Raising Content Kids

Yesterday Deven asked:

What does your extended family think about your family’s number of kiddos? (Not that it matters for how you choose to have kids, but for things like visiting over holidays, getting birthday presents, etc…)

The gift thing is a big deal. I never want our family to feel like our large family is a financial strain on any of them. My mother-in-law and sister both responded to Deven’s question:

Christmas is a bit, how can I say this… tough. We started out giving pretty expensive gifts after all we only had 1… we didn’t know we were going to have so many grandchildren, we thought one maybe four TOTAL… so we could lavish them with wonderful gifts. Well, now we have a total of 10 and that isn’t possible anymore, but I can say each grandchild seems to enjoy and appreciate whatever they receive. I have scaled back on the gifts.

I love each of the kids so much and couldn’t imagine if one of them wasn’t born. It’s inspired me to want a large family as well. It’s a little tough with gifts when they all hit at once (like Christmas). But you just have to plan ahead and find good deals. And Like Mimi said, they are thankful for anything so I don’t feel we have to buy them each a $20 gift for Christmas.

I am thankful my extended family doesn’t feel pressure to break the bank on gifts for my kids. I am also very thankful that my kids appreciate the gifts they are given no matter how big or small.

For the most part, my kids are content. They aren’t perfect and they still have their moments of discontent, but that is the exception rather than the norm.

With Christmas quickly approaching how do we as parent’s curb the “gimme’s” our kids seem to catch during the holiday season? Obviously, contentment is a heart issue, so the symptoms are less important than the cause. I would encourage you to interact with your children to determine what is at the root of their discontent.

Here are some practical ways to help curb discontentment in your child.

One way we helped our children learn contentment, is to take the focus off them and on to others.

Last Christmas we started Merry Money Jars and Mom’s Christmas Store. While I started the store for totally different reasons, I realized there was an awesome side benefit. For the month of December my children were totally focused on earning money to buy gifts for each other. On Christmas day, they were much more interested in watching their siblings open gifts than they were opening their own gifts. My kids also participate in Operation Christmas Child and have joyfully filled shoe boxes for other children the past few years. This program is a great way to give your child a visual example of how blessed we are in America, when they see that children in other countries are getting small toys, toothpaste, and deodorant for Christmas.

Remove unnecessary temptations from your child’s life.

The mailbox seems to be overflowing with toy catalogs from October to December, recycle them before they even enter your home.  (Now, if your kids look at these and don’t seem to have contentment issues keep them and use them for art projects) Limit television time. The first year we got rid of television in our home all four of our children had difficulty making a Christmas list. Because they had not been inundated with commercials telling them what they had to have, they didn’t really want anything. The gifts they finally asked for were gifts they really wanted and still play with today.

Contentment starts with you.

If your children see you complaining that your house is too small, car is too old, clothes are to dated, house is too messy, or your refrigerator is avocado green, it will trickle down to your kids. Growing up my parents never had any money, and I didn’t know that until I was an adult! I thought we were rich. I had clothes, shoes, friends, books and toys. I never knew my parents struggled to make ends meet most of the time. Apparently there was one Christmas when they could only afford to spend a dollar or two on a gift for me, I never knew! I thought every Christmas was wonderful. I am sure my parent’s struggled with contentment, but it wasn’t apparent to us as kids. I saw my parents thankful for every old car we had, every meal on the table, and the dark green carpet and velvet wallpaper in our home. I want my children to see those same qualities in me. If I am an constantly unhappy with what I have, they will be too.

What do you do when your child comes down with a bad case of the “gimme’s?”

This post is linking to Frugal Friday.

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  1. We’ve laid a foundation of anti-materialism in our everyday lives, so it’s not too difficult to correct a case of the ‘gimmes’ around here. We just casually remind the child that whatever they’re wanting might be nice, but we can’t always get what we want in life. And wouldn’t it be terrible if we did! Where would we put all that stuff? Think of all the cleaning up you would have to do! How would you have time to play with all those toys? If mommy and daddy spent all their money on toys/stuff for you, how would we buy food or clothes?

