TOO. MUCH. STUFF. I remember as a kid being entranced by the commercials that kept running between segments of Mr. Dress-up or Fred Penner (are you a Canadian? Were you born between 1979-1985? Then you know what I’m talking about). Did I want a slinky? YES! Heck yes! Did I need a doll that wet herself if you fed her real water from her mini bottle?? OF COURSE I did!
Let me be clear from the outset: I’m not against presents. In fact, I’m for presents. More to the point, I’m emphatically for generosity. I love meaningful, thoughtful gifts – both the giving and receiving thereof. I’m not even unilaterally against prese
nts that are unnecessary and possibly frivolous… But I do think that it’s possible to nurture an unhealthy relationship with “stuff” that actually takes away from fulfillment instead of adding to it. Sometimes we let “stuff” get into our hearts in a way that produces simply a desire for more-more-MORE! I’ve been there. I’m still there, dealing with that. Constantly needing to reassess my relationship with material things. How can I enjoy beautiful things in a way that doesn’t give them too much precedence? How do I keep materialism in check in a world of both excess “stuff” and extreme poverty?
Thinking back to Christmases of yore, I have such pointed memories of how that felt for me; when I had a whole bunch of new possessions piled up on my bed after we had opened presents and felt a bit nervous and antsy because I felt deeply hungry for more of that addictive feeling. Like, “Help! I need another Christmas morning tomorrow!” And I felt that simultaneous with the feeling that Christmas wasn’t actually meant to be about all that anyway and it wasn’t really even the best part in my own experience. Just the most addictive.
In my faith tradition, Christmas is about celebrating God’s generosity to us, in sending Jesus to earth as a baby who would grow up and live and give away a life of radical generosity. And regardless of Christmas itself as a symbolic event and celebration, the gift of the baby Jesus actually informs what I believe about the value of “stuff” for us and what generosity and hospitality really look like. The tricky bit is getting those beliefs into my heart and expressing them well with my wallet!! And perhaps trickier still is instilling in and modeling these beliefs for my children.
So, you ask, what are some ways we can model a healthy relationship with “stuff” for our children in an age of excess?!
Well we have much to learn and a long way to go in this endeavor, but let share 4 ways our family is attempting to battle the excess of consumerism and foster generosity at Christmastime:
1 – Ask ‘why’ before we buy
Will this gift bring life to my child? Will it make them more creative / thoughtful / joyful? Will it add beauty to their world, or just more chaos? Will this add value to our family life, or detract from it?
2 – Model generosity in the small things.
My kids don’t really understand dollar values, but they do see when I take soup to someone in need; or when I give a granola bar to the person begging on the street corner. Living with generosity and compassion shapes our children profoundly. They are forming ideas about what it means to be humans, and they have an ever-expanding definition about the kind family they are part of, and therefore the kind of people they are, too. I want generosity to be definitive of their self-understanding.
3 – Narrate Christmas with more than the tradition of presents.
Santa’s fun. We like him. Presents are fun too! And let’s be serious, we all really love that part of Christmas! But I’m thankful that my childhood Christmases were packed with other stories, other traditions: we made rum-balls together every year, had loads of sing-songs at family gatherings, read Christmas stories, watched Christmas movies, agonized over gift ideas when our little-kid-allowances didn’t give us enough to buy lavishly for each other. We went snowmobiling and built forts and tobogganed. We assembled puzzles until 2 am night after night. We sang in choirs and served Christmas dinner to the less-fortunate. We connected and we worshiped together and it was rich. Maybe that’s not your story; but you can try to make it part of your kids’ stories.
4 – Do something generous as a family.
This is a big one! Last year we received Compassion International’s Gift Catalogue in the mail and while paging through it my excitement levels ratcheted waaaaay up. This catalogue outlines really practical ways you can give to people in need. Like, really practical, tangible ways of giving that seriously connect with children’s hearts and heads. My brain almost exploded with the excitement of it all. One evening we sat down as a family (ok, the adult half of us sat nicely, and the other half wiggled around constantly and stood on chairs) and we paged through the catalogue. We ended up giving a bunch of stuff, but our son was concerned about the fact that mosquitoes can spread malaria, so he wanted some of the money to go toward mosquito nets; and our daughter was upset that not everyone has toothbrushes, so she opted to buy some dental hygiene kits. And it just felt so good knowing that while our drop in the bucket was doing some real good in the world, our kids were also learning to think about others, and to enjoy generosity, and to see it as a part of their identity. I really encourage you to do this – or something like it – with your family!!
Compassion International actually has their gift catalogue online. Follow the link below to check that out! And if you want a physical copy, I’m sure they’d be happy to mail you one.
So tell me, what are your reflections on how to parent well in this age of muchness? Do you have any practices that have enriched your Christmases? I’d love to hear from you! Post your comments below.