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I love Christmas. But I hate plastic. When our children were very young, it seemed as though we would amass an enormous amount of plastic at Christmas. The Christmas aftermath was usually marked by a sea of broken plastic pieces with “Made in China” stamped in blue, the last of which usually ended up in the sandbox or under a lawn mower that following spring.
One year I noticed something I considered not short of phenomenal- we had three toys that had survived from the Christmas before. I decided I wanted to know more about how this Christmas miracle had happened.
I traced these particular toys to a last minute shopping effort that had led me to a specialty toy store with more high-end imported items like wooden doll houses and science and building toys. It so happened that they had had a half-price sale, so I bought two dolls that were normally $65.00 each. My mother was aghast at the prospect of my spending that much money on more plastic. After all, the life span of a doll is short in a home with five girls and one mischievous big brother.
Low and behold, the dolls not only survived the following spring, they grew to the stature of treasured, and today are well on their way to becoming family heirlooms as the next generation has begun to emerge.
Those dolls, along with having small children in my home for the best part of 30 years, have taught me a few Christmas lessons about the gifts we buy for our children and grand children.
Rule number 1. Children are easily overwhelmed by a lot of toys. More is not better- it is confusing. A few well-thought-out gifts are priceless, regardless of the price tag.
When children experience the thrill of opening a large amount of presents, it becomes the thrill- not the present. When one gift after another is opened, the thrill continues only until the inevitable abrupt stop. The child looks around for more, hoping the feeling is not really over.
Disappointment is unavoidable. The child wants more, and the parents are disgusted at the lack of appreciation on the child’s part.
Parents and grandparents alike easily fall prey to two kinds of indulgence that overwhelms children. Parents who feel they can’t afford a lot of expensive toys will too often buy a lot of toys to give a child that thrill of opening gifts.
We bought into this early on, as did our friends and family who bought gifts for our children. I soon found that when the pizzazz of the ribbon and paper are gone, the bits and pieces of dime-store stuff would thrill their heart for hours…Just a few hours to be exact. Then the tear-filled child would inevitably bring to me a broken present in hopes I could perform a super glue resurrection.
Parents and grandparents who have the means to buy more expensive toys can also fall into creating more emotional confusion for children by buying a large amount of gifts. Children do have a saturation point. Younger children will flit from one thing to another out of excitement or feeling overwhelmed.
One of the unfortunate side affects of this type of indulgence is that the child is robbed of loving a special toy.
This is particularly true of little girls, who are given so many dolls that they learn more neglectful habits rather than the joy of falling in love with a baby, even if it’s only a baby doll.
Older children who are given too much often lose their sense of value. That’s not hard to understand really, just simple economics. When there is a large supply, or overstock, the value of the item goes down. Another toy added to a pile in a box, is JUST another toy on the pile.
I know one such boy who grew into a teenager and was given a brand new truck. While driving it through a cornfield, someone remarked, “You are going to tear up your truck.” His reply, “Cool, that means I get a new one.”
Gifts are a wonderful expression of love, even sacrifice, for the people you love. But if we want to give meaningful gifts for our children to treasure, we have to look past the frenzy of the moment and think about how the gift will affect the child emotionally.
Perhaps the most important question we have to ask this Christmas is who are we buying this gift for? Am I buying this gift because it will make me feel good to buy it? Or am I buying this gift to add a new dimension to this precious child’s life.
When we take time to really consider the gifts we buy, the child we are buying it for, and the impact it will have, we keep Christmas about the heart- not about the money spent.