I'm thinking a lot today about our Christmas gift-giving. Partly because I've been making the rounds of blogs and message boards and reading posts from people about what their kids got, and partly because I'm just thinking about whether we're going the in the right direction in our own family.
One thing that has been a source of disappointment is how little initiative my kids take in the gift-giving department. For a few years they were part of a wonderful art class and they would magically arrive home a week or so before Christmas with a bundle of secretly-made arts and crafts which they would wrap and distribute to family and friends. But art class hasn't happened for a couple of years, and nothing seems to have replaced it. Noah talked briefly about doing a couple of things (whittling, building websites for people) but nothing much transpired. Sophie knit a bunch of korknisse one night but while she enthusiastically played along, most of the initiative came from me. Fiona made a papercraft thingy for Sophie a few weeks ago, but then her standards changed and she decided she didn't like it enough and it was thrown out before it was given.
Some of the kids participated willingly in working on things I was making. And they did do some charitable giving from their allowance savings. But there seemed to be no significant self-motivated desire to create or buy gifts on their own. Maybe I'm wrong to be expecting this interest to surface naturally in children. Maybe I take too much control over family gift-giving, too much ownership of the whole event (even though what I do seems pretty minimal to me). Maybe they need more guidance rather than less? Some help with brainstorming and planning?
Gift-giving here is pretty minimal these days. Maybe too minimal. The "kids' computer" (which not all of them use on a regular basis) received an upgrade to monitor and motherboard. Each of the children were given under $100 worth of gifts in addition to that (except Sophie, who got a much-needed wool mattress topper that was a bit pricier), and there was Khet, the new family game. We don't do a big extended-family gift exchange -- just a few simple things between a small number of families. In our parental gifts I've loosely aspired to the "something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read" guideline, but the "something to wear" end of things got overlooked this year, because the kids seem to have lots of clothes (mostly thrift-shop things, but still...) and seem to like to wear the same grubby things day after day anyway.
Of course there's also the issue of how much we buy for the kids during the year. And I'll admit that especially since we don't have a public library to use and we get a Learning Allowance through the homeschool program the middle kids are part of, we spend a lot of money on books. Art and craft supplies are the other big expenditures from the Learning Allowances. Birthday gifts are just as minimal as Christmas, but there are a lot of things we buy through the year without thinking twice. Last year we bought two sleds (we were parking at the top of the driveway and used them for getting groceries down to the house, but still), some skates for Erin, XC ski boots for the kids who had outgrown their old ones, a violin for the now-adult-sized violinist, a music stand so Sophie could practice in her room, a new winter jacket for another growing kid, a soccer ball, a couple of DVDs, and assorted bits of clothing.
Because we live outside most of the reach of consumer culture, we aren't subject to a lot of the social acquisitional pressures that families elsewhere are. We have one small TV, no game systems, no DVD player in the van, no cellphones (yet!), no Lego Mindstorms (no Lego at all, actually) or designer-label clothes except what happened to be at the thrift shops. It's been years since I've bought anything significant I'd describe as a toy.
I guess the bottom line is that my kids are not terribly stuff-oriented, and that's fine. Yesterday they got a book, three or four smallish gifts they liked, a family game and an bookstore gift certificate to share, and they ate lots of good food. Their computer will be happier once the upgrades are complete (and the new monitor is running now and is nice!). And they're not disappointed. Our ecological footprint has been kept somewhat in check and our bank account isn't showing any strain. I should count my blessings.
Still, I wish I had more of a sense of how to nurture the impulse to create and give in my kids, especially in the elder two who are perfectionistic procrastinators and who do not like to participate in collaborative endeavours.