Needs And Wants

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By the time I was sixteen, through various volunteer activities through church and the community, I had walked among shoeless children living in a ‘town’ of cardboard boxes they called home, served meals to the homeless and mentally ill, and had read books to a hospitalized girl my age who would succumb to cancer a few days later.

I guess maybe because I had been around people with so little, that holiday excess always made me a bit uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong: I love getting or giving a good present. I’m just saying that gifts aren’t everything, you know? And the holiday season amplifies this for me even more.

As a teen, there are a few truths I learned in these volunteer experiences: more than likely, you actually have it pretty good even when you think you don’t; it’s almost impossible to remain intolerant if you’ve ever ventured outside of your comfort zone and served with sincerity; and, everyone deserves to feel loved.

The kids participated in their first help-our-neighbors experience last weekend when, as a family, we went to deliver a heater to a family who doesn’t have any heat in their home. We also took some diapers and wipes to a woman who went into pre-term labor the day after her husband was murdered. Two days after Thanksgiving. Sure, the kids aren’t really aware of their participation because BACKYARDIGANS! And we bought them those totally unnecessary flashing Christmas light sabers at the neighborhood parade that night. But we intend to foster a commitment to service in the community is the point.

Santa Reindeer Light Sabers

We especially plan to bridle the commercial madness that is holiday gifting. The kids are still too young to know what to do with the gifts (or maybe it’s because we haven’t emphasized the present part that they lack interest), so we are taking the opportunity to cultivate Christmas gift traditions for our family.

Someone in my neighborhood group posted that they manage the potential excess by limiting kids’ gifts to four:

Something they want
Something they need
Something to wear
Something to read

We kinda like that. We’ll also add in adopting a family and/or children with the same ages as Mateo and Harper and get our kids involved in the deciding of what to get them.

As for the rest of the family, we are pretty lucky in that all our siblings are agreeable that each child gets only one gift from each of the other families. So, for example, our kids each get one gift from my sister’s family, and one gift from my brother’s family (and the adults do not exchange gifts). Grandparents, thankfully, are equally agreeable.

Managing the excess isn’t for everyone, however, and that doesn’t make it bad, either. I have a friend who firmly believes in spoiling the kids to the brink at Christmastime and that totally works for them. I just hope our kids don’t grow up to be friends with theirs because THE PRESSURE!

What are your gifting traditions and/or gifting traditions you intent to harvest?

Rachel is the birth mom and one of two working mommies to twenty month old boy/girl twins. Her blog is: Motherhood.Squared

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12 thoughts on “Needs And Wants”

  1. Rachel – I completely agree. My husband and I have been debating what, if anything, to get our children. Frankly, I could rewrap something they already own and they would be happy.

    I like the idea of the 4 gifts. It is easy to remember and, surprisingly, reflects what my MIL does every year.
    .-= Jennifer U´s last blog ..The Metrolink Holiday Toy Train =-.

  2. We do the four gift thing too. The problem is not US giving gifts. It is the family members giving gifts. That gets out of control in a way I do not like. This year we’re splitting it up. Christmas Eve is quickly opening gifts from everyone else then doing family stuff like making cookies for santa and singing and checking out the luminaries and lights. Christmas morning is only Santa.

    Our other tradition is that we do not give gifts to our extended family. Instead we donate all that money that would have gone to those gifts and that is our “gift” to our family. We have been doing this since we met and every year we try to stick with the theme that year, examples:

    * Year I was pregnant, funded 100 1st graders in low income school to go on a field trip. I cried seeing pics of five school buses lined up.

    * Boys first birthday gave money to a woman whose son (3 weeks younger than ours) was attacked by his nanny and suffered severe brain damage.

    * This year we gave it to someone adopting an orphan from Uganda. Because holy hell does my family need stupid stocking stuffers when children are dying parentless every day.

    The plan is to have the boys help choose starting next year.

    I recently started attending a Unitarian church and the sermon this past week was on giving gifts. I loved the message – gifts should be either beautiful, useful, or meaningful. I’m going to stick with that for all gifts going forward.
    .-= LauraC´s last blog ..Perhaps this is why people co-sleep =-.

