It’s November, and Christmas is right around the corner. Each year, I find myself struggling with an internal mom-dilemma. I love giving gifts, and by love, I mean, I keep myself up at night thinking of the perfect gift to buy someone. And so, naturally, I get an immense amount of joy from buying gifts for my son. Throughout the year, he experiences and explores new things, and I get to see him grow in his interests and hobbies. I love seeking out Christmas presents that I know he will absolutely love. It brings that much more happiness and magic to Christmas morning when the gifts are carefully picked and thought out, and it makes my heart want to burst to see that big smile spread across his face when he unwraps them.
My struggle is this: I want to buy him everything in the world.
I don’t mean to say that he wants and wants and wants, and I feel like I need to buy him everything he’s ever asked for. My son actually hasn’t even asked for much this year. He asked for small, simple gifts. He is the opposite of greedy, and this humbleness brings on an even bigger urge to spoil him on Christmas. My thoughts go to, “You are the best child on the earth. You bring so much joy to others just by being you; and therefore, you deserve everything.” And, I know many parents feel this way and can probably relate to these feelings of wanting to bless their children. We have a natural instinct to want to see our children happy because we love them.
I have formed certain feelings toward Christmas and how I want to do it with my children partly because of how it was done when I was child. I was raised by a single mother who worked several jobs at one time to make ends meet, and she couldn’t always afford the Christmas that she wanted to give us. She now tells stories of gathering up all the cash she had and buying me and my two sisters everything she could afford from The Dollar Store, so we would have gifts to open on Christmas morning. Christmas was hard for my mom, but she never let us see that as children. She always wished she could buy us more, but she didn’t harp on the fact of us being less financially fortunate than others. Instead, she encouraged us to focus on spending time together as a family and helping others, and she taught us to be thankful for all the things we did have, not the things we didn’t. She instilled appreciation and gratitude in us, and we didn’t even know it at the time.
Christmas is supposed to be a cheerful, exciting time of year, but now that I know what went on behind-the-scenes of my childhood, how hard my mother worked to provide everything she possibly could around Christmas time, I see how this holiday can actually be the opposite for some. It can be a time of great stress and hardship. Imagine wondering how you’re going to keep food on the table and heat on in the house, let alone buy presents for each of your children. My heart aches for these families.
I think about these families each year when I think, “I have the means to buy my son everything on his Christmas list, so why not?” He deserves it, but then I stop and think, what I am instilling in my son? Am I teaching him the same valuable life lessons I learned growing up? No, I don’t think I would be with that type of mentality. I feel that if I buy him everything under the sun, I am being selfish because I am instilling in him that Christmas is about stuff, about getting things, and by doing so, I am doing him a disservice. If I want to nurture gratefulness, and kindness, and appreciation, and humbleness, then I need to not speak about these qualities, I need to model them in my actions.
As parents, we all try to find balance in our lives. But, I try to be especially intentional about this during Christmas. I want my family to find happiness and joy around the holidays, but I also want them to remember the true meaning of Christmas. I want my son to be able to make a Christmas list and send it to Santa, believing there will be presents under the tree the next morning. I want to make sure these are magical experiences for him, but I know Christmas isn’t magical for everyone, and not all families have the luxury of being able to provide the type of Christmas that they’d like to. Everyone needs help sometimes, just like my family did when I was younger. And if I am able to provide my family with more than the bare essentials, I am capable of contributing to other families, as well. When I was a child, many people helped our family, whether it was through providing child care, helping financially, or making meals, and it made a world of difference.
I know from experience that it does not take much to make someone else’s Christmas a little merrier.
My son and I made a list of ways to help others. These ideas are not all financially motivated as sometimes, the giving of your time can speak volumes, especially during a time that is so incredibly busy. Some of the ideas do not require time or money; they just require the spreading of kindness.
- Adopt a family to provide Christmas gifts for
- Participate in Share-A-Christmas
- Participate in a food or clothing drive
- Bake cookies and pass them out to friends and neighbors
- Buy groceries or prepare a meal for someone
- Ring the bell for The Salvation Army
- Volunteer (the homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, a hospital, etc.)
- Donate to an organization that gives those items for free to those in need
- Pay for someone’s coffee or food in the drive-thru
- Sing Christmas Carols, play board games, or just visit with senior citizens at a nursing home.
- Buy a bag of pet food for the local humane society
- Make care packages for the homeless with hats, gloves, food gift cards, etc.
- Make Christmas cards and pass them out to others
- Write thank you notes or put together care packages for those who are serving our country in the military
- Babysit for a parent to give them alone time or time for Christmas shopping
- Purchase ingredients for a Christmas dinner for a family in need
- Sit with someone at school or work who looks lonely
- Help someone wrap Christmas gifts
- Donate blood
- Donate diapers, wipes, and other needed items to a local domestic violence or family shelter.
- Shovel snow/rake leaves for a neighbor
What I love about these activities is by participating in them, my family gets to spend quality time together, and my son learns about grace and humility at the same time.
My hope is that we can be a small part of “paying it forward” in future generations. My mom represented gratefulness even in times when we had very little. She reminded us that there was always someone less fortunate, that we may have only had five gifts to unwrap Christmas morning, but some people had none. Even when she could barely put food on the table, she encouraged us to find someone to help, in whatever way we were able. And this is a habit worth passing down.
We will continue to make wish lists and pour over toy magazines because this is an exciting part of the holiday, but I am hoping that we will always remember to share our focus between ourselves and others at Christmas time. Maybe this will be a chain reaction – that when we help others, those people will then be encouraged to provide time, or money, or kindness to someone else. I want my children to make life-long memories of putting up the tree and finding presents underneath it on the 25th, but I also want them to always hold memories of how we, as a family, stepped in when we discovered another family that was struggling. This is the balance I am hoping to find – that we acknowledge and are humbled by the ways we have been blessed, and therefore, have a desire to bless others.