Seven years into this parenting thing, I still don’t know how to strike the right balance with anything. Am I too hard on them or too lax with discipline? Do I give them a suitable number of presents or do I spoil them? If there’s one thing I’m sure about, it’s that I overthink things.
This week’s lesson in self-doubt comes from my son’s birthday. By now, he knows the drill: for several days on end, every friend of ours he meets will give him a present of some sort. And I’m sitting here trying to temper his excitement by focusing on that old nugget, “It’s the thought that counts.”
My son, always one to wear his thoughts on his sleeve, has made no bones about how excited he is to receive presents. He’s even approached our friends and asked, “Did you get me a present for my birthday?” When he does that, I squirm uncomfortably because it seems like that’s all he cares about.
I seem to have an angel and a devil on my shoulders — and both tell me I’m screwing up. On the one hand, I don’t want my kids to care more about the things they receive than people who give it to them. On the other hand, it’s okay to get excited for gifts.
If I can add a third hand to the equation, it’s fun to get kids excited for their presents. The excitement is infectious, and there’s something viscerally satisfying about a kid frantically tearing at wrapping paper in anticipation of what lies beneath. The trick is to nurture that excitement without dropping the human element.
In our case, we use the policy that the gift recipient needs to read the card that comes with the present first. This slows the process down a little bit, acknowledges the human element of the gift-giving process, and maybe provides a laugh or touching moment if the giver found just the right card.
The comes the absolute annihilation of the wrapping paper. The recipient can tear that sucker open and enjoy the gift inside, as long as a proper “Thank you” follows the reveal. The next present probably has another card, which keeps things pretty evenly paced.
I’ve seen what happens when you lean too far away from the excitement of gift-giving, because my birthday is only a few days after my son’s. My wife spent several weeks gnashing her teeth because I’m pretty happy without presents and there are only so many times she’s willing to get me yet another book.
We live in a society where people use gifts as a way to communicate. Especially when you’re a kid and every month brings a new, exciting toy worthy of your fascination, there’s nothing wrong with getting pumped for presents. If you’re a gift giver, it sucks if the birthday boy doesn’t seem very excited.
At the same time, it’s always important to recognize that there’s an emotional reason behind the giving of a present. So far, my kids seem to have that balance, and I hope that never changes.