• Mon, Dec 9 - 1:00 pm ET

Don’t Blame The Kids For The Mile Long Christmas List, It’s Our Fault

200131105-005When did kids start getting everything they want for every holiday? And more importantly – how do we make it stop?

I can’t believe I’ve reached the point in my life where I’m telling “walking uphill in the snow” stories – but here goes: when we were kids we were allowed to ask for ONE thing that we really wanted for Christmas. Then we would wish and pray and hope that either Santa or one of our parents would understand our immense desire to own this thing – and present it to us on Christmas. It was glorious. Now – what do you think would happen if kids were presented with the option of asking for ONE thing that they really wanted? Methinks all hell would break loose.

I’ve been thinking about this because I wrote a story about gift registries for children around the holidays a few weeks ago, and all the comments said things like “this seems totally reasonable to me – you are stupid.” I’m paraphrasing. But really, everyone seemed to think that this was a totally fine idea. Either I am stupid, or we’re just so used to consuming so much that this idea really does seem reasonable. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

My children are too young to really ask for anything. My 3-year-old understands there is a holiday coming and he may get stuff. He doesn’t really get the whole “Christmas list” concept yet – primarily because we haven’t explained that part. My sister asked me what I was getting him for Christmas and I said “a Jessie doll.” He loves Toy Story. She gave me a blank stare that sort of said and? She’s not a crazy consumer, either. But when you tell someone you’re getting your kid one thing for Christmas – they seem a little confused.

This is a financially hard year for us, so the one gift for each child makes the most sense. But as they get older, I really want to make sure I don’t fall into the trap of going totally overboard with gift-giving. I just don’t see the point.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • NicknamesAreDull

    With gifts, I give my daughter a coupon book. Things like “bake cookies with dad”, “pajama and movie night”, “you pick dinner” are included. She loves them! We also make sure she volunteers or donates old toys for each gift she gets. I want my daughter to know that time is a gift.

    • G.E. Phillips

      The coupon book is a great idea!!! We’ve done some donating, although he doesn’t fully get it yet. Hopefully next year it will make a little more sense.

    • NicknamesAreDull

      She didn’t fully understand it until she was about 4. She always wanted to give up every toy/piece of clothing she had. Now, we have a box in the garage and she puts things in when she thinks about it and we take it to the designated charities before her birthday and we leave for Christmas. I still check it, but it’s a lot easier than when she was younger.

    • Ptownsteveschick

      I love that idea, I am totally going to do that when she is older!

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      That is such a good idea!

    • Mai

      Heh. My friend gave one of these coupon books to her tweenage daughter. The kid threw a fit because she wanted an Ipod. :(

    • Simone

      That’s genuinely cool. Kids would love the coupon thing – those are things they always ask for and this empowers them to get them at a time that suits all. Awesome parenting strategy.

    • Katherine Handcock

      I love that idea! My kids are probably a little young to fully get it (my son probably would, but my daughter, not so much), but I think next year we’ll add that to the Christmas routine :-)

  • G.E. Phillips

    I did an Amazon gift list for Face, because we have a lot of family. When someone asks me what he wants, I mention something from the list. Beyond that, Face and I “made” a Santa list together (as much as you can with a not-quite-4-year old) but he was only allowed to put 3 things on it. He’s geting 3 presents from Santa Mommy this year, and I spent less than $80 on him (including stocking stuffers); what the rest of the family does, I have yet to be able to control, so instead, I’m just trying to keep it organized and not too crazy.

    • EX

      I do a similar thing – I make a list of things I think my daughter would like (she’s too young to really know what she wants yet) and then as family asks me what they should get her I give them an idea off the list. And then the few things that are left over come from Santa. I feel like this keeps the clutter to a minimum as she only gets things that she (hopefully) wants – as opposed to the grandparents going crazy giving her all kinds of stuff she doesn’t need or want. But, as she gets older I’ll be OK with her asking for whatever (and how much) she wants from Santa but I will teach her that she can’t always get everything she wants. It’s an important life lesson, I think. Although I always bust out singing the Rolling Stones when I tell my daughter this.

  • Mai

    I totally understand only getting 1 gift for a child. If nothing else it may teach the child to be thankful for what they get rather then expect more. My question is how does one reign in gifts coming from extended family and gift crazy grandparents? I do not have children yet myself, but I know my mother is be one of those people who think a Christmas tree should be dwarfed by gifts. And thinking back to my own childhood, I was spoiled. It took me a long time and alot of growing up to be really thankful for what I have.

    • Megan Zander

      I know people who ask grandparents to chip in for experience gifts like dance lessons or karate instead of massive gift piles, so that the grandparents feel like they’re getting a big gift for the kids, but the kids don’t get showered with toys.

