I really am troubled by what Christmas has become.
Year after year I am left feeling blue and deflated on boxing day, and it's not just the level of over expenditure and disgusting amount of waste that has me feeling down in the dumps, it's the impact that I see the festive season having on my children.
I don't know about you, but I seem to enter the same old cycle each year.
After reluctantly accepting that summer is well and truly over, I plunge myself 100% into getting the most out of the festive season. I create a grotto for my children as soon as December hits, and spend my evenings swaddled up inside, drinking as much hot chocolate as my body can physically handle.
Then the time for messaging the big guy arrives, and as I bring myself to look at the Christmas lists so beautifully written and illustrated by my children, my panic headache sets in (a headache that seems to get progressively worse with each passing year).
I wonder how I will afford the gifts my children have behaved so well for. I irrationally worry that Christmas and childhood in general will forever be destroyed because I didn't manage to save enough present money this year - like I promise to every January. What if I get the wrong gift? What if one of the girls wakes up to a present that is absolutely wrong, while her sister sits happily playing with the exact thing she asked for? Will I have inadvertently created a sibling resentment that will one day destroy that sisterly bond that I work so hard to nurture? What if they stop BELIEVING?!
Parental guilt hits me like a brick before the snowman stamps even hit the envelopes, and I vow to make this Christmas the best ever. I WILL NOT let my children down. But I am letting them down. Massively.
At no other point in the year do I behave in this way. It goes against every single value I try to teach my children. By falling into the money-spending trap I'm basically teaching them that the only reason to be kind and respectful is to get stuff. I'm teaching them to value and covet THINGS that they don't have, rather than memories and time with loved ones, and possessions they are already lucky to own.
In short, I am failing to properly teach them gratitude.
The more presents my children open on Christmas morning, the more they crave. They become little gift-wrap addicts, seeking their next fix. With the unwrapping of each new parcel, the thank you become less and less genuine. There is often then a slump when the final gift has been unwrapped, usually followed by my oldest asking, "When is everyone else getting here?" Translation: "when will the rest of the presents be arriving?"
The way that I have handled Christmas so far, seems to have actually prevented my children from feeling gratitude, and because of this, I actually believe that they enjoy Christmas far less authentically than they would if they received less and gave more.
The worrying thing here, is that each year I see this behaviour leaking into the rest of the year. My seven year old for example, will save for months in order to buy a toy that once purchased, is treasured for two days before landing on a shelf where it will collect dust for six months before being given to charity. After the two days she is already obsessing over the next toy to add to her dusty collection (yes my house is dusty, I have three children and an evil dust fairy I can't seem to keep up with).
It feels to me as though it is getting more and more difficult to truly please our children - and us adults for that matter. Our lives have become so cluttered with all of the stuff we want and think we need, that we forget to take joy and see the worth in what we already have.
I see adults and children around me who are so removed from any sense of gratitude that they have literally become black holes that no amount of games consoles, iPhones, diamonds, cars or houses could ever fill. When this happens, the value of money is placed before that of anything genuine and these people become incredibly lonely - thus fuelling the money hungry black hole.
I do not want this for my children. This year WILL be the best Christmas ever, because this will be the year that things change.
The new word in our house is gratitude and we are currently teaching the girls a fundamental lesson - that unless you can feel truly thankful for the things that you already have, you will not deserve to receive anything else.
Last weekend we worked alongside our seven year old to find away of using this new rule when it comes to enjoying Christmas time. So, with Bella's help we have come up with the following Christmas plan:
1. This year, when the girls go to write their letters to Santa (or whoever they decide to write them to) they will begin by making a 'gratitude grotto' list of the things they already have, that they are thankful for. This can be a list of anything as long as it is something that they feel lucky to have.
2. The girls will be allowed to ask for ONE physical present. Something that they are sure that they want, and that they will take special care of.
3. They can then ask for a ONE Memory present an experience that they would like to enjoy that will form a special memory for example a trip to the cinema, baking a cake, a nice dinner out, an indoor picnic, den building etc.
Yes, my children will wake up with less than they are used to on Christmas morning, but if they are already grateful for what they already have, it won't feel that way, and by showing them the meaning and value of true gratitude, we will have given them the greatest gift of all.
It will take a bit of getting used to for all of us, and sure I might feel that pang of guilt when I overhear my girls comparing presents with their friends in the playground their first day back at school, but this is a change that NEEDS to be made. My only job as their Mother is to protect them, keep them safe and raise happy, well rounded people, who are kind, loving and who fully enjoy all the wonderful things that life has to offer. Helping them to feel truly grateful will put them on that path.
I am sure of it.