Do your kids have too much stuff? Tom Burns explains why people keep giving them gifts.
A great article by Christella Morris titled “The Gift of Not Giving a Thing: Why I Don’t Want Any More Presents for My Boys” exploded across social media earlier this month, gathering over 847,000 Facebook shares alone. In the piece, Morris argues that her sons have enough “stuff” and suggests some alternate ways that loved ones can show their affection for her kids. (Who can’t sympathize with her statement “I really can’t imagine having more things in my house?”) Her article ends with a simple plea: “[If] you’re in our circle of friends or family, please don’t buy my kids presents but instead give them the gift of your time and love. That’s the ONLY thing they need.”
And that’s a marvelous sentiment. Marvelous. That’s exactly how my wife and I felt when our daughter was born.
We’d seen some of our friends with kids get overwhelmed on birthdays and during the holidays by wave after wave of useless, disposable presents for their young ones. One friend had a walk-in closet of unopened toys that she hid from her kids, a closet full of run-off presents from Christmas that her kids had completely forgotten about, presents that she’d carefully dole out as rewards throughout the rest of the year.
We didn’t want that same fate for our daughter. So, similar to Ms. Morris’ plea, when our daughter’s first birthday came around we told our friends and family, “We want this to be a ‘no-present’ birthday. Please come have cake and ice cream and let’s just have fun wishing the baby ‘Happy Birthday.’”
And that strategy worked … for the first year. Then things started to get more complicated.
After the novelty of the first “no-present” birthday wore off, we quickly found that our friends and family weren’t entirely happy with our decision. When our daughter’s second birthday came around family members would show up with gifts in the weeks before, saying “I know there are no gifts AT THE PARTY,” and then wink conspiratorially. On the day of the party, friends swung by as early as possible to slide us gifts in non-descript bags out of view of the other partygoers.
We kept reiterating, “She really doesn’t need anything” – but the gift-giving kept on going.
It got particularly complicated when our daughter was old enough to attend other kids’ birthday parties.
Our friends and family became noticeably uncomfortable when we gave their children presents, but didn’t want any for our kid in return. When friends would call and we’d tell them that our daughter didn’t need a gift, you could practically hear the stomach acid churning on the other end of the phone, “But you gave OUR son such a nice gift. You HAVE to let us give you SOMETHING!” It was as if we were violating an important social contract, as if our decision to prohibit presents was some sort of veiled commentary on their decision to allow them. The “no presents” rule was making everyone miserable.
In the end, we had to come up with a compromise that worked for everyone … sort of.
We now allow our daughter to have birthday parties with presents, but we exert as much pressure as possible on our closest family members to not go crazy. In the spirit of “The Gift of Not Giving a Thing,” we ask our loved ones to spend time with our daughter, maybe buy her a membership to a local museum, or make a contribution to her college fund — we try to steer them away from LEGO and dolls and stuffed animals, when possible. For her classmates, buddies, and BFFs, they can get her whatever they want. There’s no point in us trying to rein that in.
We have had to come to the understanding that gift-giving is an important act for both the recipient and the giver. Even when one of my daughter’s grandmothers makes a contribution to her college fund, we know they’re also going to buy her something to physically open on her birthday or Christmas morning because watching a child open up a gift is a wonderful, nourishing thing to behold. The kid gets so excited, their eyes flood with anticipation and gratitude. The act of witnessing that is a gift in-and-of itself — it’s a gift that’s hard to deny a loved one, particularly a loved one who so obviously cares so deeply for our daughter.
So, how do my wife and I prevent our house from being overwhelmed with presents around the holidays? We turn the screws on the only family members that we know we can control completely: OURSELVES.
We now give my daughter one present for her birthday and maybe one or two presents on Christmas. That’s it.
And that sucks. That really sucks. Not because it denies my kid presents. She still gets TONS of presents from everyone she knows and we buy her lots of great and/or useless “stuff” throughout the year. It sucks because, as her parents, WE want to be the ones who give our daughter all of the presents she’s been dreaming of all year. We want that gratification. We want to be the Christmas morning heroes. But, instead, we pass those suggestions on to our friends and family and we let them soak in the glory.
As I said before, I completely agree with the sentiment of “The Gift of Not Giving a Thing.” I do. But, in reality, trying to control how someone – particularly a loved one – is allowed to give your child a present is a very hard thing to pull off. For us, the best we could do was making sure that our friends and family knew how we felt, not holding grudges against those who felt differently, and trying our hardest, as parents, to mitigate the sheer amount of stuff that comes into our house each year. Because some of that stuff, as pink and plastic as it may be, can actually be a pretty potent expression of love from people who care about my kid and that’s nothing I can lightly dismiss.
That said, seriously, folks – SERIOUSLY – stop buying my kid stuff with glitter on it. That shit gets everywhere.