Why we don't do Birthday or Christmas presents (in the traditional sense)
December 03, 2018
Every year, at least twice a year - Birthdays and Christmas, there was an opportunity for my boys to receive toys as gifts. And since we weren't necessarily getting rid of old ones to make room for the new ones, they really started stacking up. They had all the Avengers costumes and accessories, multiple super hero action figures and the bad guys to go with them, Lego's, Hot Wheels, Beyblades, trinket toys from Peter Piper Pizza, claw machine stuffed animals and so on. It would take my boys forever to clean their room, and when they would finally start making progress, it would be bed time! Or they would just pass out of sheer boredom on the floor atop a pile of toys.
It came to my attention that my children had too many toys, too much stuff. I decided we would spend a Saturday going through them together and make a keep pile, a trash pile, and a donate pile. My boys were very cooperative, but when we actually got to it, they were putting way too much stuff in the keep pile. The sad thing is, it was like every toy that was on the hot spot (or chopping block) was being rediscovered for the first time in years! The toy was never gone, it was just hidden underneath all of the other stuff. Some toys had sentimental meaning or very good reasons to keep in a special box, but most of them were just "filler" toys from birthday parties or Christmas.
Anyway, the materialistic attachment I saw in my boys' eyes and the sporadic fits whilst trying to convince them to donate some toys was, in a way, angering. I wasn't angry with them, but with myself. Obviously I know that children are naturally selfish, they are human beings with human nature after all. I shouldn't expect anything different. But how could I let it get this bad?
It's our culture - your child is one year older and they're all the sudden supposed to have all of their friends and family come over with presents and toys galore? Why?
I understand that some people genuinely love to give gifts, it is a love language. There is a difference between giving a gift out of love, and giving a gift out of obligation. I do not think it is loving to unintentionally encourage and foster a selfish and materialistic mindset. The "me, me, me, mine, mine, mine" attitude is ugly on everyone, young and old. So I made the bold decision to include on every birthday party invitation here on out a note: Please NO Gifts. I also told my family and close friends that we were no longer going to take part in Christmas present exchanges and to please refrain from purchasing toys or "junk things" (trinkets, etc) as gifts for my boys' birthdays or for Christmas. The materialistic mindset was becoming a distraction to the reason for the celebration. I know this sounds extreme, harsh even, but sometimes it takes drastic measures to undo all of the unhealthy learned behaviors and thought processes.
Some family members and friends still bring a gift to my boys' birthday parties or give them presents for Christmas. And that's OK. A gift from the heart is one thing, but I am not fond of that part of the birthday or Christmas party where everyone stands around and watches as a child frantically opens all of their gifts. Call me cynical if you want, but I can't help but think of the mindset and the heart condition being fostered in that child. Sure, it's cute watching a little kid get all excited opening a present, but it's not cute watching an adult freak out because they didn't get what they thought they deserved. See, I think spoiling children with gifts of a plethora of toys on their birthday or Christmas is contributing to the rise in spoiled and entitled teens and adults. If your child needs anything, it ain't "stuff". They need love, relationships and togetherness, structure, boundaries, and discipline.
We do occasionally buy fun things for our boys, but we usually try and get things we can all do together, like board games, and keep it to a minimum. If they want something specific, like Lego's, video games, Pokemon cards, etc. we have that good old conversation about earning and saving up money so they can buy it themselves. We aren't an anti-fun house, we are just trying to be a family who values people more than things.