by Risa Green
Before we had kids, my husband and I both couldn’t stand the holidays. The fake merriness, the endless holiday parties that took over our weekends and prevented us from seeing movies, the obligatory gift giving. But of course, like just about everything else, having children changed our feelings, and now that my kids are really old enough to get excited about the holidays, it’s become my favorite time of year. Instead of seeing fake merriness all around me, I see genuine happiness. Instead of viewing holiday parties as a chore, now they’re fun, exciting activities that we get to do as a family. And instead of feeling obliged to buy gifts, I look forward to picking them out, especially the ones for my kids. But, like just about everything else having to do with being a parent, there’s a balance involved.
We celebrate Hanukkah, and in our family, our kids get one gift on each of the eight nights. I collect presents throughout the fall – a book here, a game there – and I stow them all in a secret hiding place until the day before Hanukkah starts, when I wrap everything up, put everyone’s names on them, and then pile them up on our pool table. I can’t decide if it’s more fun for them to shake every present and try to guess what it is, or if it’s more fun for me to watch them. And while I love buying things that I know my kids really want, now that they’re getting older, a lot of the things they really want are really expensive, and I don’t know how I feel about giving in to that. It’s not about the money. I’m lucky that I can afford to get my son the big Star Wars Lego set that he’s had his eye on all year, or to get my daughter the karaoke machine that she’s been asking for. The question I struggle with is whether I should get them those things just because they want them, and just because I can. I can’t help but wonder at what point entitlement starts to set in. I can’t help but wonder at what point they stop hoping that they’ll get what they want, and instead just expect to be given it.
After lots of discussion about the best way to avoid this, my husband and I have decided on a Hannukah policy that we’ve termed “benevolent restraint.” Meaning that we purposely try to disappoint our children with respect to the gifts they receive. For example, I know my son really, really wants a few of the more expensive Star Wars Lego sets. So I got him one of them, and then I got him some less expensive Harry Potter Lego sets that he didn’t ask for, but that I know he’ll still like. Is he going to be bummed out about it? Probably. Do I feel bad about it? Not at all. My daughter, too, wanted this special, really cool bag to lug her ice skating stuff around in, and she also wanted a new ice skating dress. They both cost about the same amount, so I got her the bag (which she now keeps in the middle of her room so that she can stare at it every night when she goes to bed), but I skipped the dress and got her a cute pair of slippers from Justice instead. I know she’ll be disappointed when the last night of Hannukah comes and goes without an ice skating dress, but such is life.
When I was a kid and I used to tell my father that I want this or I want that, his reply was always the same: how’s it feel to want? It was a line that drove me nuts then, but as a parent, I think it’s brilliant. Because it’s important to know what it feels like to want things. Wanting is what drives people to work hard. Wanting requires patience. Wanting inspires us to achieve. Wanting gives us something to look forward to. Maybe my son will get the Lego set for his birthday next year. Maybe my daughter will earn enough allowance to buy her ice skating dress herself. You never know. And that’s exactly how I want it to be.