    • JLH1986

      I know several grandparents who do this. Season passes to the zoo (or the amusement park for older kids) or help pay for dance lessons (or the 8 pairs of shoes for dance lessons) or band or whatever.

    • Justme

      My daughter will be three in March and this is what we are going to suggest to the grandparents – instead of toys (which she will receive plenty of for Christmas), why not buy a season pass to the museum or zoo for the rest of the year?

    • Katherine Handcock

      Yep, my parents do this, and it’s the most wonderful thing EVER. They do get a little thing or two to put under the tree, so the kids have something to unwrap, but the lessons/activities are HUGELY appreciated.

    • Ptownsteveschick

      There isn’t any raining in possible in my experience. Just try to be thankful that you have people in your child’s life who love them, while you hide the excess presents in the closet. I try to also ask for things we need, like clothes, because it gives them something fun to buy, but still is useful.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      I don’t think it’s possible – and if anything it may just cause unnecessary problems. Donate them! Might be nice to start a tradition of taking your kids to a homeless shelter and letting them give some of them away!

    • Simone

      Cool but it is neither ‘reign in’ as to reign is to rule, nor is it to ‘rain in’ (Ptownstevechick), it is to ‘rein in’ as in to rein in a horse. Hate all you want but that’s the word you sought.

  • Megan Zander

    Maria, can I tattoo this article on my husband? Our boys aren’t even a year old and already 1/4 of my dining room is filled with boxes for them. I went to lunch on Saturday and my husband took one twin to the toy story and literally bought each toy the baby ” wanted” He’s 11 months, he reaches out for literally everything, so now there’s another pile of plastic crap to wrap. I remember getting one big gift for Christmas with some stocking stuffers and a few joint toys with my sister, like art supplies or board games. And I really don’t want to raise consumer monster babies, but my hubs is treating Christmas like an excuse to get every single thing he ever wanted as a kid. I’m all about compromise and dealing with your childhood issues, but I think most of this is getting returned. I can’t remember half the stuff I got for Christmas as a kid, I remember watching Charlie Brown and trying to sneak sips of my moms White Russian. So I think you’ve got the right idea, less toys, more memory making activites is the way to go.

    • Simone

      You poor woman – a house filled with plastic kids’ toys. What a nightmare. I’m completely serious. I am not buying toys for my one-year-old. They have toys at daycare and playgroups. At home we have books, blocks, balls and each other. And a floor we can see.

  • keelhaulrose

    I don’t do Christmas lists with my kids, I know they’d be a mile long and I’m probably not buying off them anyways. We saw Santa yesterday, and my five year old was shocked she could make a request. She just stared at him for a moment then mumbled something to him. She complained in the car about being put on the spot.
    We wrote a letter to Santa, but I told her to tell him some of the good things she did without mentioning she could ask him for something.

  • Jayess

    We don’t have kids yet, but I wanted to start traditions between the two of us that would remain when we have kids. One of those is giving each other a small monetary gift ($5-10) with the express purpose of watching for opportunities to give to someone else. So you get 1 gift, and some money to buy a gift for somebody at some point.

  • SA

    I don’t think it is the size Christmas list, but rather the expectation that the child will receive everything as it is a to do list instead of a wish list. I wrote some pretty far-out Christmas lists as a child, knowing that I would only receive a few gifts. Typically, I received one big item from my list, another item not on the list but that my parents knew I needed and would love (surprise gift!), and a couple other inexpensive odds & ends just to making the unwrapping fun. Didn’t stop me from throwing about 50 things on there, it was fun to dream! Mine isn’t old enough for lists yet, but when the time comes I’ll have her dream and wish big, but with the understanding that only a few gifts will come out of it.

    Something I want to do that I didn’t do as a child is also have her (and us) make out “wish lists” for ideas for gifts for others (including donations, service projects as well) and pick out some things like that do to for Christmas to practice the fun of giving as well as receiving.

    • Ashley

      Exactly the point I made below, but you beat me to it :) It’s not the length of the list, but the understanding of what the list means.

    • EX

      That’s pretty much what I was going to say. We were never restricted in what we could ask for but we certainly didn’t get everything on our list, nor did we expect to. I never did get that pony…

    • pixie

      I still ask for a pony.

    • Natasha B

      Me too. Still waiting :/ 31 yrs later. C’mon Santa.

    • Shelly Lloyd

      You would have hatted me, I always got the pony. But that was because my parents met in the Rodeo and we always had horses growing up.

    • SA

      Its like that Seinfeld episode “I hate ANYONE who ever had a pony”… :)

    • Bethany Ramos

      Amazing reference. :)

    • pixie

      Nah, I’d have befriended you and tried convincing you into letting me ride your ponies. ;)

    • SusannahJoy

      Yeah, I loved writing my list! It was always way long and included things like my own private island away from my stupid little sister and mean big brothers. And real toys too. But I honestly don’t know if I ever got anything from those lists, because that really wasn’t the point. They were just a list of “this is the stuff I’m interested in right now, so use this as a guide to shop” for my parents and grandparents.

