What I Won’t Give My Kids For Christmas This Year

A couple of months ago I wrote about taking all my kids’ toys away, and how that experience has fundamentally changed our family and the way we look at stuff.  The response from that post–both positive and negative–was completely overwhelming, like nothing I have every experienced before while writing this blog.  Who knew I could be so controversial?

While the vast majority of readers applauded the decision and a few even said they were inspired to follow suit, there were also many others who passionately disagreed.  They argued that I wasn’t teaching my kids any personal responsibility, that I was taking away their childhoods, that they would probably become hoarders, and that I nothing but a control freak who was causing them permanent psychological damage.  Sheesh.

I hope that those of you who have read this blog for a while “know” me well enough to know that I put it all out there, the good, the bad, & the ugly.  I didn’t write that post to be self-righteous, and I certainly don’t think I have all the answers when it comes to parenting.   Most of the time I am just trying to make it through the day.

My kids are not perfect, and neither am I.  While getting rid of excess stuff has had an incredible impact on our family, it was not some magic key to a stress-free life.   My girls still whine, make messes, fight, complain, & disobey just like any other kids, and I still lose my patience, yell, & make (many) mistakes just like any other mom.

Ultimately we are all just desperately in need of Grace.

Amid all the brouhaha, there were several people who wondered what Husband and I plan to do for Christmas this year, now that we have taken their toys away.

For the record, my kids do still have a few toys left to play with.  While the vast majority went to Goodwill (or the attic if they had sentimental value), we kept the following:  Legos, stuffed animals (2 each), dolls (2 each), Barbies (about 10 total), play food & dishes, puzzles, board games, & dress-up clothes.  Everything except the stuffed animals are stored on shelves in their closet, and they can only get down–with assistance–one item at a time.

They will not get new toys for Christmas this year–at least not from us–simply because they don’t need any more toys. The few things we kept are toys that engage their imaginations and allow them to interact with each other.  Between homeschool and church and other activities, these “old fashioned” toys are enough to keep them busy pretty much all the time, and they are very rarely bored.

Husband and I have always tried, on some level, to make Christmas more about the experiences and traditions than the gifts, but this year our goal is to be even more intentional about teaching them the true spirit of the season.

We have already begun talking as a family about how we can give to others rather than what we can get.   We talk about what it means to have an “attitude of gratitude,” and how we celebrate Christmas because Jesus was God’s gift to us.   We talk about the blessings that we have, and how Jesus said that it is the job of people who have been given much to help those who don’t have as much.

This is not a one-time conversation.  Kids don’t work that way.  We talk about it daily, during circle time, playtime, in the car, at the dinner table.   It is a nearly constant topic of conversation.  It has to be, because if it is not, they forget.

I forget.

Because honestly, as a parent, this lesson of gratitude, of a giving heart and a caring spirit is not something I can simply talk about.  They have to see it in me.  It must live in me.  This requires some serious prayer and reflection, and a humble, grateful, & repentant heart.

It also requires me to be intentional about where I spend my time and energy and focus this holiday season, because it is not just about talking.  It is doing too.  If I am to teach them compassion, to show them how to give of themselves and their time, then I need to be willing to do it too.

We started last week by filling our Operation Christmas Child boxes, and beginning next week the whole family will be spending several Saturdays in November & December ringing the Salvation Army bell outside the local Publix.  On Thanksgiving we have signed up to deliver meals to shut-ins, and in December we will join the Care Ministry at our church for a night of caroling to those in need of some holiday cheer.

For the past 3 Christmas Eves we have enjoyed decorating cookies then delivering them to the local firehouse to thank the fireman for working to keep us safe while the rest of us get to be home with our families.  It has always been an awesome experience, and we will continue that tradition this year.

We are still giving plenty of gifts–our list of friends and family is long–but this year we are making them instead of buying them. The girls absolutely love helping with all the different craft projects and our time spent creating things for others is so special.  Yes, it is more work, but it allows them to see that gifts come from the heart and not from the store.

