One Overly Analytical Mother's Obsessive Musings about Raising Small Children

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"I WANT DAT!": Teaching Children about the Non-Commercial Aspects of Christmas


So went the whiny tirade from the backseat as we drove by Barnes and Noble and my son remembered that four months ago, he desperately wanted a Klutz book with tiny, baby-will-choke-on cars. (That was the object behind the explosive tantrum that got us kicked out, which I wrote about in my first blog post.) The whine continued as he followed me around the house, his little whiny self stuck to my rear end like a little toddler caboose. It went on and on, as I made dinner, and tried to get the kids bathed and into their pajamas. He wanted it. He needed it. He had to have it or else he would just die.

For some reason, kids seem to be the best consumers out there, albeit with one problem: they have no money, so they whine to get what they want. I'm sure there's some sort of evolutionary purpose to this: back in caveman days, kids must have needed their whining skills to get their most basic needs met. Those who whined probably were the ones who ate, and thus, survived.

It's the holiday season, and everywhere you go, there's immense pressure to buy more stuff. It feels like the pressure is even greater when it comes to toys. Piles of toys greet you as soon as you walk into any store; toy stores like Toys R Us and other big box retailers mail out glossy toy catalogs; and the Sunday newspaper is heavy with colorful advertising booklets of toys, toys, and more toys. I cannot enter a store with my three year-old without encountering these tantalizing displays, and hence, I cannot leave fast enough with said three year-old screaming. The whining ensues as soon as the fire storm subsides. So far my solution to the problem is to just avoid stores altogether. But avoiding stores from Thanksgiving to New Years'--even grocery stores--when you're home with kids is getting difficult.

The problem is that there's too much focus on toys and stuff. Children are too vulnerable to the colorful toy displays; they don't understand that getting stuff is not really what Christmas is about. This hit me hard as my son tried to take a toy out of the Toys For Tots drop off box in our local library for himself. "That toy is not for you," I explained. "It's for kids who don't have any toys." My son, who never ceases to amaze me with his comebacks, replied: "I don't have enough toys, mommy!" As if to say: I need to take this toy from Toys For Tots because I need more toys! This, you should know, is absolute balderdash. Over his almost four years, he's accumulated quite a stash.

How do you teach children about the non-commercial aspects of Christmas? One answer to that question is through religion: take children to church, and they will learn. Perhaps volunteering at a soup kitchen could help, but on the other hand, my eldest is still only three. Are there other ways? My son asked me: "Mommy, what is Christmas?  Is it about giving thanks?" I suppose he said this because that's what I told him Thanksgiving was about. Caught off guard, I mumbled, "uh, yeah, Christmas is about being thankful, sure, uh-huh." It was then that I realized that I had never talked to him about Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and the story of the nativity, or taken him to church for an occasion that was not a baptism.

My religious failings aside, I'm really wondering how parents keep their sanity during the holidays. How do you tolerate the whininess and desperation of kids who are convinced that they need a forty dollar remote control crane that was made in China and will probably break within a day or two? How do you achieve moderation? How do you teach children about the non-commercial aspects of Christmas? Or, as some of you are probably thinking, am I fighting a losing battle and will in the end, just drive myself batty?