Families, communities, and nations are strengthened when individuals understand that “stuff” does not equal happiness. I am aware that many parents go into debt each year in order to provide Christmas for their children. I am also aware of the stress that comes into many households because of an attempt to provide “stuff” for their children.
My children are grown with families of their own, and they have their own way of doing things. Some spend lots of money in order to place lots of gifts under the Christmas tree, while others might spend as much money in order to provide valuable experiences for their children.
I wish that I had thought about gifting experiences rather than stuff for my children.
I was a newlywed when I first began to consider gifts for children. A landlady and a lady who rode in the same carpool shared their Christmas experiences with me, and these experiences left an impression on me. My husband and I lived in the basement of a family home during his last year in college. Late on Christmas Eve our landlady invited my husband and me up to view their Christmas. We entered their living room and were dumbfounded with the amount of stuff sitting around their tree. I think that there were four children in the family, and each child had a designated chair for their gifts. The chairs were piled high with clothing – coats, sweaters, ski clothes, skirts, pants, tops, etc. The other gifts were placed on the floor around the chair. I do not remember seeing any wrapped gifts, but I did see a living room full of gifts. I come from a family of twelve children, and I can say that those four children had about ten times more gifts than my entire family received!
The first day of work after Christmas my carpool picked up a lady with a single teenage daughter. She was quite upset with the way that her daughter received her gifts. She shared how she had gifted her daughter with new skis, a completely new ski outfit, several other outfits, a nice watch, and numerous other gifts. Her daughter did not appreciate the gifts and was upset because she did not receive something else that she wanted. The child had been spoiled by too much stuff.
I remembered the above experiences, and I determined that I was not going to rear selfish, ungrateful children. When my own children were little my husband and I developed a plan to follow the example of the wise men. We gave each child three gifts: a book, something to play with, and something to wear – plus a Christmas tree ornament. We continued this pattern throughout their childhood and youth, and we sort of do the same today. They always receive a book – one of my choice and all receive the same book (makes it easier for me to remember who got what). I usually send an ornament if I can find one that I like. The gifts that I give usually have something to do with the Nativity. The main part of their present is money. If they need stuff, they can buy stuff. If they need money for experiences, they can use it for experiences. I also send money to each grandchild to purchase a new book and maybe something else.
I learned a big lesson fairly early in my parenting years. I provided the money one year for each child to purchase a gift for each sibling. Since five children equaled twenty-five gifts, the next year and each succeeding year the children drew names and gave one gift. They continue to draw names today, but now they draw the name of a sibling and family.
I wholeheartedly support the idea of providing less material goods at Christmas and gifting more experiences. This is most likely the reason I was drawn to an article titled “The Most Meaningful Gifts for Kids Who Have Everything.” The author explains that her family has a four-gift tradition, and the children receive a gift that falls in each of four categories: “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read.” I like this four gift idea better than my three-gift idea! A few weeks ago she and her husband asked their children for ideas for their four categories. Their oldest daughter suggested that they give her only a book. She did not need any clothing or anything else, and she couldn’t think of any particular thing that she wanted. That left something to read. So what is a parent to do when a child has everything they need or want?
The hard truth is that a child who already has everything he needs (and maybe most of what he wants too) won’t fully appreciate gifts of more stuff.
Here’s why: Research shows that after a while, the human brain gets used to new stuff. The fancy scientific term for this phenomenon is adaptation, and it means that when we’re exposed to something on a regular basis, we adapt to it.
In other words, when your child gets used to that new stuff, it becomes as notable and interesting as the carpet he walks on in your home every day. In other words, not at all notable or interesting.
This is why after a few days or a couple of weeks, most gifts end up shoved in a closet or somewhere else out of sight, forgotten and collecting dust.
This would also explain why children quickly set the toy aside and play with the empty cardboard box that it came in! In order to avoid adaptation, the author suggests that parents gift memories rather than stuff. Whatever you want to call this type of gift, it is a gift that “builds memories your child will treasure for the rest of her life.”
The author provides a list of “34 most meaningful gifts for kids who have everything.”
The list includes such ideas as a monthly subscription for science projects or art projects, a “movie night box” with a video, blanket, and popcorn, and a globe and a promise to send the child a postcard from each place you visit as you travel for work.
One of the best suggestions is a “gift of conversation”: “Turn a spare mason jar into a conversation jar by filling it with these family conversation starters [link provided, cost $6.99]. The child can put the jar on the dinner table and pull out a new question every night to have memorable conversations with their family. And the best part of these conversation starters for families is that they’ll get you more than the dreaded one-word answer from kids. We use these every night with our kids, and they’ve been a game-changer, helping us end every day feeling connected, loved, and happy.”
Another great idea is a journal “Mother-Daughter” or “Mother-Son”. The author states that this gift “will give you a magical way to get your kid to open up about what’s going on so you can stay connected. You take turns writing in this journal, and in the process, you find out what’s weighing on your little one’s heart.”
The author gives many more ideas for experience gifts that will provide cherished memories for your children. I suggest that you follow this link to read about them. We can all strengthen our families, communities, and nations by giving gifts that bring wonderful memories.