When I was in third grade, I made my grandma a cardboard picture frame, using mismatched fabric and at least three hot glue sticks. It was not pretty.
She didn’t care. My grandma proudly displayed that frame with my picture until she passed away many years later. As we were going through her things, it made me smile to still find it on her mantle. (Sadly I don’t have it or you’d definitely be seeing it in all its glory.)
Now with kids of my own, I’ve tried to instill some of that same sentiment when it comes to gift giving. It’s not just about making a macaroni necklace or hot glue masterpiece, though. It’s about actually being involved in the process of gift giving.
I know the holidays can be stressful, expensive, and hectic. But instead of gift giving being just another thing we have to check off our lists, what if we tried to make it more meaningful? What if we brought back some of those delightfully awkward gifts kids tend to come up with? What if we allowed ourselves to give gives that are imperfect?
I say let’s do it.
Let’s get kids involved in gift giving early on.
I keep seeing a meme floating around social media. There are a few versions of it (like the one pictured here), but it’s essentially a to-do list for gift giving with two columns. One side is the Dad’s list with a single name—WIFE. Then the other side has the mom’s list, 15+ names long.
This image has been shared thousands of times, and every time it pops up on my feed, there’s often a comment about how accurate it is along with the crying emoji 😭. At first, I laughed along with everyone else about this meme because I’ve been there. And frankly, you just have to laugh sometimes so you don’t cry. But then the more I thought about it, the more it started to bother me.
As this Salon article points out, women historically absorb more stress during the holidays, and for many, holiday shopping adds to it. Yet, there’s no reason it should fall all on the mom…or all on the adults for that matter.
If there are people on your holiday list that relate to your kids at all—babysitters, teachers, grandparents, friends—then they should be involved in the gift giving. Not only is it a chance for your kids to express their opinion and flex their independence, but it’s also just a good way to teach them about being thankful and grateful to the people in their lives.
Let’s resist our urge to intervene, even if the gift is ...awkward.
When my daughter was about 4, I took her to the store to pick out a gift for her dad. “I want to get him a stapler,” she said.
“Um…but he has a stapler,” I replied. “How about some cashews instead?”
“No, he staples stuff. He needs a stapler.”
Now my first reaction to this whole back and forth was to just stroll her right past the office section to sell her on a snazzy, pre-packaged gift box. But I resisted and led her down the aisle of copy paper and highlighters. In the end she chose a nice pencil sharpener for him instead. She reasoned that he had a stapler already, but he really needed something to sharpen all of his pencils (and maybe some of hers, too).
I know it can be difficult to not nudge our kids in what we think is the right direction for gift giving. It's tempting to direct them away from what we think are bad ideas. But maybe choosing the perfect gift is overrated and really not all that attainable. (I mean who wouldn't want a painted conch shell with miniature bottles of booze in it, like you see above from my recent thrift store find.)
Let’s encourage kids to see the process through to the very end.
The choosing of the gift is the fun part, but it shouldn’t end there. The wrapping of the gift and adding a personalized note is also an important part of the process.
Recently, I was talking to my friend, Tina, about this. She admitted this is tough for her to do with her son, Liam, who is 7. (He's pictured above and in the first photo.)
“I really like wrapping presents and making them beautiful as if they’re part of the gift,” she says. “So when Liam told me he wanted to wrap presents by himself, I had to stop myself from stepping in.”
Tina says that her first inclination was to redo the folds and guide him on a few things—like using less tape. But once she saw how proud he was of his wrapped gifts, extra tape and all, she knew his way was a lot better.
“Now it’s part of the gift in a different way,” she says. “You can tell Liam wrapped that gift, and he’s going to be beaming the whole time when he gives it to them and watches them open it.”
Let’s stop having Pinterest-perfect expectations.
For me, the last piece to bringing back meaning to gift giving is to just allow ourselves to be less than perfect. I have a love-hate relationship with Pinterest. I love it for the ideas and inspiration. Yet, I hate it for the way it makes me feel inadequate.
I think it does the same when it comes to crafting and handmade. If you do a search on “DIY gifts” or something similar, it’s going to give you back hundreds of beautiful, aspirational photos. Even searching for gifts kids can make will leave you with images that I seriously doubt a kid actually made on their own.
Don’t let the allure of Pinterest-perfect expectations dissuade you from handmade gift giving this year. Those projects that don’t turn out like the pictures are great, and your kids will definitely take pride in saying they made it on their own. In working on this article, I was searching for Pinterest and baking fails online, and I came across Mandy. Mandy has one of the most beautiful Instagram baking accounts I’ve ever seen, showing stunning cookies, cupcakes, and more. Yet nestled between all those gorgeous photos was a completely failed macarons recipe, pictured above. She wrote to me, “We all live and learn—you’ll never fly if you don’t take a leap.”
I think the macarons still look pretty great Mandy. But thanks for the inspiration. I think it’s perfect advice for backing off a bit this holiday season and really encouraging our kids to do some gift giving on their own.