    • Katherine Handcock

      I was going to say exactly this. My son knows that we won’t buy toys whenever we visit the toy store, but that we can always add them to his “Christmas” list (he’s been forming it since July, when we first explained the concept ;-) Things go on and off the list as his tastes change, and he understands that he won’t get everything on the list, so he’s gotten pretty good at ranking his favourite things.

      We treat it that the gifts are from Mom and Dad and only stockings are from Santa, which helps. But this year, we also explained to my son that people who don’t have extra money have a hard time getting gifts for Christmas, so when we help with toy drives etc. we are being Santa for a little boy or girl who will think it’s completely magic when there are presents under the tree. He LOVED that idea. He was so excited to help be Santa for those other kids :-)

  • Ptownsteveschick

    I’ve made 90% of my daughters past presents because I am cheap and also because they are things she can save and have as heirlooms instead of throwaway plastic crap. I got her 1 or 2 presents and stocking stuffers which will be from santa. Her grandparents go overboard so if I did it would be total over kill. I think there is still time to mindfully decide how you want your kid to view Christmas. I want it to be a time of helping others, family and a couple carefully selected thoughtful presents. Not a mad grab for the newest and best to keep up status with all the little jerks in her class.

  • Ashley

    The whole gift list thing is really interesting to me. See, I grew up in a family where we put a number of things on our lists, with the idea being you give people lots of ideas, and maybe you’ll get a few, and it’s a great surprise to see what people have chosen to gift you. My fiance (and seemingly the author) grew up with the idea that you pick one or two items, and those are the gifts you get. I like being surprised! I like giving people options for what they would like most to give as a gift. I don’t EXPECT any of the gifts on my list, but I am surprised and excited when I get them.

    I guess this is why the “omg kids have such long xmas lists” hang-wringing seems so weird and misplaced to me. As long as they understand that the list is not a guarantee of what they’ll get, and as long as they’re grateful for whatever they do receive, I don’t see why the length of the list matters.

  • Rachel Sea

    It’s all about intention, and tone. Even parents who only let their kid ask for one thing are possibly doing it wrong if they foster the idea that the wish will automatically be granted. I completely agree that entitlement can be out of control, and also love gift registries.

    I LOVE when the parents of my honorary nieces and nephews set up Amazon wishlists for them. Regardless of whether I’m given a suggestion for a gift, there are a bunch of kids that I will be buying gifts for, because I want to, and because I know the kids will be thankful, not because it’s expected. A list makes it easy for me to keep up with sizes, and avoid accidental duplicate gifts.

  • JLH1986

    We grew up making long lists, but knowing we would only get 6 things. Something we needed (shoes, a new robe, when I was older a textbook), something to wear, something to read (my favorite) and something we wanted (this was usually our “big” gift). We just thought Santa only brought 4 gifts and then mom and dad got me a gift and my brother got me a gift. Before Christmas my mom would take my brother and I shopping and then we got to pick something to donate to a needy family. I never thought I missed out or that I got slighted in any way. It’s a tradition I plan on using for any potential babies. I see FB posts with just ridiculous amounts of toys at Christmas, or Easter (when we got candy and a book). Then I see younger kids/teenagers bitch and complain about how they didn’t get x. We never complained, of course, my mom probably would have smacked my mouth for expressing that sort of ingratitude but the thought never occurred to me to do that either. I was genuinely grateful to have things. Once my mom explained there were kids who didn’t have coats I was floored and was grateful I had those things. But my mom, I think did a good job of having us volunteer at soup kitchens or meals on wheels etc. so I didn’t get “too big for my britches” as she would say.

    • candyvines

      Just heard about the want, need, wear, read gift idea this year and I love it. Totally going to do this with my kid.

    • JLH1986

      Obviously I love it because I have every intention of doing it with any little ones but I think it helps keep nonsense to a minimum…I think. lol I remember my mile long lists well what I thought was a lot with like 10 things lol

    • candyvines

      There will be plenty of nonsense from the in-laws, I’m sure.

  • thisshortenough

    I never really expected a certain amount of presents. I just wrote my list and if some stuff arrived off of it that was great. Hell I remember getting my first bike and not expecting it and it was the best thing ever. Three of my cousins are siblings and their parents told them that santa will be bringing them three presents each because that’s the most houses with three children are allowed to have.

