Christmas is my favorite holiday of all the holidays. I love the lights and the family time and the cookies. I love getting cards with photos of happy families and I love decorating Christmas trees by reliving the history behind each ornament. If I'm being honest here, I have to admit that I love the presents too.
It used to be that I loved getting presents—and don't get me wrong, I still enjoy unwrapping thoughtful gifts—but now that I'm a parent, most of my excitement about presents involves sitting back and watching my kids' joy on Christmas morning.
I've worked hard to teach my kids about gratitude and looking at gifts as an expression of love from the giver. I've also worked to help my kids understand how to give gifts themselves by thinking about who they love and what those people like.
I think I've done pretty well. My kids are still learning, but they are turning into generous, grateful, sweet children, and I am so happy to be able to reward their wonderful spirits with gifts that they want.
That said, I've learned some valuable lessons about Christmas gift giving over the years that I would like to share them with you.
Don't buy the gifts your kids are going to ask Santa for until they have actually spoken to Santa. There is nothing like having a wrapped LEGO City Gold Mine stowed away in a closet because your kid has been telling you for weeks that he is going to ask Santa for it only to have him show up on Santa day and ask for a video game.
Speaking of requests for the big guy, prep your kid before she visits Santa. I like to make sure that I can afford what my kid wants from Santa. Every since they were little, I've told them that Santa doesn't bring our family expensive gifts. Every time one of them says that they are going to ask for the $400 LEGO Death Star, I tell them that Santa doesn't bring things that cost that much. I've said it so many times that they believe it.
Take credit for the good gifts. I know families whose kids' main gifts come from Santa. Not us. If anyone is getting credit for a 4000-piece LEGO set, it's me.
Don't worry too much about spending the same amount of money on each kid. I have three kids, so I try to make sure that the gifts I give them are roughly equal. That said, unless your kids, you know, work at Target, they probably don't know that their gift cost $12 and their brother's cost $32.
If your child is a boy under age 10, clothes don't count as gifts. One of my favorite gifty memories came when my mom gave my oldest son, then a toddler, the most awesome dinosaur sweater on the face of the planet. The expression on his face when he opened it, when he was clearly wondering if the present was hidden under the sweater, is maybe the most priceless thing I've ever seen. Fortunately, my mother has a good sense of humor. Incidentally, that sweater went on to be one of my family's most treasured items of clothing.
Don't buy craft kits for your children. If you buy these horrible little kits, you will have to sit down and do them with your kids—or, if you subscribe to the opposite parenting philosophy, do buy craft kits for your children. The experience of sitting down with your child and spending time with him is better than any physical gift can be. You know which category you fall into.
Regardless of where you fall on the "horrible little crafts" issue, don't buy stocking stuffers that you are going to hate and want to throw away in two weeks. I used to buy things because they were great stocking stuffer items. Sometimes though, perfect stocking stuffer items are worthless. Think about why that toy is 3 for $2 before you buy it. If it is still in its wrapper a year later, that $2 isn't worth it. I'd rather spend $5 on a book they'll read rather than 50¢ on a bookmark they'll lose after five minutes.
Buy what your kid wants, not what you want them to want. I can want my kids to want that wood-burning set as much as I do, but that isn't going to make them want to use it. Same with the little wooden model Conestoga wagon I thought would be fun for a kid to put together. Or the rock tumbler. Or the microscope. I could go on. You don't have to buy directly from your kids' lists to Santa, but forcing your idea of fun on them rarely works.
Consider how pricey it will be to buy three of every stocking stuffer before you decide to have that third kid. It turns out that if you find a great $4 stocking stuffer, it is a lot less expensive to buy it for an only child that one for each of three kids.
Don't overbuy. Seriously. Your infant doesn't need 15 toys. I learned this the hard way. Plus, it's harder to suddenly cut down on the number of gifts once your child has gotten used to a huge spillover from underneath the tree.
These tips are too late to help you this year. You are likely sitting in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper and boxes. Hopefully you and your family had a satisfying and grateful Christmas. And somebody please remind me to reread this next December.
Now, because your gift-giving successes and mistakes are at the front of your mind, let the rest of us in on what you've learned in the comments.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, is a freelance writer who writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and runs an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Stimeyland.