Friday, December 26, 2014

Teaching Children to Be Thankful

I've started writing this post several times in my head throughout the past week or so.  I'm having a hard time coming up with a concise way to get my point across.

I'm struggling to come up with answers and suggestions.

 I don't know about any of you but we're having a real hard time this holiday as we try to pair down our celebrations without having a lot of meltdowns (from our children anyway-- OK our two younger children... well, mostly just our youngest).

I'm trying to teach them to be Thankful.



I'm perfectly content to pair our holidays down and would like to do even less next year.  I don't mean seeing less family or going to less parties or even having fewer holiday traditions (though I keep threatening to pull a Krank's Christmas and skip it altogether); I mean less stuff!

I mean:
  • Less gift giving
  • Less giving receiving
  • Less focus on "things" and more focus on family, love and experiences.  
I think, for the most part, I find a really good balance for our family.

Our boys are usually thankful for what they get on Christmas morning and they don't think of Santa as some guy who brings them anything and everything they could ever ask for (though they do try to ask him for some outrageous gifts).  I've always been pretty firm on the fact that Santa brings a few toys each and that's it.  My kids are OK with that.

 As they get older they are getting less OK with the fact that everybody else is bringing them less gifts too.

 When my oldest was born he was one of the only grandchildren any of our parents had.  Both my husband's parents and my own are divorced and re-married so our kids grew up with 4 sets of grandparents and had most of their great grand parent around too.  They have a total of 8 sets of Aunts and Uncles too.  The holidays were HUGE!  

People we never even exchange gifts with wanted to buy them gifts; who doesn't love spoiling babies, right?

Little did I realize how much I was setting my kids up for future expectations and disappointments.

We used to drive two separate vehicles to one family party because between the three boys we'd literally have a truck full of toys to bring home.  A WHOLE pickup truck!

Extreme??  YES! Absolutely!

Something we could refuse??  Not really (and believe me we tried!).

We left gifts behind for the kids to play with when visiting.
We'd drop off  new toys at Toys for Tots the next day.
We tried our darnedest to pair things down and keep it reasonable.... and we failed miserably.

 I knew that then, and looking back it, I know that now.

By now with the boys ranging in age from 7- 10 and lots more grandchildren on all sides of the family Christmas is much less:
  • There are several Aunts and Uncles that we no longer exchange gifts with.  
  • Many more we have the kids pick names and that way they each only get one gift from one cousin.  
  • Some give family gifts for all the boys to share.  
  • Some make inexpensive gifts from the heart.  
I love this shift away from the madness of opening gifts but am starting to think we may have gone from one extreme to the other too quickly for the kids to adjust to.

I tried preparing them;
  • I kept reminding them that they'd only get a gift or two each at each of the different holiday parties we went to.  
  • I reminded them we had picked names. 
  • I reminded them that some family members were making gifts.
  • I reminded them that some of the great grandparents were getting older and were unable to buy and exchange gifts like they used to.   
I thought I had prepared them well.

We read book after book about the true meaning of Christmas.  We talked about less being more and focusing on love, family and giving.  But I don't think it was enough.

That same party we used to bring a truck home of gifts from??  My kids got two maybe three gifts each.  A perfect number as far as I'm concerned but they (especially my youngest who really isn't understanding this whole less is more philosophy) was upset. 

At first I got angry with him as he pitched a fit two parties in a row for not getting to open enough gifts and for not getting the one or two things on his list that he REALLY wanted.

I was embarrassed at what I saw as his commercial greed.

He's 7 and wanted everything he saw on TV, in a catalog, or put on his list.  He knew he wouldn't get it and I thought he'd be happy with just about anything (since he wanted everything) but I was wrong.  He was miserable and I had no idea how to handle it.

I wanted him to be happy and grateful for everything he got and basically told him he shouldn't be disappointed.

After all, that is what we teach.  Gifts don't have to be given and you should be grateful for what you get.

I do believe that.

 But, I'm also honest enough to admit that there's always a gift or two that I'm disappointed in.  We may be grateful the giver thought of us and got (and/or made us) something but that doesn't mean we have to love the gift itself.  As an adult I can cover up that disappointment and smile and genuinely thank the giver for thinking of me, but at 7, Evan just can't do that.

But we'll keep trying, we'll keep reminding the boys, modeling the behavior we'd like to see, reading about the meaning of the season and just keep working at it.  It takes time for kids to understand, to adjust to changes and to realize the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas morning all the boys woke early and eager to see what Santa had left.  They were happy with whatever they opened; perfect gift or not.  They were content and feeling thankful.  They got a few toys and video games they really wanted mixed in with some educational science kits and toys. They were looking forward to trying out all their new things and they were smiling big, contented, smiles.

Then I made the mistake of turning on the computer during breakfast and scrolling through Facebook.  I wished everyone a Merry Christmas and scrolled through their wishes of a Merry Christmas to us.   After looking over my shoulder at their friends gifts and hearing about other people's Christmas gifts their joy seemed to be just a tiny bit diminished.

They saw all the tons of gifts under all the other trees and compared it to the 9 gifts under our own tree Christmas morning. They had smaller gifts that barely even stuck out from under the tree this year and, with their agreement over the WiiU a few months ago, they didn't even have gifts from mom and dad to open. They were OK with it but puzzled as to why they got so much less than all the other kids they knew.  

Ian, who's struggling to hold onto his belief in Santa this year, asked why Santa brings so much to other people's houses.  I reminded him that other kids might have had gifts from grandparents and parents mixed in under the tree along with Santa gifts... but mostly, I faltered.  It's hard to explain why we don't buy into the commercialization of Christmas anymore than we buy into the hoopla of all the other holidays too.  I know that we're fortunate and even three gifts each probably seems excessive to some.  I know that.  But my kids don't.

See their gifts.... just poking out of the tree...  
It's hard raising kids to be thankful while raising them in such a commercialized world.  It's hard to be different.

So we spent a portion of our day again today talking about why we don't spend as much on the holidays as other families. We talked about some of the sacrifices we make so I can stay home.  We talked about the importance of spending what we can afford and the importance of working hard for those things we want.

It's hard to fight against all the millions of dollars spent on the commercialization of the holiday season.

But I didn't become a parent because it was easy.  I don't want to raise spoiled kids who expect the world to be handed to them (who does?).

I just keep trying to remind them, educate them, and work on pairing down the holiday hoopla while keeping them from melting down.

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