Dear Barbara, How should we handle giving gifts to our children? I want them to have some presents they want, but I don’t want to overindulge them. Are gifts appropriate? I feel pressure to forego gifts altogether and spend Christmas morning serving at the soup kitchen instead. I equally feel the pressure to buy them the newest item because I know most of their friends will be getting it. How do I balance the tension?
This is a really great question.
Like you, Dennis and I both brought very different holiday gift traditions to our marriage. Though we talked about our likes, preferences, and our “we’ll nevers” in those early marriage years, I always felt, as the mother, it was my responsibility to guide our family’s gift giving and the way we received gifts at Christmastime.
As a young mom, I was relieved to be reminded that there is nothing wrong with giving gifts at Christmas because gift giving is biblical. After all God, our Heavenly Father, sent the perfect gift—Jesus—to the world on that first Christmas. While we can argue their arrival time, we know the Wise Men brought gifts to celebrate and honor Jesus, the newborn King.
James 1:17 also tells us that, “Every good and every perfect gift is from above.” The Bible is full of accounts of giving and receiving gifts as a way to demonstrate care and love for others. We, as parents, can certainly imitate this model by giving gifts as one expression of love to our children.
Knowing God is a gift giver opened the door for me as a parent to follow His generosity with those I love most: my family. As a mom, I enjoyed the quest to find or create presents tailored for each of my little ones as a way to demonstrate my individual love for them, just as God does for me.
But if we’re truly going to copy our Heavenly Father’s example of gift giving, we have to know and imitate all of God’s nature, not just His generous love. For instance, God in His infinite knowledge doesn’t always give us what we want. As the perfect parent, He wisely gives us what we need but not so much that we don’t trust Him by faith anymore.
I’ve experienced this limited and sometimes no giving by God many more times than I would have liked. I have old journals filled with prayer requests, hopes, desires, and longings that seemed at the time to be unanswered and unfulfilled. I imagine now the reasons were varied; it wasn’t His timing, it wasn’t best for me then or ever, or it wasn’t what I needed most but was only something I wanted.
Similarly, as my children made their Christmas requests known, Dennis and I listened, took notes, and then we talked. Some desires were easy to meet and we did. Others were not because we couldn’t afford them or they clashed with our values.
We also tried to model God’s balanced giving approach. We decided to give our children one main gift at Christmas knowing they would also be getting gifts from grandparents. We didn’t want them spoiled or so saturated with gifts that the presents lost their significance.
In addition to the one main gift, we gave them stockings filled with small treats and a book bag. Every year all six kids and Dennis saw the same gift bag under the tree with a great book or two or three. (I still believe you can never overgive books!)
In this season of giving material gifts, it is very easy to be lured into believing the value of a gift is determined by quantity and dollar signs.
You also need to consider how the gift giving will affect your child.
- Is it going to be good for him or her?
- Is your attitude about giving and receiving gifts going to teach your children entitlement?
- Will you send the message that your children can and will get whatever they want?
As moms, none of us would seek to feed a bratty self-absorbed attitude on purpose. But if we aren’t careful and intentional about our choices, our children hear messages and come to conclusions we never intended.
Another caution is about our own hearts as parents. Do we want to impress our children and others with the grandeur our gifts? Do we want to feel the honor or pride of having chosen the favorite gift of all?
As a mother, you are raising your children in an affluent culture. Extravagance is all around. Are you looking to satisfy your children’s—or your own—desire to look good and be in step with your community’s standards when they announce what they received for Christmas?
Giving presents has changed from bestowing on another person something for the recipient’s satisfaction and has instead become about exalting and feeding self. Have you felt that tug of competition when giving as I have?
One of our goals as parents was to teach our children to think of others more than themselves by helping them buy or make gifts for their siblings too. We decided the best way to put gifting into perspective was to put the emphasis on giving instead of getting. Instead of asking our children to make crayon marked lists of what they hoped to receive, we required them to make lists of what they intended to give.
So our kids gave gifts to each other. It was a delight to watch them jot down their notes of what others might want. We helped them earn and save their own money to purchase these treasures for their siblings. If there wasn’t enough money or a child was too young to shop, handmade keepsakes were carefully crafted and wrapped with pride with a brother or sister’s name scribbled across a construction paper tag.
To keep the emphasis on giving, on Christmas morning, one by one, our kids collected the gifts of all the packages they were giving around their place on the floor. Then we drew names to see who would give first. As the first child gave a gift of his choosing to a sibling, the rest of the family all watched. I remember as a child I wanted Christmas morning to last forever, so this method of one-at-a-time gift giving was a way to do that for my kids.
From handmade brother sister love, to the one parent present, to grandma and grandpa’s gifts, our kids never felt like they missed out on receiving, and as parents we never felt like we sold out on entitled giving.
One more thought as you consider gifts this Christmas: Remember to celebrate Christmas with the focus on already having been given the best Gift you could ever want or need. Making your decorating and your conversation about Jesus, will keep your material giving in proper perspective.
In the spirit of giving, we want to give a GIFT to one of you, our faithful readers/friends, a set of His Advent Names ornaments.
1. Comment below with a favorite gift you’ve received OR given.
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