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When I was growing up, sometimes my parents would give me a really nice gift, like a vacation or a cute new dress just because. Sometimes the gift came with a message that was sort of being yelled at: "I hope you're grateful for this, do you have any idea how lucky you are?" My reaction typically was a weird combination of feelings that contained gratitude and confusion and peevishness. Why did it feel like I was in trouble even though I was getting something nice? Just don't bother giving me something nice!
It took having my own kids—and wanting nice things for them, and wanting them to be grateful for said things—to understand. We love them so much we give them things that they can't even understand yet. But also, let's face it, we're also sort of putting on a public show. If a mother creates the most amazing themed birthday party for her one-year-old and no photos of it appeared on Pinterest/Instagram/Facebook, did it even happen?
In the end this combination of wanting to provide and wanting to show off leads us to overdoing it, especially around the holidays. Several times a year parents mentally create a tableau that they want their children to have, bust their asses to execute this vision, and then pity themselves when they're exhausted and the kids seem blind to all the work that went into the main event, which causes frustration, sadness, and guilt-tripping.
Here are some examples:
CHRISTMAS: Parents take kids to see Santa in hopes of getting a good (or funny) Santa photo. They have to investigate which Santa to see, when to see him, get the kids dressed, drive to Santa, wait in line, get the picture, pay for the photo, go home, upload the photo and/or get it printed or turned into a Christmas card.
Payoff: In adulthood, former children vaguely enjoy memory of seeing Santa and/or the photos of themselves.
VALENTINES DAY: Kids have a Valentine's party at school. Parents are asked to supply treats of some sort for the kids to share, and spend time acquiring gift bags, treats, valentines, and then assembling them all so that their children may disperse them.
Payoff: Other kids' parents inspect gift bags and feel inadequate about the crappy Valentine's treats they dispersed, wonder if their own children noticed. Kids eat candy and go insane.
First of all, I think there's a good reason to include fewer crappy landfill treats for every holiday: it can make kids spoiled and stop appreciating special occasions.
EASTER: First, there is the egg dying, despite the fact that it smells like vinegar, is kind of annoying and nobody likes hardboiled eggs that much. Then there is the procurement of the Easter outfit and perhaps the assembly of the Easter basket. Morning of Easter, try to prevent the child from tearing into his or her Easter basket long enough to get some good photos of the kid next to the basket in the outfit (which you ironed.) Perhaps also take the children to church for two hours. Afterward, let kid get chocolate and dirt all over the outfit while you drink mimosas and thenm at the end of the day, wonder why you have such a headache.
Payoff: Your child-free friends all roll their eyes at the streams of Easter photos rolling past (also applies to first day of school and pumpkin patch season.)
This is a self-serving message, but I think it's one we can all benefit from: let's scale it back. First of all, I think there's a good reason to include fewer crappy landfill treats for every holiday: it can make kids spoiled and stop appreciating special occasions. I know this from firsthand experience thanks to our ridiculous Advent calendar which led to my son not being as excited about Christmas as I thought he should be because he had a month of tiny Christmases before the main one.
But to me, the true reason parents should consider holding back on the holiday is that it wears us out, and by that point, it's not about the fun. It's about being irritated about how much you put into it, and how much your children don't appreciate it because, of course, kids don't appreciate all that you do—they're kids. You know damn well you didn't appreciate everything your parents did for you when you were an kid.
Of course we'll always spoil our kids with presents and parties and celebrations, because it's fun to see kids be happy. But if we can cut down where it stresses us out—edit the party list, order in a pizza instead of assembling appetizers for 20 five-year-olds, let the baby go sockless instead of searching for perfect dress shoes for him—maybe we'll be happier parents. And that's really what makes happy kids.