Why I’m Buying A Lot of Presents for My Kids


This was my 2yro last year. Clearly, she's needs toys. Right?

This was my 2yro last year. Clearly, she’s needs toys. Right?

All year, I say “No.”

“No. You can’t have that princess doll.”

“No. We are not buying that Minnie Mouse shopping cart.”

I’ve had to stop taking Ellis down the toy aisle at Target because she just wants everything. Everything is beautiful and sparkly and pink and I can see her eyes getting bigger and bigger and all that want just hurts my stomach. Because I want to give it all to her. I hate having to explain, over and over, “No, that’s not how we are spending our money today.”

“These are not for today.”

She does a good job. No fits. No tantrums. Just the wide-eyed reaching. The whispered: “Wook, mama. It so parkly.” I want to take her up in my arms and say, “Of course you can have it. You can have whatever you want. Always.”

But I don’t want to say that because I don’t want my child to believe she is entitled. But I do want to say “yes.” Because that part of me–that pit of my stomach place, that just wants to hand her everything. The sun. The moon. The sparkly princess castle. That part of me always wants to say “Yes.”

I’ve never realized this, but saying “No” as a parent is almost harder than hearing it as a kid. There are times when saying “no” is easy. Another cookie? Hell no. You want my pie? Dream on. You want to pick up your brother and put him in a princess dress and smear lipstick on him? No. No. No. But other times it hurts. You want to stay at the park all day? You want to wear your princess crown to school? You want to go on a trip to find a rainbow? You want fourteen-sixteen princess dolls?

I’m sorry, no.

I see Christmas as a time of “Yes.”

I spend all year teaching restraint. I spend all year telling her that new toys don’t just happen on a Tuesday. I spend all year encouraging her to use what she has, love what’s in front of her, enjoy the gifts that are hers. And to give gifts to others. Some of the hardest lessons she’s had to learn are when we give a gift to a friend but don’t get one ourselves.  But on Christmas, I get to say “Yes.” I get to take her tiny dreams of pink of ponies and princesses and I can make them appear. I only have so long before her dreams are more complicated. Before I can’t wave my magic wand and solve her problems.

I tried that her first year. I said, “I’m not buying her anything. She needs nothing.” Because of course, she doesn’t need anything. But then Christmas came around and somehow I had accumulated 20 small presents picked up here and there–on sale, on consignment, little things that I thought would be fun. Because she is little and I want her to have fun. So, this year, I’m not fighting it. We’ve set our budgets and I’m going to max out that money for everything it’s worth. I’m not even sorry.

In a culture of consumerism, I think it’s easy to forget that gifts are a simple generosity. Our adult obsession with trying to jump off the hamster wheel or tap out of the rat race is well placed and noble. But for children, gifts are a singular joy. As adults inundated by culture and consumption, we forget how special it is to see package with a bow and  a surprise inside just for us. Our dreams are more complicated. Our joys are harder to earn. Our lives are more difficult to manage. But my daughter is still at that age where the desires of her heart are small easy dreams of magic.

I love gifts. I love giving them. I love trying to find just the right thing that shows I’ve been listening all year. That shows I know not just your needs, but your silly wants, your crazy whims. And I want my daughter to learn that too. This year she will help pick out a gift for her brother, dad and cousins. She helped pack boxes for operation Christmas Child and we will pick up gifts for a toy drive.  But she is also going to get a giant princess castle and it’s going to be awesome.

I realize I’m writing a defense of consumerism. A treatise on spoiling. But it’s one day. One day I can say “Yes.” On December 26, I’ll have to go back to saying “No.” I’ll go back to being a parent. But for that one day, we’ll all take a break. Because someday she will have to learn the adult lessons of stuff and want and need.  But right now, I just want her to learn that there is magic.

My daughter’s gifts are not a reward for a year of good work. They are not because of good behavior. She’s done nothing to earn them. Nothing to deserve them. I’m giving her gifts the way I want her to learn to give–with generosity and without expectation of reciprocity. In sum, it’s grace.

As a child, my parents didn’t always have a lot of money. But they somehow always managed to make Christmas magic. One year my dad was unemployed, they made us marionettes and a stage. I received books of paper dolls and my dad spent all day helping me cut out the tiny paper hats. That was my favorite Christmas. And I want my daughter to feel that too–the magic of generosity lovingly gifted. I realize as a middle-class, white family we have the singular privilege of being able to make Christmas happen. And I hope that one day my children learn how lucky they are. But right now, she’s little. And right now, she still gets to believe in magic.  So, on Christmas morning, she’s getting the castle and we will spend all day, together playing with it and setting it up.

Because it’s magic for me too.

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  • Amber

    This was my dad when he was still alive. We were always poor but my dad worked hard to provide for us. When Christmas came around he became a big kid and insisted that he could get the needed things any time but Christmas was for the wants. He even would use the Christmas saver bank account so he could save up more money to be sure that just once a year he could do everything he could to make our dreams come true.

  • Christie

    I LOVE this! This year, more than before, I feel that FB has been very critical of present giving (and Santa…). I have been feeling guilty sitting here wrapping all the presents I have accumulated throughout the year for my 3 kids. Doubting my intentions and wondering if “spoiling” them on Christmas morning is going to create spoiled children. I hardly buy them anything throughout the year. Always answering “we’ll have to put in on your birthday/christmas list”. I enjoy clearance shopping and finding the bargains – so I end up getting them each 20-ish presents, but I spend $10 or less on most. I know that still adds up to a lot. And it is way more than they need….but come on. I want them to revel in the magic of being a kid at christmas. I want them to have nothing but pure joy for an entire day!! As a family we pick out toys for kids in need to donate. We choose some old toys of our own to give away. We participate in the drives for the shelter and sick children at school. We make cards and gifts for teachers and others who help us through the year. We wrap for grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. They (bless their little hearts) spend hours “making” presents for mom and dad and each other. Why not indulge my joy of giving to them just what I know they will love??

  • nstauffa

    I really liked this post until, “I realize as a middle-class, white family we have the singular privilege of being able to make Christmas happen.” Does that mean that middle-class black families don’t? I’m tired of having to apologize for a privilege I didn’t experience in my life. I grew up poor. We had just enough to get by. I chose to change that by getting an education, which I financed through student loans and working three jobs while attending college. It had nothing to do with white privilege. It had everything to do with a decision to change my life and to work hard to achieve my goals. I refuse to apologize for a privilege that doesn’t exist for a lot of families who have achieved their middle class standing through a commitment to hard work, education, family values and a willingness to conform to the societal expectations that ensure good life. I think you ruined a really sweet column with that statement. It wasn’t necessary for what you were writing, and it makes it seem like we should apologize for being white or able to buy presents for our kids. I understand the complexities of racism in this country, and I am not denying it exists. I’m just tired of white people feeling the need to apologize for being white. We create our lives by the choices we make. And we can all overcome the limitations that society tries to place on us.

  • Ak

    “Being white is not a leg up” Hahaha, you’re the ridiculous one here. We must not live on the same planet. Because I guarantee you that, while of course I’ve still had to work hard, being white has helped me every step of the way. Educate yourself on privilege in this country.

  • Sophia

    Truly written from the heart;) I loved it all and even cried at the end ( I’m really emotional ) I would be honored to be ur daughter. We don’t get presents on Christmas because we celebrate it a at a different time( january7) I am Greek-catholic but this was trully amazing