Cue the old, creaky voice: "In my day, kids got one thing for Christmas. That was it! And we were grateful!" Only I don't have an old, creaky voice. And it happens to be true.
It's great news that many parents are doing well and can provide wonderful gifts for their children. But we've gone so far the other way, towards excess, and parents must rein in the bounty, lest they raise entitled children and a whole host of other problems. Drew Magary, a writer for Deadspin, recently penned a piece, "My Kid's Insane Christmas Wish List, Annotated." His child's list included "1,000 bucks" as its own item, and five --that's right, five -- North Face jackets. Oh, and all of the Beanie Babies. Drew's not alone. My friend Heather's son has a two-page-long Christmas list. His requests aren't for outrageous things like puppies and racecars, but they are still plentiful, and they are still expensive. Now there's nothing wrong with children asking for as much as they'd like to. At a young age, they don't know any better. What's wrong is when parents see that list as a "to-buy" list instead of a "wish" list. Here are the top six reasons not to buy everything on that list:
1. Children will come to expect they will get everything on it, and maybe even that they deserve everything on it. This breeds entitlement and creates a child who never learns to be without. And let's face it, there are times in life when your child will have to be without. You can't protect him from that inevitability, so prepare him instead.
2. You're setting yourself up for failure. What happens if you can't fulfill your child's order the next year? (And notice how you've become the worker here, fulfilling orders like you're a seasonal employee at Amazon.)
3. While you might think that giving a child everything he wants will make the holidays more magical, it actually does the opposite. Christmas morning should bring wide-eyed surprise, the kind that comes from a child who is not expecting to get everything he wants, and is wowed and grateful because he's gotten something on his list. If a child expects to get everything on his list, then on Christmas morning, he's not wowed or surprised -- he's just taking inventory.
4. You're making everyone else's job harder, and less fun. I have a friend who has given up trying to buy things for his nieces and nephews because they have everything already. How do you shop for kids who have their own iPads? You can't exactly give them a Lego set and expect they'll be genuinely excited about it. Instead, my friend just gives them impersonal iTunes gift cards. "It's like giving a kid in the '70s or '80s batteries," he says glumly.
5. You're sending a message that only "wanted" items are Christmas-worthy, not "needed" items. Say your child's backpack is still functional, but on its last legs. Does he just expect you will replace it with a new one because that is your parental duty? Or will he see the replacement of that backpack as a gift for which he is grateful? Giving him the backpack for Christmas, instead of yet another video game, sends a message that will last the whole year, a message that says: "You are not automatically entitled to these things."
6. Showering children with presents detracts from the spirit of Christmas, and the important morals that come along with it. Among other things, Christmas is about preparing a special meal together, spending time with loved ones, giving to others and feeling grateful. If your child is too busy trying out his new toys, he'll miss the point, and you'll have missed a great opportunity to teach values.
I'm not saying, "Hey, it's the holidays! Let's teach kids about disappointment! What fun!" Rather, teach children early and often that the holidays are not just about getting the gifts they want. There are roughly a million Christmas movies with just this theme (and possibly even one or two of these movies are on your child's Christmas list). And don't be so afraid of disappointing them that you buy them everything they want, even if you can afford it. Trust me, disappointment will last only as long as it takes to move on to the next fun holiday activity.