Kids and Christmas Presents

The lead up to Christmas is always an exciting and busy time around here in the Loonie Bin. One of the main occupiers of our time and efforts in our family at Christmas revolves around presents. Now, before giving me a big lump of coal… Yes, I agree that Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you may celebrate around this time of year is not about materialism.  However, how we handle Christmas presents in our house has been an important opportunity in the raising of our children.

I want to share this with you on my blog because I think that it is a common conundrum faced by high-income parents. We want our children to have a great Christmas, but we also don’t want them to grow up to be spoiled brats. It is a real danger for us for a number of reasons:

  • We have the financial ability to buy our kids pretty much anything they could want.
  • There is plenty of pressure from our consumerist society and the commercial advertising machine to do so.
  • We have wealthy friends that get lots of expensive presents to normalize it.
  • It is fun to buy people things, and honestly, I like toys too.
  • It is fast to buy things.
  • It is painless to buy things – especially with credit cards or online.

We do buy our kids presents each Christmas.

However, I don’t think that is what they remember about Christmas presents. I know it isn’t, actually. For example, my son just “remembered” and dug out his main gift from Santa that he got a few years ago that he barely played with. A Nerf bullet shooting Spiderbot. He “had to have it” and admittedly, I bet Santa thought it looked pretty kick ass too. He pulled it out a couple of weeks ago and it wouldn’t work because the software is outdated, no longer available, and the iPod it linked with died of old age (it was a vintage iPod). The most usage it got was as a gargoyle on Cardboard Castle 3.0

It was funny listening to my kids this year. They almost forgot to write Santa and then it was almost like they felt obligated to ask for something. They were actually stressed out because they couldn’t think of much! I thought it was hilarious.

On the other hand, my kids have really taken up the “present torch” on their own this year.

They were all over it. I was mostly a consultant and occasional helper. What my kids have been focused on and why it has been so busy around here the past week is because our focus has been making Christmas presentsI am writing this on Christmas Eve, so I can’t include any spoilers in this post. However, I will give some examples from last year.

Last year, I made my daughter a Fairy Door and my son a Snake Sword. Both of these have seen regular usage.

My kids made coasters out of a cut up log taken from a fallen cherry tree at the back of our property for our extended family. Together we also made a jewelry box for my wife.

My daughter made my son a Nerf Gun Arcade (shown right) with pictures of things he hates to shoot at – they spin when hit. Yep, we like Nerf guns around here.

My daughter assigned the targets points based on how “dangerous” the targets were. Barney, at 500, ranked pretty high – but not shown was the deadly “boy and girl kissing” on the far side. She spent hours engineering this thing and had an incredible amount of fun building it.

You may note, that there is no mention of what Mrs. Loonie Doctor made for Christmas. That is because she was very busy handling all of our other presents. We do spend money on Christmas. About 1/2 of it is on everyone from the kids’ bus driver, janitors, secretaries, and teachers to our garbage collectors, newspaper delivery folks, and family friends. We are a complementary team and I think our time contribution is pretty equal. This division of labour results in us spending less money whilst getting way better presents for people. My wife is very thoughtful, has good taste, and is a great bargain hunter. This task specialization results in more digits in our bank account, but also fewer lost digits on my wife’s hands from crafting injuries.

Making your own presents with your kids has a number of benefits:

The Process:

  • They need to think about what the person likes and wants, which helps to teach empathy.
  • They need to research how to make it. Research is an invaluable skill in the information age.
  • They need to learn how to make it. Learning is a major life skill in itself, but they also learn how to problem solve, some skills with tools, and how to let their creative juices flow.
  • They get to make attempts and have “epic fails”. They get to laugh at those, learn, and overcome.
  • I get to teach them skills. This has to be one of the most rewarding experiences as a parent. They benefit from the skill, you benefit from the teaching of it, and you all build a closer relationship.
  • My kids have been off school for almost a week and I have not heard “I’m bored” even once. They have been way too busy.
  • You will note that I just used the word “they” repetitively. That is not just a reflection of my poor writing skills. Part of raising resilient children is teaching them to do things themselves – more “they”, less “I”.

The Product:

  • Homemade presents mean more to the person receiving it due to all of the thought, time, and effort involved in the above process.
  • This applies regardless of the quality of the product. Strangely, the photos of my “epic fails” have disappeared from my camera, but I know my parents still harbour photos of some of my Christmas creations as a child.
  • When you get good at crafting, you can make high-quality gifts. Those skills extrapolate to other areas of your life.

The Legacy:

This passes on a number of things from generation to generation. There are the family heirlooms, like the Fairy Door or Snake Sword, but more importantly, there are also the skills, the lessons in empathy, the lessons in frugality (using your time, rather than money, to create something of value), and the building of family relationships.

It isn’t Christmas Day yet, but I have already received the best present of all from my family. I got to see my kids making presents. What I will remember years from now is not a present. It is sitting at my computer typing earlier this week while listening to my Dad in the room next door patiently teaching my son and helping him build my daughter’s present that she will receive tomorrow morning. Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future…

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