My children are not deprived; far from it.   In fact, compared to most of the world, they are ridiculously spoiled.  They have two parents who love them deeply.  They have a comfortable house to live in, a warm bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, clean water to drink, & plenty of food to eat.  They have free access to books and art supplies and computers.  They go to the dentist and the doctor regularly.  They get to take dance and gymnastics and ride bikes and swim.  They are happy and healthy and blessed beyond measure.

There are many gifts I will give this year, but what I won’t give my kids for Christmas is just more stuff.  Instead, what I hope to give them–and to show them through my own example–are things like faith, joy, peace, hope, contentment, gratitude, & compassion.  If giving them less means they will appreciate more, then I can’t help thinking that is the best gift of all.

 

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{ 30 comments… add one }

  • Susan November 16,

    Ruth, there are so many things I love about this blog but my very favorite posts are the ones like these, when you share what is on your heart. I have to admit that I have already been starting to stress out about Christmas and and how I will get the best deals on all the toys & video games my kids are asking for already. I so needed this reminder that Christmas is NOT about stuff! Thank you.

    Reply
  • Barb November 16,

    Awesome, just awesome. Sharing this with everyone I know!

    Reply
  • Janice November 16,

    My hat is off to you completely for this post! I can’t wait to read the “controversial” post but I already know I will like what you did. :). Just yesterday our kids were trying to clean their room and one DD said “We have SO much stuff it’s like we don’t even appreciate it!”. I completely agree about Christmas being about Christ…..it’s a challenge every year to keep it that way.

    Reply
  • Karen S. November 16,

    Awesome blog!!! Keep up the good work Ruth. I must say today’s read is a huge inspiration! We are currently dealing with the toy “stuff” and so far, it is not going well. Thanks for posting, the good, the bad and the ugly. This is a great reminder of the important things that our children need to know. They need to know God and how to be good, kind, considerate and loving kids, young adults, etc. Thanks!!!

    Reply
  • Sherrie Grennell November 16,

    Thank you for sharing this. I think you are on the absolute RIGHT track! I applaud you and your family. Thank you for sharing…God bless you and your family!

    Reply
  • JanelleS November 16,

    I agree with you completely! For the past several years, my husband and I haven’t bought toys for our 4 children at Christmas. They get a few essentials (jeans, shirts,shoes, etc.) and then usually one practical family gift. The only toy that they get is usually one toy from an extended relative or such. In fact, just today my husband and I were talking about Christmas and the materialistic approach to things the Christmas seems to be centered around. Just getting “things” for Christmas isn’t doing anyone any good. I personally enjoy being creative with my thinking and making something that means something to the receiver instead of just another gift!
    When I was growing up, I just LOVED getting tons and tons of gift…but I remember being SO VERY unhappy when the day was over. I just didn’t get everything that I wanted. As I have aged and had my own children, I have found a freedom in not having that “me first” attitude and focusing on the gift of giving to others.

    Janelle S
    P.S. Here is a link to a post that I wrote about children having too many toys at Christmas.
    http://wp.me/p2wN9y-P
    http://www.parsnipsandparsimony.com

    Reply
  • Elizabeth November 16,

    Thank you so much for this follow up posts. It was an interesting experience reading your last post about the toys. My kids were of course fighting over the toys and which show to watch at the very moment i was reading that post. They also had such an excess of “stuff” that they didn’t even know what toys they had hidden in the toy room. So, i turned off the TV, got the kids to come help and packed up ALL the toys. Everyone in my circle of friends was very supportive and my husband was very excited. We also eventually kept the toys that encourage playing together and being creative and got rid of the rest. Now they ask for crayons and pencils, blocks and books. No, it didn’t fix my kids overnight, but wow, the difference it made was obvious immediately. So thank you for giving me the courage to do what needed to be done to get my kids to a more productive and appreciative place. They are only 2 and 3 yrs old, but they get it quick! I have been wondering how the best way to spend christmas would be with such young kids who in no way need any more toys. And this gives me a few ideas how to make it about giving instead of receiving. At the very least wouldn’t a savings account be more beneficial than all the toys in the long run? ;)
    Again, thank you and hope you have a great Christmas!!

