Is that it?
Three words—uttered by kids—often represent the most dreaded scenario for parents on Christmas morning.
“Is that it?” As in, “Are there really no more presents? This is all I get this year?”
Nobody wants their child to be disappointed on Christmas morning. It is supposed to be a magical day with endless smiles and play. But instead, too often, it ends in disappointment—disappointment for the child as they didn’t get all they wanted and disappointment for the parent as a result.
As parents, we react in different ways. We point out how many gifts they already opened. We promise additional gifts at grandma’s house. Quietly, we wonder how many more presents we needed to buy to make them happy.
And unfortunately, too often, we put the blame on the wrong person—them.
I don’t think anybody means any harm in the words they use with their kids leading up to the holiday season. They are common phrases—holiday classics. The words seem to roll off our parental tongues naturally—sometimes we even think they serve a higher purpose.
When our child misbehaves, we remind them Santa only brings presents to nice boys and girls.
When toys are advertised on TV or in stores and our child expresses interest, we tell them they should put it on their Christmas list.
We count for them how many times this season they will get to open presents: once at our house, Christmas morning at grandma’s house, Christmas evening at the other grandparents’.
We help them write letters to Santa and visit him at the mall so our kids can ask for anything they want. And then, we go back home and hang his likeness all over the house pointing to the promise of Christmas morning.
We hang stockings from our fireplace weeks before the event in anticipation of them being filled.
Even up until the night before, we promise our kids if they go to bed on-time, Santa will be sure to visit overnight with his bag of gifts specifically built for them.
Now, I should be clear, I am not saying there is no room in the Christmas season for tradition and fun and expectation.
But what I am beginning to wonder is, “Are we as parents setting ourselves up for failure? Are we inadvertantly focusing our child’s attention so much on the gifts under the tree, we couldn’t possibly live up to the expectation? Are we the ones to blame?”
A few weeks back, I was conducting an interview for a national magazine. The interviewer asked how we handled the holidays. I responded:
“We have made an intentional decision to still give our kids Christmas presents and their grandparents do the same. We see gift-giving as an appropriate expression of love. From us, our kids receive one thing they want, one thing they need, and one experience to share with the family.”
The journalist’s follow-up question was one I hadn’t heard before. She asked, “Do you find that your kids are disappointed on Christmas morning?”
I had to think before I answered because I wanted to be honest. Eventually, I answered her question, “No. I don’t think they are disappointed on Christmas morning. Maybe they were a little bit the first time, but now they have come to expect it.”
We are very open with our kids about our approach to Christmas and how many gifts they will receive. They know what to expect before the morning even arrives.
Conversely, when we exchange gifts with our extended family, disappointment actually has a better opportunity to arise. There is great anticipation. Nobody knows how many gifts are going to be unwrapped or how much money was spent… but you can almost always bet, in the kids’ mind, there will not be enough.
This holiday season, let’s be intentional about the expectations we set for our kids. Talk less about the gifts under the tree. And talk more about family and friends and faith. Promise fun with the cousins and the joy of being together with family. If you have decided to cut back on holiday gifts this year, tell your kids why—before you sit down around the tree.
Set healthy expectations. Maybe we can avoid holiday disappointment. Even better, maybe we can bring the focus of Christmas back to where it belongs.