him). He said it was the best gift I ever gave him!