Many people experience pressure to buy gifts, sometimes in excess of what they might be comfortably able to afford. Kids often have high expectations for receiving gifts based on how many gifts their friends are getting and messages from the media telling them that they need more and better.
Without mindful awareness, we as parents can easily fall into the trap of going on automatic pilot and doing what we think we “should” do to keep up with societal expectations instead of making choices based on what is most meaningful to us.
Here are a few suggestions for how to step out of the consumerism trap this holiday season:
1. Decide what you most value around this holiday time and what values you want to impart to your children about money, spending, giving to others, and the meaning of the holiday
Taking time to identify what is most important to you is a first step to being more mindful as you approach the holiday season, and making choices that align with your values. Ask yourself the following question:
What matters most to me at this holiday season?
Is it, for example, being with family members and friends, celebrating the religious meaning of a holiday, giving to others, etc.? Think about how you might translate you answer into activities you and your child can do together.
Next, sit down with your child or children and each write out or share what aspects of the holiday are most important to you. You might let them know that there is nothing wrong with wanting to receive gifts, but that you are interested in knowing what other parts of the holiday season are most important to them. For younger children you might ask them what are some of their favorite things to do during the holidays. Come up with a few ideas together of how to make the holidays meaningful.
For younger children, if helping to decorate is a favorite part of their holiday, perhaps put them in charge of making the decorations for the living room. If holiday food is an important part of the holiday for a child, help them come up with a special recipe they can make, or have them get a favorite recipe from an elder family member. Find ways to take what is meaningful and translate it into something that you and your child can do together.
2. Have some gifts that are non-material
I remember in high school that one of my friends gave me and some of our mutual friends a very unusual gift at graduation. It was a small canister that typically holds a roll of film, but instead he put a small piece of paper inside where he wrote out his deepest wish for each of us. I can’t remember many of the other graduation gifts that I received, but this one stands out more than 30 years later because it was particularly personal and touching.
Sharing non-material gifts with children during the holidays (in addition to some material gifts) can be a way to help counter society’s emphasis on consumerism.
For younger children, gifts might include letting them stay up 30 minutes past bedtime on a weekend of their choice, or having a special movie and popcorn night at home, or making a fort with blankets and “camping out” in there with sleeping bags.
For older children this might involve having a special parent/child day together, where they can pick the games and activities, or a “spa” day at home together. An idea for tweens might include a “cake wars” night, where family members pair off and see who can make the tastiest and fanciest dessert. For older teens, a heartfelt letter or card expressing what you love about them could be more meaningful to them than you realize. These gifts are not meant to necessarily replace material ones, but can show children that some of the best gifts need not be purchased.
In addition, you might think about helping your children give non-material gifts to others. For example, they might frame a picture or special note they make for a relative, or pick out a special family photo to frame and give as a gift from them. For older children, they might offer their time as a gift — such as making themselves available to babysit or help a relative with chores for a day.
3. Find a way to teach children about giving back
Look for opportunities to teach children about giving to their community in some way. For younger children this might involve having them take an active part in going through old toys and clothes and donating what they don’t use anymore. For older children, they might do some extra chores around the house to earn money to buy a gift for a child in need. Or, you might find somewhere to volunteer together, such as at a food pantry or an animal shelter. Alternatively, you might make a meal together and drop it off at a homeless shelter.
While consumerism and commercialism will continue to be a big part of our culture, there is much we can do to approach this holiday season mindfully, and in doing so, create greater meaning for ourselves and for our children.