Christmas is coming. My son is two, so I’m not worried.
What about when he’s four or five? We are not big on showering gifts, and I worry that he’ll feel deprived or cheated if he doesn’t get as many as his friends do. Is it possible in our culture of abundance to raise a child to be above that?
These thoughts first came a couple of years ago when my son was three weeks old. A friend invited us to her family’s house for Christmas. There were aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, a grandmother—a fully loaded house.
In the spacious living room stood a tree eight-feet high, and all around it presents were stacked to the ceiling. I had never seen so many gifts under, or next to, one tree. You could hardly see the tree.
When it was time to open gifts, the six or eight kids positioned themselves around the living room and sat.
At first, one child retrieved a gift for another, and once that gift was opened, another was retrieved. By the fourth gift, all the kids were opening all the presents all at once, tearing through one as fast as they could to get to the next.
There was barely enough time to recognize a gift, say “cool,” and shout out the crucial information to the note taker (who would later send thank-you cards) before ripping into the next gift.
Sometimes, a child paused for a few seconds to play with a gift before moving on to the next. It was madness, with the living room a stew of wrapping paper, kids, and half-buried toys.
Watching from above on the staircase, it all seemed too much. I wondered if the kids were truly appreciating what they were getting, or even, what they already had.
The kids were having a ball, though. And I know them. They’re wholesome kids with great values. So why not let them celebrate in this way? Why not give a lot and get a lot?
Nevertheless, my husband and I knew instinctively that we don’t want this for our child. We hope our son develops the kind of values that make him appreciate the people and experiences in his life far more than a huge stack of material gifts around a tree.
But perhaps I’m being too idealistic. To expect that of him. Or of us.
By Cindy Bailey