    Reply
  • Jane November 16,

    Oh Ruth, thank you for this post! It seems like all I have been seeing this week are frantic reminders on TV and facebook and other blogs that Black Friday is only a week away. It’s like Thanksgiving doesn’t even count anymore. Even though I try not to get caught up in all of it, I still get the feeling that I will be missing out if I don’t go out and snag all the hot deals and latest toys. I SO needed this reminder that the holidays are about so much more!

    Reply
  • Melissa November 16,

    I think what you are doing is wonderful! I have an 8 month old and plan to limit the amount of toys he has. We have maybe bought him 1-2 toys since he was born, but he still has a basket full of them because other people buy them. Anyway, your children will be blessed by your efforts!

    Blessings,
    Missy

    Reply
  • Robyn November 16,

    Personally I can not applaud you more!!.. Way to go!.. As for those saying your children will be mentally messed up? Umm, MANY years ago children were happy to get a piece of candy, or a piece of fruit, maybe some homemade mittens and scarf if mom had the money for the material and a nice Christmas dinner that included meat and maybe potatoes.. Children of today are spoiled rotten THAT is what messes them up.. They are taught that “stuff” is important and other human beings are not as long as they and their own are OKAY. I think what you’re doing is a wonderful thing and something that will help teach your kids for the rest of their lives an they WILL have wonderful memories of all this and hopefully traditions that they will keep when they have their own families.. I commend you !

    Reply
  • Claire @ A Little Claireification November 16,

    Ruth –
    You are so amazing. I want to be like you when I grow up. Once again a heartfelt, moving and inspirational post that makes me happy and a little teary and just makes me feel like a failure as a Mother. LOL Just kidding of course.
    You have really hit the proverbial nail on the head with this whole thing. I know you don’t want praise or accolades but you really just deserve it with your posts and tips on intentional parenting. Thank you for always sharing the good, the bad and the ugly in such a “real” way.

    Posting this comment on FB too.
    xo,
    Claire

    Reply
  • Jessica@SweatIsMySanity November 16,

    Hopefully you didn’t take it personally. Crazies that react like that are just the type who over stimulate and spoil their kids for one ‘guilt feeling’ or another. You’re an amazing mom, blogger and woman in general. Clearly there are a lot of people in the world with too much time on their hands. Love ya! xo, Jess

    BTW, check out my last minute fall wreath over at CraftyTexasGirls.com

    Reply
  • Carol November 16,

    While everybody is out giving the Firefighters goodies, don’t forget the Cops…usually right next door, as they are here in our town. There are Dispatchers in that same Police station that can’t get out to go grab a burger, much less see their family for their holiday meal. All the restaurants in town are usually closed so unless somebody brings food to them, the Cops and Dispatchers are usually left forgotten. At least the Firefighters have their own kitchen to make their meal.

    Reply
    • Yesenia November 18,

      Thanks Carol, I feel like everyone always forgets police officers! Having a sister and brother-in-law in law enforcement has made me realize how many sacrifices they make for us too.

      Reply
  • Alisha November 17,

    Wonderful! I have only read a few of your blogs but I have enjoyed those few! I agree with you. Kids these days in America have too much stuff. I have debated drastically downsizing the amount of stuff but not without thier ok and discussing what options we have to do with it. Teaching kids the true meaning of Christmas and that it is far better to give than to receive is so important to us but we our not sure we are doing it? We get caught up in the excitement and miss the meaning too often. Awesome for you and you encourage me to do the same!