    Also, we start counting blessings. It’s fun, and helps me be more thankful, too!

  2. Good stuff. Each year we get a little better at doing less for Christmas. Our children are 11, 8, 6, 3 and last year we did great with them buying presents for each other at dollar tree. They each got 2 things for each of the other children. $2. So that right there was a lot of presents and then a few from mom and dad and that was enough!

    Im going to look into that Operation Christmas Child. That sounds perfect. We took food and toys to several families that we were told were in need but when my husband and a few of the children took the stuff in, they said they had more toys than we did. hmmmm. thats strange. Gotta rethink that whole thing.

    Thanks for an important post!

  3. I love this post, especially the contentment starts with you thing. I really need to work on that.

  4. Thank you for this post, contentment in myself and my life is what I just got done writing about on my own blog. This was a huge reminder that I definitely need to figure out my contentment issues before they start affecting my daughter (13 months).

    Thank you again!

  5. Can I ask a follow-up question? We’ve been trying to instill serious cases of the “givees” in our kids and have one side of the family 100% supportive of not inundating the kids with material possessions. However, the other side of the family is “hurt” and “offended” with our gentle requests to strongly curtail the gift-giving. They set a limit – $100 per child per occassion – and stick strictly to it. If the gifts they’ve picked out only total $92, they’ll spend the remaining $8 on junky little toys at the “dollar spot” or something similar (then also get “hurt” when the toys break 1.3 minutes later, blaming the kids for being careless with the cheap plastic…but I digress). Do you have any suggestions? We’ve asked them if they’d try spending even just 1/2 the amount and putting the other into college funds for the kids, but no luck. I feel bad, but with (only) 4 kids, we end up giving a lot of brand new toys to Goodwill and such; this still is offensive to our family – we’ve “taken” the kids’ toys. I just feel completely overwhelmed with STUFF, and any good I feel we’ve done is undone by this part of the family (they actually hand out the toy catalogs and encourage the kids to mark their initials to all their “wants” – which has them ending up with quite a few impulse items instead of a cherished and treasured gift). (sorry so long!) Any ideas would be so appreciated!

  6. This is such a great post! It is true that contentment is a heart issue, but it can be taught in many concrete ways. And I really like that you pointed out that contentment starts with us….we’re their model for what it really looks like.

  7. Our youngest (10) gets the gimmes every once in awhile. It isn’t nearly as often as it used to be. Before Thanksgiving, I have him make a wish list of all the things he would like for Christmas. No limit or rules. Just make a list. Then I sit down with him and go over it. We discuss what Daddy and I have to do to earn money to pay for things. We also talk about how he has so much already and half the things on his list are similar to what he already has. We also talk about those that have very little and things we can do for them. The list gets narrowed down and he feels proud and happy for being part of it. I hope he learns that material items aren’t the most important things in his life.

  8. Love this post – wish I had written it! 🙂 I definitely agree with you about the tv. We have one, but our children don’t watch it, except when it’s on for sports some weekend afternoons. Only recently have they started making lists of things they would like for Christmas (which mainly include a dog and a brother – neither of which is likely to appear under our Christmas tree!!)

    They do sometimes visit friends’ homes and see their expensive electronics and other items, which sparks a few requests for those things of their own. It is one of my and my husband’s goals as parents to raise children who are content and thankful. Thanks for reminding me of ways to accomplish that end!

  9. What a wonderful post. I am an only child and Indy is an only child, so my family tends to go crazy for birthdays and Christmas. It drives me crazy. He asks for things, but understands that he won’t get everything. Santa brings 3 gifts (if 3 is good enough for Jesus, 3 is good enough for Indy) and then we might throw in some small items. Anything else comes from family. I’ve tried telling them to put half the money they plan on spending in his college fund, but it never works. So frustrating.
    On Dec 6 (St. Nicholas Day) we shop for the angels we pick off the angel tree, but I think we’re also going to try to do Operation Christmas Child so he can see that children will be thrilled to receive basic items. Thanks for the info.

