Mama, as we head into another busy holiday season, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the excitement and forget what this time of year is supposed to be all about—giving and gratitude.
We’re bombarded with retailer-manufactured holiday ‘cheer’ designed to encourage us to shop until we drop before Halloween is even over. It’s no wonder then that my kids get swept up in the consumerism surrounding the holidays.
If their wishlist to Santa is any indication, they like receiving presents…A LOT.
I struggle with the ‘gimme gimme’ attitude like many other parents, I’d imagine. At my very core, I feel it is my duty as a mother to raise grateful, compassionate and generous kids. But, I also want to give them the things they desire.
I want them to have more than I did growing up—but without spoiling them. So I feel conflicted. Because how are you supposed to balance the two?
To address this dilemma, my husband and I shine the spotlight on making memories as much as we can—visiting with friends and family, and finding the joy that comes with giving to others. In the same vein, we’ve adopted two specific rituals that focus on practicing gratitude, serving others and spreading (real) cheer.
One of our most cherished holiday traditions is adopting a family in need.
We do it every year and are sure to involve our girls in buying the gifts listed on the family wishlist. I’m not going to lie, initially they didn’t understand the concept of why we would give presents to strangers.
They couldn’t quite grasp the idea of some families struggling just to make ends meet, let alone having enough money to buy Christmas gifts. “But mama, they could just use their credit cards to buy stuff…” Unfortunately, that’s not how it works for everyone, sweetie.
Now that they are a bit older, both of our girls understand this tradition and get excited about helping to make a special family’s Christmas brighter. We still have frequent talks about the ‘haves and the have nots.’ Their brains are still processing.
Another favorite is our ‘kindness challenge’ throughout December.
Throughout the month, we challenge our kids to give back to their community by way of serving others. We have made and distributed sandwiches to the homeless, picked up garbage in our neighborhood, written appreciation notes for teachers and asked the girls to round up old toys to donate.
These small acts of kindness have impacted our family in a big way. They not only helped drive home the fact that not all families are as fortunate as us, but also taught our children that our hearts should always be open to helping others.
To be honest, not all of these challenges have always been warmly received. Case in point: my firstborn wrote a firm note in response to our “donate toys challenge” one year to say she “already had that one covered” since we bought presents for our adopted family. Ummm, not exactly the response I was aiming for…?
And while traditions are nice, my husband and I are very aware that we need to model the behavior we’d like our kids to exhibit. With that in mind, I have to practice restraint and remind myself I don’t need yet another pair of shoes in my closet—even if I want them.
I should be, and I am, grateful for what I already have. But hey—if I’m not willing to walk the walk, how can I expect to instill gratitude in my children’s mindset (who, let’s be honest, think that the universe revolves around them most of the time), right?
Fostering gratefulness, compassion and the joy of giving is very much a year-round effort in our household. And with each year’s passing, we see more and more of the fruits of our labor.
We’ll catch our girls making lists of friends to give presents to, or spotting something in a store and asking if we could buy it for our ‘adopted’ family. These moments make it all worth it.
Because by giving to others, you receive something that money can’t buy.
By giving your time and energy to others, you fill up your emotional and spiritual cup.
By giving physical gifts to others, you gift yourself a little slice of happiness.
By giving your talents to others, you receive positive vibes from the universe.
By giving of yourself, you receive a heart full of love and a spirit full of joy.
And that’s what this season is all about.✨
A version of this post was published December 12, 2017. It has been updated.