  3. Our gift giving for the past two years has been pretty minimal. The kids get so much from my in-laws that I don’t feel the need to do much. A lot of what they get from our in-laws we put away and then take out gradually throughout the year (at least, that’s what we did last year), because it’s just too overwhelming at this point. We’re very grateful for the gifts, and often they splurge on things- both necessary (like car seats) and fun (like a play kitchen)- that we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.

    Although we’ve had very little excess since the kids were born, I still try to give to others when we can. Sometimes it isn’t as much as I wish I could do. But I tell myself that every little bit helps. I know we won’t be a one income family forever, and when the time comes, I definitely plan to involve our kids in helping out in the community. Whether it’s purchasing items or donating time to a project, I want them to learn the importance of helping others and giving back.
    .-= reanbean´s last blog ..Mistakes Were Made =-.

  4. Laura C, I love your traditions!

    I’m really not into the big gift-giving extravaganza…. sometimes I think poor kids (looking at my friends’ kids) but mostly I’m glad that they will be grateful for what they do get.

  5. this is the second year of having christmas with our twins, last year and this year we’ve packed up all the toys they’ve outgrown which are still in fantastic condition and taken them in several boxes to the Hospital and Womens Shelter (who also look after homeless families) we’ll be doing this until the kids no longer get toys. My two are not quite 14 months but never too young to learn a life lesson.
    I love the

    and will be doing that as well, my kiddos are spoilt by other family members i don’t ever want them to expect to get everything they glimpse in passing.

  6. We love Christmas and all that it entails (minus the commercialism of course.)

    Neither my husband nor I have large families, so it isn’t a problem to shop for everyone while still staying around $500 (kids included). And honestly, I really enjoy purchasing a meaningful gift for the people who help me out so much and love my kids so enormously!

    Our families are GREAT at asking what I would like them to get for the kids. That helps so much, because then I can request art supplies, items that we don’t have but would like, clothing in the right size (new pair of shoes, perhaps?) and this completely eliminates stuff I don’t want in my house (large plastic and brand items) and duplicates.

    I also packed up the large majority of their toys in early November and donated them to teen moms. I wanted the kids to have only a few things to play with pre-Christmas to develop at grateful heart not a greedy-give-it-to-me attitude.

    We have talked extensively about Christmas being Jesus’ birthday, and although we aren’t in to the whole santa thing, I explained that Santa helps us to remember that giving to others in need is a wonderful thing.

    We are on the lookout for more ideas to infuse December with the true meaning of Christmas-next stop: a live nativity. And this afternoon we tromped around in the cold leaving chocolate covered pretzels (homemade) and cards in our neighbors mailboxes.

    Keep the great ideas coming! I will check back for more ideas!

  7. I really like this “4 gift list” idea and so does my husband. We are curious to hear people’s thoughts on how other people set the “scope” or “limits” on each category, though. For instance, what if the item that your child “wants” or wants to “wear” is ridiculously expensive compared to what other siblings ask for, or even compared to the rest of the list? We have thought you could set a budget for each child’s total gifts and distribute as needed amongst the 4 items. But what are other folk’s thoughts?

    We have tried to do something every holiday season since getting married to help provide Christmas for others, such as picking names off the mall’s Sub 4 Santa Giving Tree, donating to Toys for Tots, etc. and once our twins are old enough to recognize what it’s all about, we will involve them in the whole process, from choosing how to contribute, then participating in the giving, too.

  8. I enjoyed reading this post and getting new ideas for how to do Christmas as my children get older and I try to instill more values into their lives. I really like the four gift list and wish I had heard of it sooner! The extended family is all about buying my kids tons of toys/games, when I’d prefer clothes or books.

    (Rachel – I think it’s a small world – I’m pretty sure that the woman who went into premature labor after her husband was murdered works with one of my online mommy friends. I have been keeping the family in my prayers during this difficult time.)
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..My brain has reached its capacity =-.

  9. I love the way your family does Christmas. I would like to work toward something like that someday. It’s tough because our families are such big gift givers, we feel obligated, ya know?

    Merry Christmas!
    .-= Kim´s last blog ..A Lesson Learned =-.

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