Children should learn the gift of giving

Eons ago, when we had only two young children, David and I would take them Christmas shopping separately, so that they could buy gifts for each other to add under the tree. We thought this would encourage their sense of caring about another person. They could also have the option of doing extra chores during the holiday season so that they had some spending money available.  It just added a little something to the excitement of Christmas.

The original intention was a good one, but we stopped doing it the year after Dan and Beth pointed out the Care Bear they wanted in the store and then separated, knowing exactly what the other was buying. It took a little of the fun and mystery out of the whole experience.  Dan must have learned something right though, because the year his younger sibling Rachel was born (1988) on December 11th I had nothing more than a red and white sleeper to wrap for her.  He was horrified. He couldn’t believe that was all I would be giving the baby. He used money he had saved up to buy her a baby rattle, because he couldn’t stand the notion that his little sister was only getting one gift.  (as an adult now, he can probably understand why a 2-week-old baby wouldn’t care one way or the other, but the fact was that he cared)

As parents of eight children we have had ample opportunities to teach our children about giving, along with teaching about the real meaning of Christmas.  We have tried doing a Secret Santa during the month of December with each sibling choosing another’s name and doing nice, secret things for that sibling. That only works when the siblings are actually old enough to do something of value for the other sibling. I would usually “help” the younger sibling make the bed or leave a pack of gum on the older sibling’s pillow, but for one reason or another, the Secret Santa thing kind of flopped.   We have done St. Nick’s day, when a shoe is left on the porch to be filled either with candy (for the good children) or sticks and rocks (for the naughty).  Even my children that didn’t believe in Santa Claus felt a little bit of magic happening when they couldn’t figure out who was filling their shoe. It certainly wasn’t Mommy, who’d never gone outside. (think Daddy coming home from work, an older sibling who went outside to do some chores, once even a neighbor down the street)

As our family has grown, the ideas for involving children in the spirit of holiday giving have waned some.  The last time I took children shopping for a sibling gift was three years ago, when my three youngest shopped at the Dollar Tree store for each other.  We all got a lot of giant $1 candy bars that year.  😮

When Matthew, age 16, got a job at Hardees this fall, his older siblings were quick to remind him he could go Christmas shopping with his hard-earned money.  He was less than thrilled.  For one thing, he is a guy, and has no idea how to shop or what to get anyone. For another, his first paycheck would likely be eaten up by gift-buying.  He agonized about what to get who and how much to spend.  I hated seeing him (and hearing him) complaining about spending his first paycheck on gifts. 

“You are missing something huge if you are hating it this much. Gift giving is supposed to be fun. If you don’t want to do it, just tell them you don’t.”

When his older brother Dan set a reasonable spending limit and gave him some gift ideas for his siblings, he started to dread it less and even look forward to it a bit.  I can’t see him or Michael ever enjoying shopping for Christmas gifts but hopefully it isn’t ever as painful a chore as Matthew was painting it initially.  Rachel, age 21, is much more like me and has been talking about Christmas gifts and ideas since late October. 

The younger children have been closely watching the discussions about gift-giving and wanting to be a part of it.  Instead of having them earn money and buy candy bars (their choice of gift once again), I have instead, involved them a little more in what I am buying for their siblings or other close relatives.  Katie and Abby are both looking forward to delivering some gifts that they have helped choose and if we make enough plates of cookies and goodies, they’ll enjoy delivering those to neighbors like we did last year.  Katie has taken on the job of wrapping gifts we are giving to others (which explains some of the loose tape, crooked corners, and wrinkled paper~ sorry people) and opening up our Christmas cards each day. If the card is from David’s family, we don’t open it. We put it on the table for him to open when he gets home from work.  Katie opens the rest and leaves everything on the table for us to read and enjoy before taping them to the doorway of our office/playroom.  And, for the first time in years, we took the little girls to a store for some shopping of their own. 

Remember those $5 Hallmark coupons I was finding in magazines?  Abby,Katie, and their Dad went shopping the other evening and they each chose something for me.  They had so much fun, it makes me yearn for the days when we shopped with Dan and Beth. David tells me that when the woman at the Hallmark store asked if she could help them, Abby said, “Yes, do you have any pretty notebooks for my Mommy?”  Does that little girl know her mommy, or what? I am assuming it wasn’t a notebook she settled on, or David wouldn’t have related this story, but I thought it was cute.  And I recently took the girls to choose something special for their Godmother.  I may have taught them too well; they were concentrating on finding something for $5 instead of something they thought she might like, until I told them it could be any price (within reason), and they settled on something they both agreed she would like, still a really good deal with the coupon. 

Their obvious enjoyment made me realize I haven’t been involving them in the gift-giving as much as their older siblings used to be.  It is true that in a larger family, the older siblings have a different parent than the younger ones do.  My younger parenting self was more rigid and less relaxed in many ways but there are aspects of those days I would love to incorporate into my current parenting style.  One of them is involving my children more in the gift-giving aspect of the holiday. Their Hallmark shopping spree was a good indicator they would enjoy that.  

Maybe I’ll take them out shopping for their Dad. I’m pretty sure they’d settle on a giant candy bar with almonds.  They know him pretty well too.

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