It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Melissa Stefanec

If your kid has access to other children or cable TV, chances are they never stop asking for stuff. It’s a year-round occurrence that escalates during the holiday season.

After I pick my kids up from daycare, I am often hit with numerous requests for strange-sounding things. My kids see commercials at daycare (things that I am blissfully unaware of, thanks to Netflix), and those expertly targeted marketing campaigns take hold of my kids’ brains and don’t let go. Many of my car rides home sound something like this:

“Mommy, I want the kitty that drinks from a dish. It isn’t real, but it can blink its eyes and purr.”

“Mommy, I want the bath toys that don’t mold.”

“Mommy, I want the robot that changes into a dinosaur and roars and crushes buildings.”

“Mommy, I want the toy that comes in a mystery lollipop container. The toy you get is a surprise, but I want the orange cat one not the green bird one.”

I usually mumble something about Santa and good behavior. If I hear the same request enough times, I try to find out what my kids are actually carrying on about. I try Googling dinosaur robot building crusher so I can send the proper URL to Santa, but I either come up short of results or am dumbfounded by the associated price tag. It’s right around that time my dislike for stuff starts creeping in.

Nonetheless, be it by family, my husband and me, or Santa, my kids end up with some of the toys from their favorite commercials. The results are usually the same. They are over-the-top excited for a day or two, and then the under-performing and over-promising toy is cast into the lowermost parts of the toybox. Six months later, I consign it for a fraction of the original cost.

This scenario isn’t good for anyone. It reinforces the futility of trying to find lasting joy in short-term gratification. It teaches kids to value things. The planet is pillaged to make said stuff. It’s a circle that needs to broken.

For the record, I’m not against gifts. I want my kids to receive a few thoughtful gifts for holidays and birthdays. Gifts that take into account the child and not the trends seem to be ones that get lasting use in our house. I’m against the onslaught of crap. Most parents I know share this sentiment. However, they also feel like trying to stop it is futile. The ones that do try to stop it are often met with pushback or resentment from loved ones.

I am here to persuade you to give differently and better. We owe it to ourselves and our kids. If you are a giver of stuff for the sake of stuff, try shopping off this holiday list instead. The best thing about many of these gifts is they include the gift of time. What tells a child you love them more: 52 tiny pieces of plastic or a day of quality activities?

My Gift List

• Zoo passes and a day at the zoo

• Sponsor their babysitter course

• Art class

• Music Class

• Craft class

• Family fitness class

• Movie tickets

• Concert/theater tickets

• Athletic park admission

• A fun volunteer stint

• Ice skating

• Sports tickets

• Board game day

• Parks and recreation activities

• Sponsor a sport

• Baking day

• Cooking class

Many of these examples don’t involve a big financial obligation. They just involve quality time and some transportation. Kids love spending time with people other than their parents, and they are typically on their best behavior for other people, making any of these gifts a win for everyone involved.

Some people fear that if they don’t give kids enough stuff, they will be disappointed. In my experiences, this isn’t the case. Most kids don’t notice how much money is spent on a gift and are genuinely thankful for anything they receive. If the child in your life is resentful about a perceived lack of bounty, that child needs a gift off my list pronto. Don’t teach people in your life that money + stuff = love.

I want to close with an example from my own childhood. I had one aunt whom I spent a lot of time with growing up. I’m sure she gave me a lot of gifts throughout my childhood, but I only remember one. She paid for me to take a class at our local zoo. It was a class on preparing food for the animals. I got to go in the zoo kitchen and use knives. I diced fruit and veggies and carried them into exhibits. I got to feed a giant snake a frozen rat. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world at the time (and, truthfully, it still sounds cool), and I often look back at this as one of the best gifts I ever received. (I also want to give a shout-out to the Super Nintendo — thanks Mom and Dad.)

We all know that what makes the winter holidays great is spending time with family and friends, eating delicious food and giving thoughtful gifts to the people you love. Stuff is just stuff, but time is what memories and fondness are made of. This year, I challenge you to give less stuff to your loved ones, whether they are young or old. After you put a little time and thought into your gift giving, you might just discover it is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.