When I was a kid back in the 1980s, I remember pining after a Cabbage Patch Doll. I felt as if I would fall over dead if I didn’t get it. The ’80s being the era before the internet, my poor family searched the land high and low and came up empty-handed. Cabbage Patch Dolls were the hottest thing since the Pet Rock or the Easy Bake Oven and I HAD to have one. But on Christmas morning when I plowed through my gifts — that I systematically ignored because my heart was set on that doll — I threw an epic tantrum when I realised that I wouldn’t be one of the lucky kids adopting a plastic and cloth baby with ‘Xavier Roberts’ tattooed on its derriere.
As a kid, I had fallen for the mob mentality influenced by slick advertising and felt consumed with dire need to have a doll that held no apparent value other than the fact that everyone wanted it. I wasn’t even the kind of girl who liked dolls, to be honest. I was a tomboy who had muddy knees and bindis in my pony tail. My mum simply wanted to fulfill my wish and make my Christmas experience feel magical and even memorable; but in the end that particular holiday is remembered as a sour one.
But here’s the thing I’ve learned since then: The value of a gift should not be based on consoling material greed; it should be about nurturing some aspect of the person receiving the gift. This is the lesson that I think about as I look over my kids’ shoulders and see the bulleted list of toys on their Christmas wish lists.
This year my husband and I have agreed that no matter what our children ask for, we will provide a gift that highlights family experience or curiosity and delight instead. We will not buy toys that we know will collect dust, get broken or lost, or hold little interest in our children after one or two uses.
My kids have asked for a few things already and I am quietly plotting and planning in my head for how to turn their wishes into valuable experiences. For example, my oldest child has recently learned about bows and arrows and hunting rifles. I personally do not feel that my children need weapons, so instead of indulging him in a toy that I feel iffy about, I’m looking into getting a family pass to a day of laser tag. This way we can all have fun together, as well as the opportunity to talk about guns as a family in a healthy and hands-on way.
Last year we bought Kindles for the kids and loaded them up with educational games. We thought we were providing them with hours of fun while also slipping in some valuable literacy skills. What we got was a year of arguing between the kids, constant pestering for us to download newer games that they won’t actually play, and the annoying trials of dying batteries and the resulting tantrums. We’ve started fixing that problem by buying games like Giant Jenga and Twister for family game night. No more shoving screens in front of our kids’ faces when we could be playing and laughing together as a family.
Both of our kids have been asking for DVDs, which makes sense given the ungodly amount of screen time we’ve let them have. What a terrible habit we got ourselves into and I intend to fix that. So, this year we are avoiding anything screen related and plan to get the kids snowshoes and spend time as a family outside, away from TV and Netflix. I want to see more pink cheeks and chatter about building the world’s biggest snowman and hear far less whiny pleading for us to rent Angry Birds again.
Of course, I want my kids to be able to feel the magic of opening up that one thing they wanted with all their hearts, just like I once desperately wanted that stupid doll. No parent would want to deny their child that aspect of the magic of Christmas; but in our house, we plan to inspire at least some sense of collaboration when it comes to fun. The toys we buy will all have an aspect of family experience because of all the lessons that I want to teach my children when it comes to the giving and receiving of gifts. The goal is to feel a nurturing kind of love, not acquire more stuff.