Are You Giving Your Kids Too Much This Christmas?

Confusing our presents with our presence.

Posted Dec 18, 2020

It's been a terrible year for most families, which makes the tendency to want to make up for it through extravagant holiday gift-giving understandable. Observing pandemic precautions likely means you may not be spending the December holidays together, but the extravagance of your presents cannot substitute for your actual presence. So spend more time than money in planning how best to remind kids and grandkids of what really matters, especially this year.

The holidays this year are “the perfect guilt storm,” says Michelle Janning, a professor of sociology at Whitman College who studies families and everyday life. After all the disappointments kids have had to weather in 2020, many parents — and especially mothers — are determined to make extra “holiday magic,” adding even more pressure to a season that is always stressful.

“If your kid’s world is shattered because he’s all online and he can’t see his friends, then you feel like you need to create something good for him,” Janning says. “Parents end up trying to compensate for the pain.”

Try less shopping and more considering what really matters. Finally get around to collecting your family pictures in an album, annotated with the time, place and people pictured, and send it to them. Or create your traditional holiday treats along with a video of you making them. Consider donating to a charity in their town in their name.

If you're feeling expansive, this is the time to plan a vacation for all of you at a date to be announced. Send them pictures of your destination, so you can all look forward to it together. If you're not quite that flush, think about other experiences you can gift them for whenever it's safe to have them, like tickets to an amusement park, a ski pass, or tennis lessons.

It's really not the gift, it's the thought that counts. And a zoom Christmas morning can be almost as good as being there.