  • Alicia Kiner

    When the toy books start coming out in the fall, I had my kids write a list of the toys they really, really wanted. I explained that just because they wrote them down, didn’t mean Santa or anyone else would get them those toys for Christmas (or birthday, in my daughter’s case), but I wanted to have lists for when all the family members asked what they wanted. My husband and I however always get them 1 “big” gift and a few other “little” items. The big gift is usually a toy or play item they’ve been talking about for awhile, and the little things are books or clothes, things they need. My husband’s family will get them a mix of toys and things they need too. My family, just gets them whatever they feel like. My kids have never been ridiculously spoiled on Christmas, but they’ve never been disappointed either.

  • SusannahJoy

    I’m going to have to have a conversation with my very nice, and very generous mother in law next year. It’s ok that she went way overboard this year, cuz he’s only 7 months old, but I can’t have him thinking that it’s normal to get 5 boxes from Toys R Us that are all bigger than I am every Christmas and birthday. I’m not looking forward to it. We really are appreciative, just… maybe just a book and a cute outfit next time?

    • Simone

      Yes, I would put a stop to that kind of thing at once! Even though it’s very kind of her and doubtless coming from the kindest of intentions. Way to create a bored kid – cover their little tender lives in plasticky things. I read that toy manufacturers are now purposefully creating toys that rid a child of all the need to use imagination; they press a button, toy does something, child gets bored quickly and voila! the need for another new toy is born. Bad corporate. Bad.

    • Katherine Handcock

      It’s mentioned above, but try suggesting “experience” gifts (membership to the zoo, swimming lessons, etc.) as a possibility to her. My parents do this (with a smaller item or two to unwrap on the special day) and it’s wonderful for us and for the kids.

    • SusannahJoy

      Unfortunately they live roughly 4,000 miles away, so that’s not really an option. It’s actually why they buy so much; they live near the other grandkids and do stuff with them, and feel guilty that they don’t get to spend as much time with us.

    • Katherine Handcock

      The experience gifts can still work — but I’d agree it’s not as much fun if they can’t see the kids enjoying it. What about plane tickets (for you or them)? My husband’s parents did that for us for a while — also great.
      Also, you can pass on to her the same thing I’ve passed on to my mother-in-law: I had grandparents who lived really far away. EVERYTHING was a treat when we got to see them. In fact, one of my favorite things I own is my grandmother’s china — because on the first day we came to visit, we always ate off the special occasion dishes. It still makes me happy every time I use them :-)

  • Paul White

    A long list isn’t the issue; it’s the expectation that you’ll get it that’s the issue.
    As an adult my list are short just horrifically expensive (I want a new handgun, some ammo, and good liquor!).

  • SarahJesness

    I guess it’s a case-by-case basis. I’m only 20, but when I was a kid, I only came up with a few things because I knew I’d only be getting a few things. Kids who make long lists probably sometimes do so because they expect they’ll be getting a lot and ask accordingly. I knew I’d be getting one “big” gift (a toy or electronic a bit more expensive than most) and a few smaller ones (books, stuffed animals, whatevz) so I’d ask on that assumption.

    Though I was pretty surprised when I got the Stitch plushie I asked for under the tree one year. I asked for it without really expecting it, not because of price but because the movie wasn’t brand-new at the time, so finding merchandise would’ve required them to go out of their way. Getting that was really awesome.

    • Paul White

      As a grown man, I’d still like a Stitch plushie.

      Don’t judge.

    • SarahJesness

      I won’t. A few years back I went to an anime convention and came across a booth selling items you could normally only get at Tokyo Disney. The majority of the items featured Stitch, apparently he’s really popular there. I had a hard time deciding which plushie to get because they had him in a ton of different costumes. I wanted the pirate one but someone got to it right before me, so I settled on a Stitch wearing a kimono and sitting on a prayer pillow.

      It. Is. Awesome. I also bought a set of Stitch chopsticks for my chopstick collection. Wish I bought more sets.

    • pixie

      My boyfriend got me 2 minion plushies for my birthday. One of them talks. They are awesome.

      No judgement here.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    I think a longish list is fine, so long as the kid doesn’t get it all. It gives parents an idea of what the kid wants, and certain things are going to be unaffordable, or out of stock so back-up ideas are helpful.
    It’s also a lesson in understanding you can’t get everything you want, but can still be totally excited and happy with what you have.
    Though, that being said, I’d not be charmed with a list 30 items long. That’s a lot of wanting.

  • Jallun-Keatres

    I always had this HUGE list because I felt like I was obligated to make it fill a page or whatever. Thankfully I have a wise mom who could easily see through all the fillers and always got me stuff that I loved, usually not from my list at all. lol

    The one year my sister and I got an insane amount of gifts we got tired opening them halfway through haha

  • gothicgaelicgirl

    Yeah my mother used to say put down TEN things you really want. I’ll choose two, that way you still get surprised.
    She would also make us write down five books we were after and get us three.

    That was it, and we were delighted.
    We managed to keep costs down by telling the kids we had to PAY Santa to make and deliver their gifts, so they know they have a Santa Budget lol