A few weeks ago, I posted this status update on Facebook:
PSA for Paducah parents: in a fit of hormonal honesty, I just told Griffin that Santa has never really skipped a kid for bad behavior and that every kid gets presents. #dontbelievethehypekids #sorrynotsorry
My poor little serious eldest son was genuinely worried he had been too naughty to get any presents from Santa. Never mind that I had made nary a mention of any Santa-induced repercussions for bad behavior and that we also purposefully described our Elf as the non-surveillance kind, he was still stressed.
So, I let him in on a little secret: Everybody gets presents. I told him I'd never heard of child in my entire life that didn't get presents from Santa. I confessed it was all a big, giant bluff.
Imagine my surprise when earlier this week, I encountered the Henderson family, who had indeed cancelled Christmas. After confessing on her blog Over The Big Moon that she and her husband had decided to cancel Christmas, Lisa's story went viral spreading to Good Morning, America and here on The Huffington Post.
We have not cancelled putting up decorations, celebrating the birth of our Savior, or any of our other heartwarming traditions. But, we have cancelled presents, Santa, and stockings. Their letters to Santa this year will be asking Santa to find someone who needs their presents more.
Here is why -- John and I feel like we are fighting a very hard uphill battle with our kids when it comes to entitlement. It is one of the biggest struggles as a parent these days in middle class America. Our kids have been acting so ungrateful lately. They expect so much even when their behavior is disrespectful. We gave them good warning, either it was time for their behavior to change or there would be consequences. We patiently worked with them for several months and guess what, very little changed. One day after a particularly bad display of entitlement John said, "we should just cancel Christmas." And, so that's what we did.
In many ways, I'm sympathetic to her struggle. Entitlement is a hard thing and sometimes feels like an uphill battle. I remember one of the first lessons I taught my son as a baby was I'm going to eat my FIRST breakfast before you demand your SECOND.
The struggle is particularly difficult during this time of year with the much-bemoaned attention on consumerism. I remember learning a difficult lesson regarding Christmas and kids just a few years ago. I was so focused on Santa getting Griffin exactly what he wanted that I had unintentionally taught him Santa takes orders instead of requests. When "Santa" didn't get it exactly right, he was disappointed instead of thrilled at the new toy he had just received.
I resolved never again to focus so much attention on getting exactly what you asked for.
We've been careful to dial it back this year as well. When my son told me he wanted to ask Santa for a Nintendo DS, I told him Santa had to get my approval and I would not be granting it for a video game system. I explained he was too young and he already had plenty of apps to play. He took the news in stride.
So, while I understand Lisa Henderson's concerns, I must say I don't agree with her approach.
Gratitude is not a character trait but a daily practice -- among both children and adults. It's not something your children "have," but something you work on every single day. For me, the idea that a child would be punished for lack of gratitude by the removal of material possessions seems to put all the focus in exactly the wrong place.
Now, the Henderson family has made it clear they will be using the money they would have spent on gifts for service projects and that their children will be making gifts for one another in an effort to "teach their children to be charitable and grateful." All of that sounds wonderful and definitely something we do every year to make sure we put the emphasis on giving instead of receiving.
However, by linking her children's gratitude to the external motivation of receiving presents, I still think we rae missing the point. I don't want my children to be grateful because I'm yelling at them to be. I don't want my children to exhibit gratitude because they're afraid of what I'll do if they don't.
I want my children to find a space for gratitude in their every day life because I believe it is a source of true fulfillment -- all year long, not only in December. I want my children to see the role gratitude plays in my own life and model that behavior because they see the benefits go far beyond what presents I receive on Christmas morning.
After all, I give to my children at Christmas because I feel so grateful to have them in my life and because the act of giving to them brings me great joy -- even when their reactions don't always meet my expectations.