  10. Thanks for posting this. My older brother and his wife have 7 children, ages 8 months-10 years, and I sometimes wonder if they have a clue how much it impacts the rest of the family. They’ve struggled financially for the past 6 or 7 years to the point that I’m actually in debt from helping them out (yeah, yeah, but at the time I didn’t know any better). They recently had a breakthrough and are on their way out of that financial hole, but in the meantime I’ve been working my way out of my own debt and part of that includes figuring out how to budget for Christmas and birthdays for the rapidly expanding family (we went from a 5-person unit to 16 in the past 12 years).

    Anyway, before this turns into a novel, just wanted to say thanks for addressing the extended family and for the tips on how to manage giving so many gifts. Like your mom said, I cannot imagine life without any of my precious nieces and nephews (9 including my younger brother’s two little ones) and I am so blessed that they live nearby so I can see them often. My goal is to manage the financial aspect of being their aunt in a way that never lets them see me stressing over money, yet still teaches them the value of being a good steward.

  11. Nice post. A problem for our family is not so much the financial aspect of it but the amount of stuff aspect. We shop at yard sales and thrift stores a lot, and the things are so cheap that it’s hard not to buy them. So I feel like i am indulging my children because it’s cheap to do so. Anyone else have this issue?

  12. One thing that we do is, instead of a Christmas “Wish List” we have each child write a plan of what they are going to GIVE. Now, sometimes the older children will tell each other what they want, in hopes that it will be on the other’s give list, but we don’t have them sit there and make up a list of things they are pining for.

  13. I like this idea, I think I will try this because my kids often ask for more of things they already have. Maybe sitting down and actually discussing it rather than just pointing it out will help them understand.

  14. Yes, greed is so blatant near christmas and your tips of “limiting” exposure are right on. Just like dieting, abundance is best out of sight, out of mind (esp. potato chips 🙂
    Setting limits on relative’s spending gets easier as the kids get older. With teens, they mostly want clothes and music/wii games/ chipotle gift cards. the grandparents may spend the same amt. of money but it’s on less “stuff” (wants) and more needs with a little entertainment “stuff” mixed in. We often listen to the music together, play wii (active) together, and then go out to eat together with our gifts. Notice the extensive use of word “together.”
    Another way we curbed frivilous spending last year was to gift my mom (a widow) with preparing two special meals each day we visited (usually 3-4). I shopped for grocery deals for a month beforehand and prepared what i could before the visit. Just a printed photo calendar and a big tin of homemade sweet n crunchy walnuts was all tagged under the tree for her and she was elated!

  15. I am the youngest of 4. When I was growing up, my parents would purchase the following for Christmas: pajamas, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, fancy shampoo, nail polish, scotch tape, batteries, and chocolate. And one homemade thing from Mom.

    Yes, there were toys and fun things too, but what I remember most is the stockings of toiletries. I miss getting those every year. It was easy to get and saved my parents from having to buy them the rest of the time.

  16. Hi! I am enjoying your blog…and hope to be back more often. Good post! Oh, and I saw that you are reading Grace Walk by Steve McVey. I would love to know what you think of it…I just read it not too long ago and did a review of it.

  17. I too am waiting to hear how HHW liked the book.
    Steve McVey has a blog I’ve REALLY enjoyed: http://www.gracewalkministries.blogspot.com/

  18. Just go this link from Focus on the Family in my inbox in the last few days. While I don’t have children (yet!), I appreciate the ideas here, and thought this article might be useful for some of you:

  19. Great advice and something I was always concerned with when my children were younger. Now I have 1 grandchild but more than likely I will have more and I have to be careful not to give too much to the first one. I’m not sure her other grandparents feel that way but I know my daughter (our grand daughter’s mama) does. I hope its all right that I put a link to this post on my website.

