Before my son was born, I had dreams of a pristine playroom full of wooden toys, books, and materials to spark the imagination. My main reason for this dream was because of my fears of toys overtaking my house and becoming a tripping hazard instead of what they were meant to be: enjoyed. I could already feel the toy dilemma encroaching when my son’s first Christmas came. My playroom dreams (in less detail) were shared with relatives. I didn’t want noisy, plastic toys, but we would welcome books and heartfelt letters.
But as the presents were unwrapped, one of my son’s first gifts, sent by an unsuspecting family friend, was a colorful, light-up, singing cube. I let my son play with the wrapping paper while I put the cube up on the fireplace mantle, planning to return it. It was very thoughtful for the family friend to think of us, but she was never going to come and visit (we lived too far away). We would send her a “thank you,” and she’d feel good and never suspect that we had actually returned the gift.
Later that day, as I was in the kitchen scrounging up snacks, I heard the sing-songy anthem of “the bird says, ‘Tweet, tweet.’ The cow says, ‘MOOO!’” accompanied by my son’s giggles. I ran into the living room and stared in disbelief. My husband, not privy to my plans, had taken the cube off the fireplace mantle, out of the box, and given it to my son.
“Honey! I was going to return that!” I said.
“Why?” he asked. “He loves it.”
And so I decided, next Christmas, since inevitably unwanted toys would come into our house, I would request no gifts. Nada. Save your money. Donate to charity instead. We don’t need or want your gift. I didn’t want my house overrun by toys and noise.
A couple months later we received our first one-year-old birthday party invite. Wonderful! I thought. This will be the perfect time for my son to learn how to give a gift. We can go to the store, find something we think this one-year-old will like, and then talk about how nice it is to give to others. And then I saw the last line of the invite: “No gifts, please.”
It was exactly the same thing I wanted to do for our next Christmas. And, although, I understood the family’s reasons, I was sad. No gifts? Really? How can I teach my son how to give?
Then it hit me. I LOVE giving gifts, and this is something my son could learn from me. But, learning how to receive gifts graciously was something I needed help in, especially receiving toys. Because, after all, it wasn’t about the gift at all. It was about the person behind the gift and their love for my son.
The following Christmas, although I would make suggestions when asked (Suggestion: Books. You can never have too many books), I didn’t prohibit gifts from friends and family. And my son ended up with a bright red scooter that sings “A, B, C’s” from his Grandpa. And, he loves it.
So, do we let toys take over our house in our acceptance of Christmas gifts?
Absolutely not. I have found a better reality to my idyllic pristine playroom. We have implemented these toy rules.
- We use a toy library and rotate toys regularly. Only allowing access to 5-minutes worth of toys. What does that mean? It only takes us (me…and my toddler) five minutes to pick up the toys. There are certain toys that he always has access to, like blocks and art supplies, but even the loud, plastic toys come out to play every once-in-awhile.
- We throw away or donate toys that are broken or have outlived their use (especially if my son is no longer in those life stages). Through this, the toys aren’t cluttered or unused.
By using these rules, he gets to play with all his toys (eventually), and I can keep my sanity. The best part is, he ACTUALLY PLAYS WITH HIS TOYS. He doesn’t just pull one thing after another, making a mess, but he rediscovers the joy of that toy because he hasn’t had it every day. And, he often mentions who gave him the toy, which was a bonus I never thought of.
Son: “Grandma gave me this.”
Me: “Wasn’t that nice of Grandma? We’ll have to thank her again next time we call her because you are having so much fun with that toy today, aren’t you?”
This Christmas, as he’s another year older, we’ll talk a lot about giving gifts and what that means. But, we’ll also talk about receiving gifts, and how it’s not really about the gift after all. Although some gifts we might enjoy more than others, it’s about the people behind the gift. Someone took the time to think of us because they love us.
And that’s what I learned last Christmas.
And what I hope to teach my son this Christmas.