Limits Make Your Christmas Happier

A non-minimalist might not realize this, but the best way to make the holidays happy is to create some limits.  Limits are good for several reasons:  

  • They create financial peace of mind.
  • They curb materialism in yourself and your children.  
  • They create a bit of breathing space amid the bustle and busyness.  
  • They force you to choose from among myriad possibilities with thought and care, and choosing helps you focus on what means most to you.

We don't do our children any favors by over-indulgence.  How difficult will life be if they always expect to have their own way and get everything they want when they want it?  What will the world be like if everyone feels that kind of entitlement?  

Helping kids understand and cope with setbacks and limitations is one of the best things we can teach them.  And putting limits on yourself is one of the best ways you can teach it.

Question your status quo.

Ask yourself why you're tempted to buy so many gifts for your child (or for others).  Here are several possible answers:

1.  "Because I love him."

Of course you do.  I totally get that.  But giving gifts is only one way to show love, and it may not be the most effective.  

Do you want your child to know for sure that you love him?

  • Turn off your computer and your phone and spend uninterrupted time with him.
  • Take time to teach him how to cook or garden, or anything else you're good at.
  • Ask him about his hopes and dreams, and listen when he tells you.
  • Look him in the eye and tell him why you love him.
  • Do something with him that he enjoys, whether that means listening to his music, watching the movie he chooses, or playing in the park even when it's cold outside.

Let's be honest – buying something for our kids is easier than making these kinds of efforts every day.  That's at least part of why we do it.

2.  "Because I want to make memories."

When I rack my brain, I can remember three or four gifts my parents gave me.  What I remember far more clearly are our day-to-day activities and our holiday traditions.  Things like walking with my dad to the park or the library, doing paper crafts with my mom, making Christmas ornaments with felt and sequins and lots of glue, watching "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on TV, and "going to the snow."  (I grew up near San Francisco, and snow was a rare novelty).

Your child will remember forever the things you do with her, in most cases much longer than the things you give her.  Don't rely on gifts to make memories for your family.

3.  "Because I want to be a cool parent so he'll like me."

That's honest.  I love it when my grandson thinks I'm the best grandma ever.  I love it when my grown kids appreciate me.  And sometimes a gift we give fosters that.  But it doesn't last.  Go back and read the "because I love him" section if you need to, because real connection can't be bought in a store.  It takes more effort than that.

4.  "Because everyone else I know bought X for their kids." 

Yep, peer pressure works on adults too.  But how can you make a difference in the world if you behave just like it?  How can you help your child resist peer pressure if you give in to it too?  Social awareness is important, but if you try to live your life according to other people's standards, you'll never really be happy. 

5.  "Because it's Christmas, and I want it to be special."

I believe we covered this in the "I want to make memories" section.

A Christmas memory

One Christmas when I was about ten, our family was going to host my mom's three brothers and their families.  My mom sewed little Christmas stockings for each of my ten cousins.  Then my siblings and I were given some money and sent to Woolworth's to buy gifts to put in them.

We had to be careful and thoughtful about what we bought with the money we had so we'd have enough for everyone.  A mixture of Matchbox cars, Barbie outfits, bottles of bubbles, decks of cards, balsa airplanes, Hershey's Kisses, and penny candy filled those stockings.  We had more fun doing this than they ever got out of receiving our token gifts.

On Christmas evening, our group of 13 kids went caroling around our neighborhood.  Because there were so many of us, we felt confident enough to go to the "mean" man's door (we were afraid of his Dobermans).  He and his wife liked our singing so much they clapped!  And we decided he wasn't mean after all.

It was the most fun Christmas I remember growing up.  I have no idea what gifts I received that year – I just remember preparing gifts for others and having fun playing and visiting with them.

That's how you make Christmas special.  You stop thinking about yourself and think about others more.  You get out of your comfort zone and broaden your mind.  You stop doing some things you've "always done" and try something new.  You teach your kids the value of sharing, of delayed gratification, and the reality that we don't get everything we think we want, but we can still be happy.

Appreciating what we have – that's the secret to lasting happiness.

Updated December 2022


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