Being on the receiving end of a sponsored Christmas helped me realize why it’s important to give. One year, when all five kids were still home, my husband lost his job just before the holidays. We were struggling to get by — struggling just to put food on the table, let alone think about Christmas gifts. Our former daycare provider knew how precarious things were for us, and she arranged for her church group to sponsor our family. When they delivered the boxes of clothes and toys to our five kids, it was a humbling experience. Without it, though, our kids would have had nothing.
A few years later, I had graduated from college and started my own business, and my husband started working for the school while getting certified. Suddenly, Christmas had no limits. That year, we spent a lot of money trying to give our kids the perfect Christmas. In fact, we overspent, charging gifts on credit cards.
Christmas morning, the kids woke up to a room full of gifts; they were delighted, of course…but our youngest daughter, on whom we’d spent a small fortune at the toy store, spent the entire day playing with a cardboard box.
A cardboard box!
That was when I realized that those days when Christmas was simple, by virtue of the fact that we couldn’t afford it to be any other way, were the best Christmases we’d ever had. Since then, we’ve really emphasized giving, not getting.
Teaching our kids to value moments over things has taken time and effort for all of us. My husband and I recognized that our lives had become full of clutter and started simplifying. We knew we had to model the behavior we wanted to see in our kids. We donated items, sold collections, stopped collecting for collecting’s sake – not just at Christmas but all year. We started really focusing on teaching our kids empathy and compassion, and we shared stories with them about what life was like when we were too poor to afford Christmas.
Now, two of our kids are grown and on their own. They both choose to live simply; even getting them to come up with something they want for Christmas is difficult. Our younger kids actively look for ways to help out. They are happy with what they have; the Christmas wish lists we get from them are simple and inexpensive items.
We don’t focus on giving, not getting just at Christmastime, though, and I think that’s why we’re so successful: We focus on giving, not getting all year long. We focus on living simply and enjoying moments and memories more than things. We spend money to travel rather than to collect (the kids have been in 42 of the 50 states and we’re saving for a trip to Europe).
It wasn’t just about Christmas gifts, we realized: it was about making giving, not getting the focus of our lifestyle.
How do you help your kids to learn the value of giving?