By WMM Blog Contributor: Melissa Feldmeyer
Raise your hand if you feel like you're drowning in toys right now? I can't see all of your faces, but I am imagining most of your hands raised right now.... in my mind some of you have two hands up and are waving them around frantically. I hear this as a common complaint from many moms. There is just so much STUFF. When a birthday or Christmas comes along my chest starts getting tight, because I know even MORE stuff is coming right for us! (I am picturing that scene in Twister as I write this…. “It’s coming right for us!”….. “It’s already here…..”)
I am not a stickler for much in this parenting gig... I have let my kids eat M&Ms before breakfast (like, even this week) and regularly allowed them to wear dress up clothes over their regular clothes to school. I was pretty lax on forcing the whole potty training thing and I also don't care if their socks match. Ever. But there are a few things I am very, VERY strict about and will never budge on. Manners. Kindness. Hard Work. Acceptance (of yourself and others). Compassion. Appreciation. Gratitude. I believe my job as a parent is to guide my children into becoming the kind of adult I'd like to know and be around. Even if I wasn't there mother. If my kids grow up to be top of their career field superstar bazillionaires with a home goods line at Target, but aren't any of those things I listed above, I will feel like I have not succeeded as a mother.
And that is where I have a hard time with all the STUFF. Because I know we have to be careful as parents with that line between making memories and creating a lovely childhood for our babies and over indulging. And then they just have such cute little faces and it makes it even harder!
There are a few things I do, especially around holidays and birthdays, to try to instill that attitude of gratitude in our house.
- The Gift of 4- Since we have a really large extended family and my kids tend to get a lot of Christmas gifts- we go a little easy on the gifts we give them as parents. When my oldest was a baby I saw online giving your children 4 Christmas gifts: 1- Something they want. 2- Something they need. 3- Something they can wear. 4- Something they can read. (I did modify and add 1 gift from Santa as well). The nice thing with this approach is that it can stick with them as they get older and when they are old enough to give you a list, you won’t get a list of 1,000 toys, but they’ll need to put a little thought into these 4 categories and what they’d like from each. It also keeps me from going crazy and not buying as many things for them as well.
- Everything must go! - Ok... not EVERYTHING, but a lot of things. We only have so much space in our bungalow. I tell my kids before a birthday or Christmas that they can't get new toys if there is no room it. I also share that there are children that don't have as many toys as they do that would be really happy to have some of the things they don't use anymore. We go through and fill up a box or two and take them over the 2nd hand store (just make sure if you also shop at the same 2nd hand store.... that you don't buy back anything you previously donated.... which I have almost done with a few clothing items in the past....)
- RAK it Up! - Random acts of kindness do not need to be big or expensive or complicated. What I tell my kids the best thing about doing something nice for others is, is that it’s double wonderful- because you feel good for doing it AND the person you did it for feels good too. Fill up a "Little Library" in your neighborhood, tape a few quarters to a vending machine, drop some canned goods or peanut butter off at Hunger Task Force. Shovel a neighbor's sidewalk, pick up trash at the park, or make a friend a card sharing all the things you like about them. There are endless ways to show kindness. Maybe in the month of December and the month of their birthday set a goal for them to do as many RAKs as they are years old. Your 5 year old can think of 5 nice things to do in a month, your 10 year old 10. I did this for my birthday month last year.... but it was harder than I expected because I am getting older…. So it was a WHOLE lotta kindness I had to spread around that month…. Kids will have it easier in this regard. A more manageable number.
- Give the most precious gift of all.... your time- As working moms.... we know that's our scarcest commodity.... but we are all responsible for creating the community we want to be a part of- and teaching that to our kids is important if we want them to be good citizens and invested in their community as they get older. Milwaukee is filled with amazing charities that are working so hard every day to make sure everyone in our community has access to what they need to have a good life. I am lucky enough to have front seat access to see so much of it every day through my work. And I know one commonality that these charities have, is that they need people who care to help them help others. United Way has an amazing volunteer website where nonprofits across Milwaukee, Waukesha Ozaukee and Washington County can list their volunteer needs (I am biased of course because I do work there.... but the site and Volunteer Program is amazing by anyone's standards). You can go in and sort by what type of opportunity or location you're looking for. One of the best things about this site is that you can filter by opportunities that are family friendly. Some require you to go to a location, but many can be done in the comfort of your own home! Check some of them out here! What better quality time can you spend with your family than making the community you live in a better place? Kind of goes back to that double wonderful feeling when you do something nice for someone else, but it also makes your life better too!
- Put those dupes to good use! - Whether it’s Christmas or birthdays, you are bound to get toys, games, books, or clothing items you already have. Besides gently reminding your child in advance the art of not blurting out "I already have this!" in the spirit of being gracious, you can take it a step further. When we get dupes, rather than taking it back to the store to exchange it for something else- I hang on to it and donate it. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin has a wish list here of items they'd like for kids that have long term hospital stays. Having a child that stayed there for almost a week, I can say #1- that place is just the best and we're so lucky to have it in our community and #2- once kids are feeling a little better, it is lovely but they get ANTSY. And you can only watch so many reruns of Doc McStuffins. See if what you have fits the list and drop it off there! Also, my work often does silent auctions or puts together baskets to raise money for charitable causes, as I know is common in many workplaces, so sometimes I donate these items for this purpose as well. Just because you can't use it, doesn't mean you can't put it to good use!
- The Slow Roll Out- One way we deal with SO many gifts at once on Christmas and birthdays is that we put some of them away for a rainy day. Any kid is bound to have their favorite toys they must use right now, but it can also be kind of overwhelming for them, and they don't always remember everything they got, or maybe some of the presents are a little above their current age/ability level. We put some of them away unopened into the one closet they haven’t been able to break the child safety knob off yet, and then when we’re snowed in in the middle of February (or.... April.... because let's be honest we live in Wisconsin) we can break out a BRAND NEW UNOPENED TOY! Maybe it didn't make a big splash as one of 20 gifts, but that day it will be center stage. We find special excitement for those craft type gifts because anything that can make a huge mess.... paint, beads, slime.... is an especially beloved activity is our household. However, slime is on a temporary ban in our house though due to an incident where it was made into a crown??? And somehow became ridiculously tangled into a certain 5 year old's hair and had to be cut out.
This time of year….yes, you might wake up in a panic at 3 am and start browsing Amazon because you are nowhere near done Christmas shopping and yes, your child may tell you the night before that she needs to bring gingerbread man cookies for the whole class…. BUT it can also be a really magical season. I’ve found a whole new love of it since I’ve had kids and can relive it again through a child’s eyes. And if you if you can keep the focus on gratitude, togetherness and all the things that really matter (and cookies obviously), you can create some truly memorable moments and traditions that you can look back on when your kids grow up to be those amazing kind, giving adults we’re working so hard every day to raise.
Happy holidays to all of you! And may your coffee be more powerful than your children’s holiday induced sugar highs!