It’s Okay to Disappoint Your Kids this Christmas

I’ve seen some funny memes about kids changing their Christmas list the week before Christmas once all the shopping is done, and I have giggled as I have scrolled past. But I wanted to share why I think it’s okay for your kid to be disappointed on Christmas morning.

I cannot recall a single Christmas where I received what I really wanted. And some people say that because they don’t remember— no friends! I REMEMBER not getting what I wanted. Why didn’t I? My dad was (is) the pastor of a small church in a small town. My old man made a wage below the poverty line for my growing up years. Thankfully he was wise with money, and my mom was frugal from also having grown up poor, so we had food on the table (beans and rice are where it’s at!) and clothes on our backs (thank you thrift stores!), and indeed, there were always presents under the tree and in our stockings, but it was never anything I asked for or anticipated. Why? There wasn’t enough money for those sorts of things.

When the Amazon, Target, and Walmart Christmas toy ads came this year, I got so excited for my kids to flip through— knowing full well they wouldn’t get a single thing under the tree that they loved in those catalogues. I told them “have fun imagining! You can picture what it would be like to get those things and play with them, enjoy every sweet moment of wondering what it would be like, because I can’t afford to get any of those items for you.” Now, could I afford all of those items if I really wanted to? I suppose, that depends on your definition of affordability. I will not take money out of my savings account that I’ve worked so hard on to provide us with backup in case of an emergency. I will not go into debt for a Christmas present. I will not neglect to buy presents for our reunified foster children’s families in order to buy my children that big ticket dream item.

But most of all, the reason I won’t be buying my kid a Nintendo switch or a Barbie dream house is this: it’s good to want for things. I just finished reading Anne of Green Gables to my kids, and a quote that stuck with me was one from Anne to her beloved friend Diana while visiting Diana’s very rich Aunt Josephine. Anne says, “There are so many things in this room and all so splendid that there is no scope for imagination. That is one consolation when you are poor— there are so many more things you can imagine about.”

Would it be the coolest thing to watch your kid open the gift of their dreams on Christmas morning? Yes. Would my kid think I was the best mom ever? Yes. Will that toy matter in a few months or years? Probably not. But what will shape them is a little yearning. Wanting for something, I really think, builds a measure of character. I’m not saying we should deprive our kids of fun or good things. We have plenty of good books, bins of hand me down Lego, Barbies, and paper and crayons to last us a lifetime. We get burgers and fries from In-N-Out once a month, we have frozen pizza and movie night every Friday, and occasionally take part in family Mario Kart tournaments on our used 10 year old Wii. There is plenty of fun, plenty of things to do, plenty of time spent creating good memories for our children. But I’m just not going to put myself in bondage to the hot holiday toy of the year, because it’s okay to go simple— on purpose even.

This is not some lofty message about how you should make your kids care less about presents at Christmas— because my kids love getting presents, just as much as I loved getting boxes of hot cocoa packets and instant coffee, and Pic-n-save sun catcher kits when I was a kid on Christmas. This isn’t a message about making your kids suffer because you had to— because my kids get much nicer things than I did at their age. This is not a message about being mean and a Scrooge to make your kids suffer— because we love Christmas here. This isn’t a message to say except experiences are better than tangible gifts—because both are a blessing. This is not a message to berate you if you got your kids that big ticket item— because I still want that Baby Alive my parents couldn’t afford to get me and you’re gonna be your kids hero on Christmas morning.

This is just to say, don’t feel bad if you couldn’t afford to make your kids’ Christmas list dreams come true. Don’t feel bad if you couldn’t get everything in time. Don’t feel bad if you just thought that toy would be loud and annoying in your house so you refused to buy it. It’s okay for them to strive for things. It’s okay for them to want things they can’t have. It’s even okay for them to be disappointed and learn how to deal with that while they are young. Those are the things that make us work harder for what we want when we are older. You’re doing a good job, in an especially exhausting time of year for parents.

Merry Christmas week to you and yours. I hope that whether you and you family get everything on your list, or whether it’s less than expected, you get a little extra time together this week, and get to munch on some chocolate or cookies before 9 am on Christmas morning. 😉💜

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