Tuesday, December 09, 2008

large family mommy guilt: how I got over it and found complete peace in giving my children just 3 gifts at Christmas

I'll let you in on a secret.

Moms of large families can have a lot of guilt. I get the feeling that the general public isn't aware of this on any major scale...this feeling being based on how many times I have been asked by friends and total strangers if I "know what causes that" or "plan on getting fixed" or, my all time favorite, "you done yet?".

If people knew that the average large family mom is already walking around with her own little folder of guilt that she regularly refers to all on her own, they might back off a bit. At least I think they would, but I'm optimistic like that.

The guilt comes from a concern that whatever you do, it will be determined by the well meaning folks around you that you do it because you have lots of kids. If your kids ever go out of the house with torn or dirty clothes, if you take simple vacations, if you stay at home mother, if sometimes dinner is cereal...you worry that everyone who sees what you are doing figures it's because you can't do anything else, because you have enough kids to qualify for an at home day care license.

Which brings me to Christmas.

I used to buy my children lots of Christmas presents. It took me several years to determine why I felt the need to overindulge my kids. Part of it is my own nature, to be sure. I am a gift giver. It's one way I like to show love. But as the years went on, I noticed that I found my children's gratitude diminishing, and my joy in getting them lots of "stuff" turning into irritation at the waste and expense of it all. And not just the financial expense...the expense of just owning and dealing with more things.

So, after a year or two when Christmas just gave me a stomach ache, I started to consider that maybe, just maybe, we should pull back, pare down, get less, and appreciate more.

It was then that the large family mommy guilt reared its ugly head.

"But--what if the kids and everyone else thinks that the reason you only give a few special things at Christmas is because you have lots of kids and can't afford to do anything else??"

And, as much as it pains me to say it, what it looked like mattered to me.

So--I had the large family mommy guilt, and had the part of me that just wanted to make Christmas meaningful. I started to ask myself questions...what did I want my children to know, to feel, to believe about Christmas? What did I hope they would remember about the Christmases of their childhood? What precedent did I want to set for their expectations of future Christmases, and for their future family's celebrations? And most importantly: what is the best thing to do, regardless of how many children we have?

That's when, with the hubby's help, I determined that we would do 3 presents for each child. One from Santa, one from Dad, and one from Mom. We also had the children draw names and buy gifts for one another. Grand total: 4 presents.

I'm telling you--one of the best things I ever let go of my guilt long enough to decide.

Christmas is now the fun and reflective time I hoped it would be. I have yet to hear any of our children even notice that we changed what we do. (it's been 5 years now) But I see the difference in the tone and the mood of the house--both on Christmas morning and every day leading up to it. There's just a lot less stuff...and a lot more peace.

So I've let go. And in letting go, I finally care a little bit more about the way things are and a little bit less about how things look.

Which is,as it turns out, what I really needed to begin with.


janis said...

I have stumpled across your blog... You inspire me. i must say i admire what you have to say about the Christmas gift giving. I only have two daughters, and I have over-spent for years. My girls very much appreciate it and love getting nice stuff. This year, it is not an option. I am overwelmed with the guilt and trying to figure out how i am going to let them know. They are not stupid, they are mature and have a good clue this is coming. At 18 & almost 20 it is hard to hid it. However, I most worry about the daughter still in school. She has a lot of privledged friends and it will be hard to swallow, just a couple of gifts. I need to stop worrying and remind my family about the reason for the season! Oh yeah, we have a birthday the week before! Oh well, this too will pass.

Merry Christmas! I am going to read more of your blog. Feel free to check mine out sometime (=
Jan G

Amy said...

I really appreciated this post. I feel the same way about having a large family (we have four children now). I feel like they have to look perfect at school and have super nutritious foods in their lunches (instead of bacon and Ramen, which is what my daughter's friend brings!), because everyone I meet always says, "I just don't know how you do it with four kids!" If anything goes badly, I feel like people blame it on my having too many children!

And we hardly buy any gifts for our kids, because they're over-indulged by others. I do buy lots of books, but they're usually (nice ones) from thrift stores or garage sales.

cupboard full of mugs said...

last year was probably the best Christmas I have ever had. I only had my handful of gifts and it was perfect. I didn't even really think about gifts that day. I dont know why I never told you that. But I like this way better, and plan on doing it with my kids.

The Bulkeleys said...

Oh come on, you only write this blog because you have lots of kids, right?

Your blog so rules. Xmas here in Germany is an entire month what with Nicolaus (Dec. 6) and Advent Calendars where the kids get something every day.

And we've done this for five years now.

We have a dozen Rudolphs. Four or five complete nativities of various brands. Christmas decorations. Twinkling lights. And GOD KNOWS WHAT ELSE. I love the bit about the expense of just having and keeping that crap (and it really isn't worth much more than crap, Jesus figures or no).

I haven't won my wife over to cutting back to boost appreciation, but I'm trying.

I'll send her a link to this.
("Hey, honey, why don't you read what my ex-girlfriend has to say about families at Xmas ... What? I don't think I can shove a blog there.")

Awesome Mom said...

I only have two kids and all the junk is getting to me. There is nothing bad about simplifying things.

cupboard full of mugs said...

hahahaha, tell emma i have had them for so long. She obviously didnt care that much about them. and, they have saved my life this past month, so she should feel good about giving to the needy.

~pollyanna said...

It's not about #s... it's about love... Loving your kids enough to let them want, is a GOOD thing... our family does things much like you in many ways... enough that I can feel good about being in wonderful company...

And... I too got over the guilt some time ago...

Vern said...

I think the guilt factor creeps in no matter what you do. I feel guilty all the time because I "only have two kids, I should be able to handle it!" Guilt is such a pain in my butt.

Anonymous said...

You're the freakin' best.

5 mcneils said...

We started doing just three gifts when Quincey was about 4 or five. I think it helps them not be so overwhelmed with the day as well. I think guilt comes with being a mom in general. I think we tend to put the labels on it as to why, and sometimes they aren't even right. Like I only have 3 kids, but it wasn't totally my choice. I think we just need to make the most of what we've been given and not worry about what others think of it. Because usually they are not thinking of us at all. I am the youngest of 7 and I know we probably got more than 3 gifts, but my mom was so frazzled at Christmas it wasn't worth it. She would find presents in her closet in June that she was supposed to give us. You need to do what's right for you. Happy holidays!

The Millers said...

I really enjoyed this post, Miss Talitha. I'm excited you found my blog, and that now I know where yours is! And I'm glad you're coming on Wednesday -- it should be fun!


Rachel said...

Hi, I just found your blog.
We do 3 gifts here, something wanted, something needed and something thoughtful. It has made Christmas much less stressful, the kids don't have gift fatigue and actually like and play with/appreciate what they get.
I am a mom to 4 and also homeschool, so imagine my guilt when my kids go in public with holey clothes or unbrushed hair!