  20. TheHappyHousewife says:

    We definitely have the same issue, I was thinking about addressing it in a future post.

  21. Thanks for addressing my question. My husband’s family has 18 grandchildren with a couple more on the way, and we’ve moved beyond getting something for everyone. The last few years we have had the under-18 cousins draw names and get something for one other cousin. This, however, may be a strain on the families with bigger numbers of kids. Last year someone brought up perhaps pooling our money that we would have spent and giving to a charity, etc. I don’t know how I feel about that. My kids are on the young end of the spectrum, and I would like a little longer to teach them about giving gifts to others. Still undecided…

  22. BurfordWife says:

    I have this problem too. I go to the thrift shop looking for a specific item or two and come out with a few toys for the children thy dont need because it is so cheap. I had never thought of this as indulging, but I do see that my children are quite ‘spoilt’ by it as they are always expecting something when they go to an opp shop.
    Thanks for opening my eyes!

  23. Amy in Oz says:

    Great post! Some ideas i will chew over and try to apply for our family! Some other ideas that i’ve come across/use are:

    -My best friend is from a family with lots of grandchildren. To ease the financial burden at Christmas, they do a “lucky dip” with the children’s names. There are 3 children in her family, so her parents would take 3 names and buy those children christmas presents. That way each grandchild got a gift from the “aunts, uncles and cousins” without each family having to buy something for each child and without the deluge of gifts. They had a budget (i think it was less than $20)

    Some strategies we use in our household at gift giving time:
    – 1 gift from Santa for the whole family. (we figure they get enough gifts from other people anyway). The purpose of the Santa gift is “to bring the family together”. So we’ve had a wooden croquet set and wading pool (no Santa the first year -to little to care!) That seems to be working nicely so far (Children are 3.5yo and 15mo so not into asking yet, but we’ll encourage them to ask for a present with this purpose and in collaboration with the whole family as they get older.)

    – For my youngests’ first birthday we didn’t have any legitimate needs (heaps of clothes – both girls, heaps of toys, don’t use many toiletries on her, use cloth nappies, etc) so we asked for items to make up birthing kits to be sent to a hospital overseas (Papua New Guinea). I felt that was a good celebration of the anniversary of her birth and stopped us being avalanched with toys and items we didn’t need.

    – My dad is terrible at present times – he is single and buys whatever gadget he feels like at the time (+ the accompanying debt) so he totally doesn’t get the whole “less presents please” thing. Last Christmas, my Sis-in-law and I cooked up heaps of meals for him, labelled them and froze them. I think he ended up having something like 3 months worth of different meals. Some single serves, somes double in case he was entertaining. He was really appreciative as he gets fed up with cooking for himself.

    – Another idea to help him understand that we don’t want a heap of toys is that for this Christmas, our girls are getting a kids workbench for *his* shed!! I figure if it’s good enough for him to buy big things that we have to fit in our house, then he can have a big item that he has to fit in his house! 😛

  24. Enjoyed reading your post! I asked my children to make a Christmas list this week and I shared them in two short posts… http://myhomeof5.blogspot.com/search/label/Kid%27s%20Christmas%20lists. They are actually quite funny.

    My children are always very content with the amount of presents that they receive. And we don’t even spend an arm and a leg to get them.

  25. Amy in Oz says:

    I meant to add in my previous comment that i’m trying to reframe my thinking about money from “Oh, it’s only $xx” to “This is worth xx hours of hubby’s time away from us at work, is it worth it?” That takes money from being a mystical thing that appears in the bank account into real terms for me.

  26. Wow. It just hit me this week that I have work to do to become ‘contented’ with the task God has assigned me. Only yesterday I was asking what contentment looks like and how I can get there. Your post is well timed. Thank you!

  27. We are in the same boat! One side of the family has very limited resources and many many grandchildren. The other side has money to burn and just my crew. I hope someone responds with some ideas!! It would be great!