    Reply
  • Kristen November 19,

    Awesome! What a gift you are giving to your girls… The older I get as a mama of three blessings, I am seeing the need and gift in less, not more in things, activities, etc. Also, I love the way you are celebrating Jesus’ birth by giving to others!
    Blessings

    Reply
  • kay November 19,

    LOVE this post! It made me cry for some reason–and anyone who doubts your girls are happy and thriving only has to look at those sparkling eyes and brilliant smiles to know you are doing something right!

    Reply
  • Kristine November 20,

    What a moving and inspiring post. LOVE it.

    Reply
  • The Greatful Mom December 21,

    I think your children have the PERFECT amount of toys. No kid needs more than that. And the fact that they are able to participate in recreational activities and ride their bikes and all that other stuff that that is part of a REAL childhood is wonderful.

    Reply
  • Betsy March 30,

    I don’t need to write anything other than… I absolutely love this! Keep up the great work Momma!

    Reply
  • Anonymous May 10,

    I started this last year with my 10 month old. we gave to a little girl
    In need who suffers from cancer. I want my daughter to give instead of expecting to receive. Just as you said, my daughter is truly blessed with two loving parents, a home, a warm bed, etc. kudos to you for writing about it.

    Reply
  • Laura June 1,

    I just found your blog today and read a few of the “favorite” posts.
    I LOVE YOU!

    Reply
  • Catherine July 16,

    I just found your blog while looking for Christmas traditions. I don’t want to give my kids any more toys either–especially when that’s not what Christmas is all about. I love what you did and how you are teaching your children to enjoy the blessings they have. You’ve inspired me! Also I love your blog title. Realizing I’m way too entitled, my family and I have cut down drastically on what we spend and we love it. Who says you have to have it all to be happy? So thanks!

    Reply
  • Http://Christmastreemegamall.Com November 16,

    When it comes to gift ideas, avoid just giving money.
    Providing cash in general sends the message, “I didn’t want to be worried to think much for you, so there you go, that’s in reality what you are worth for me.”

    Reply
  • Lindy November 19,

    Wow! I love it! We have done the same thing! We decided to take the entire month of December and make it about Jesus! I mean, if someone else got all the gifts on my birthday, I’d be offended. How rarely we think about Jesus this time of year, and it’s “supposed” to be all in honor of Him!

    We are having a “New Year’s Day” Celebration which will be a time for others to give gifts, and we thought we would do one gift per child….but we want it to be about giving, not receiving. All of December is about serving…we think that’s the best gift we could give Jesus for His birthday!

    We recently took away most of the toys as well (pretty much have legos, their “house” play with their toy stove and such, and educational items). I want my children to be grateful for what they already have, not focusing on what they don’t. I want them to know that there are other children who would LOVE to have the toys they currently have!

    Thank you for your honesty, transparency, and encouragement! It’s a blessing! I hope you’ll check out my blog for homeschooling, Christian moms as well!

    http://conservativechristianmom.blogspot.com/2013/11/what-i-really-want-for-christmas.html

    Reply
  • Jessica January 2,

    Love your blog so far! And where your mind set is is right where I want to be. Question though, do your kids believe in Santa? My oldest did, but I’m questioning not going that route with my youngest (there’s 7 years between them).
    Thanks and God bless!

    Reply
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  • Erin November 1,

    I love this! Most of the other posts about simplifying holidays for children are about “limiting” it to three or four gifts (which is already more than we do). This year we asked the kids if they’d like to take a trip instead of gifts and they all said yes. So we rented a condo a few hours away and we are going to spend Christmas together. We’ll still do stockings (and our stockings are small and simple- no ipods or gift cards) and they each get a Christmas ornament and other than that we’re going to spend our energy on family activities. We are all so excited! Your blog posts about taking your kids’ toys away are spot on! We have a few more kinds of toys than you do (with two boys and two girls ranging from 1 to 10 years we need a little more variety) but we’re definitely of the same mindset and it is wonderful! When we go to museums my kids never ask for anything- they know it is all about the experience and fun.

    Reply
  • kterrill December 14,

    Inspirational – thank you. It is so easy to get caught up in commercialism of Christmas.

    Reply

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