  28. This post was inspiring and a good challenge for me! My son is unfortunately very materialistic and since he was an only child for so long, I think we really contributed to it by spoiling him. (and it didn’t help that I used to do tons of reviews and free toys just arrived in the mail!)

    Now I don’t do many reviews as I am too busy and I hope to make Christmas much less materialistic. But it will be hard. He sees what toys his friends have and always wants them too! I think I have done a BAD job!!! 🙁

  29. You didn’t say how old your children are, but what about buying experiences rather than stuff? A zoo membership, lessons, etc. Even movie tickets are a far better way to spend that last $8 than things they don’t care about.

  30. We have had very frank discussions in our home (my oldest is 4) that we don’t have a lot of money right now and that we can’t get everything we ask for. But I also turn things around on my oldest and ask her what she thinks others might like. It makes a huge difference.

  31. We have really struggled with this – not that we can afford nice toys and clothes and all … but because we are “poor”, people bring us their old toys and clothes (we are thankful) but then we end up with so much more than fits in our little trailer. We barely fit 2 kids in here when we moved in 6 years ago, and just added a second baby on Wednesday – so now have 4 kids.

    The kids take very good care of their toys and clothes, so rarely do we have to throw away toys for broken or lost pieces. But we’ve got several relatives that like to treat the kids to things – usually second hand finds. And then we have relatives that buy a gift without thinking about the room in the house or age of child or anything.

    But our biggest problem is how to pass these items along to others? Our Goodwill throws most of its donations into the dumpster (I gave it to them so it wouldn’t go the dump). Most of the charity places are just as picky. How do we find people who do want and need what we can’t use? Some of it is really nice. So we end up holding onto tons of stuff. And that makes us feel overwhelmed and materialistic. We’ve also tried freecycle, ebay, and cheepcycle. I just hate seeing so much stuff in landfills. Programs that do mailing are a huge problem, and nobody wants to drive to the country.

  32. Amy in Oz says:

    > But our biggest problem is how to pass these items along to others?

    What about charities/church groups etc who don’t have an Op shop but serve families in the community? They may be able to pass them onto particular families in need or make them into hampers to give away (or church has a food pantry, a church might want a Toy Pantry?).

    Anything plastic (easily cleaned) and in good condition could be donated to a childcare centre, children’s hospital ward, doctor’s waiting room, etc.

    A women’s shelter would also be a good place to try. You would probably have to go through a charity/aide organisation to pass the goods on (they don’t give out address to keep them as safe houses) but they may be able to either use them for the actual house or to give to children as they are starting to rebuild their lives.

  33. I’ve started a “something in, something out” rule for my kids (and me too). If it’s something they really want to get and keep, they need to find something else of similar size to leave the house. Example, my brother-in-law brought home rubber duckies from a trade convention for the children. Later, I reminded them of the “something in, something out” rule. Now the duckies are going to charity (or the trash), since we don’t really need more junky stuff anyway. It works for big things as well as little things.

  34. I have found that freecycle is a great place to connect your no-longer-wanted items with people who honestly do want them! Check freecycle.org to locate one in your area or close to it. It’s surprising that what is one woman’s trash really, really is another woman’s treasure! They will usually pick it up from you, if you don’t mind.

  35. Sorry I’m commenting a bit late on the post. I just had something to add since i didn’t see this mentioned anywhere.

    When I was growing up my mom was a single mom with four kids and worked all the time just to make ends meat. I never felt like our Christmas’s were poor though. The thing is we always focused more on making things for each other then buying things for each other. As kids we loved the creative outlet and it was exciting to try and come up with ideas of things we could make (with moms help) as gifts for friends and family. By making them ourselves it often was much cheaper or no cost at all, and yet we have many great memories of spending time together. We also focused more on the feasting and baking together, and caroling; instead of shopping.

  36. I love the idea of suggesting a museum or zoo membership, etc. But it sounds like the family just enjoys buying the material things. In that case, there’s probably not a whole lot you can say that isn’t going to offend them.

    But, what you CAN do is put a limit in the home of how much “space” is designated for toys, limiting the number they have. Before Holidays or events when you know new toys will be given, go through everything and throw away anything broken or with missing pieces. Then, figure out what they don’t play with anymore and donate it.

    If the other families find out, the only thing you can do is explain your “space” situation, or that it was broken, etc.

    The BIGGEST thing you can do is talk up the things you would like your children to choose. If the families WANT them to tell them what they would like, then encourage your own kids to make a better choice. Have them look through clothing catalogues, too and make positive comments about those. Get pamphlets from the zoo, museum, or even a family fitness club!

    In the end, you do what you have to do as a family in your home, but you’ll probably end up biting your tongue a lot, and just letting THEM deal with their own emotions. Could be bigger problems 🙂

  37. We have had the issue of family wanting to indulge our kids (and then seeming to want to control people through money/gifts), and I simply had to take a stand. It was hard, but I did it lovingly, and they were still hurt. It’s a parenting choice I’ve made for my children’s best interest though.

    It’s really hard when your views on family and what a family should value differs from extended family, but there’s really nothing you can do about that. I found that after the first year, they did accept my stance on gifts, begrudgingly. I still get flack for it, but knowing that I’m doing what I need to as a mom helps me remember that I don’t need the praise of men (even my family) if I am honoring the Lord by teaching my kids stewardship and selflessness.

    Good luck this Christmas season! I am already praying for it for us. 🙂

  38. We do pretty much the same things as you (Op. Chr. Child, limit TV to videos–no commercials, recycle gift guides, etc). We also “buy” gifts as a family for other charitable organizations, like a goat for a family in Africa or some chickens for a family in India. We also fill boxes for local families, so they realize that even people here need basic necessities and appreciate small toys.

    I’ve thought about the Mommy Store and it might be about time to start that, but I don’t know how to go about it (my oldest of four is 6). I’m going to check out your post on that.

    Another thing we do at Christmas is trade names, so that the other families aren’t buying for all our kids (we’re working on #5–the other two families only have 1 and 2). The grandparents give a mix of fun (like a craft kit), homemade (like a quilt or doll blanket), and useful gifts (like toothbrushes and markers). Our kids are content with that and happy with what they get. The excitement and appreciation on our faces goes a long way to teaching them.

  39. What about a family gift that the kids would enjoy? One year I found a waffle maker like they have in hotel make-your-own breakfast areas. That is something my sister’s kids love to use when they stay in hotels. I thought it was the perfect gift. Not only do you give less stuff that way, but you emphasize the family, and not the individual. I also like the suggestions for zoo memberships and the like. A gift that keeps on giving, does not clutter, and is good for the whole family.

    Sometimes you can find cheap subscriptions to children’s magazines. I think kids like to receive mail and a magazine encourages reading.

  40. I love how you recommend looking at the HEART issue or the inner struggle of the child not improving the value of the gift.

    I’ve been reading a chapter of “Shepherding a Child’s Heart” every week and summarizing it on my blog on Tuesdays.

    Chapter 8 encouraged parents to learn how to help children articulate their thoughts and feelings which is better than mommy just giving a lecture.

    He stresses the same importance of looking at the heart of the attitude too. God Bless!

  41. Wow I am so glad i read this. This is an issue I have been dealing with in my home, it seems like the more you give them the more they want. As a result i have scaled back on what they get. I don’t home school but wish I had done it. I am limiting the amount of time they spend watching tv because it does increase the amount of things they want. Thanks for sharing, you are inspiring like the virtuous woman!

  42. Hi Kate! We have given a “big” gift for Christmas a couple of times. Last year we gave them a trampoline, which they loved! This year both sets of Munchkins are in the process of getting redecorated (or new, in the case of my little nephew with the new baby sister) bedrooms, so we’re focusing on those projects for gift-giving ideas. I think my two nephews who share a room are getting a toy bin. Yay, storage for Christmas! 😉


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