Should We Buy Our Babies Christmas Presents?

The holidays beg us to fill our homes with gifts galore, but celebrities and parents think it might be time to put a stop to that.

December 18, 2017
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Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are parents to two children—a 10-month-old son, Dimitri Portwood, and a 3-year-old daughter, Wyatt Isabelle—and with Christmas around the corner, you’d think this famous family is preparing to celebrate big. But they’re not—in fact, they’re choosing to not give a single thing to their children.

“We’re instituting [no presents] this year because when the kids are [younger than] 1, it doesn’t really matter,” Kunis told People. “Last year when we celebrated Christmas, Wyatt was 2, and it was too much. We didn’t give her anything—it was the grandparents. The kid no longer appreciates the one gift. They don’t even know what they’re expecting; they’re just expecting stuff.”

“We’ve told our parents, ‘We’re begging you—if you have to give her something, pick one gift. Otherwise, we’d like to take a charitable donation, to the Children’s Hospital or … whatever you want,’” she added.

Now, before you call Kunis and Kutcher the Scrooge Parents of the Year, let’s give them some credit. Asking if we should buy our babies Christmas presents is an absolutely valid question.

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This year, my fourth baby will celebrate his first Christmas, and Kunis and Kutcher have sure made me feel more confident in skipping gifts for my little one.

For starters, we just bought all the essentials in time for his September birthday. He has cute clothes, cozy blankets, a soothing swing—you name it, he probably has it. There is truly nothing he needs. Plus, coming on the heels of two older brothers, we’ve got toys ready and waiting that he will love in the coming years. This baby of mine has snuggles on his Christmas list, and that’s something I can easily deliver.

Christmas Camps / To Gift or not to Gift

With a question like “should we buy our babies Christmas presents?” there is bound to be two camps, and my-oh-my, there are!

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First, we have the parents (and grandparents, and other family/friends, too) who are adamant about the gifting tradition of Christmas. In their minds, this holiday is about the joy of giving. It’s about finding something the recipient will love and appreciate. It’s about living in the moment and embracing the present towers and wrapping paper piles of Christmas morning.

Second are the folks like Kunis and Kutcher who want to scale things back. No gifts, or maybe one or two reasonable things. They want to give during the Christmas season, but not to their babies, because they won’t notice or care.

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Laura, a mom of two, isn’t necessarily a gifts-gone-crazy kind of mom, but she does love that Christmas gives her the excuse to buy for her children. When they were babies, she shares, “I used it as an excuse to buy all the new board books I wanted to add to our collection!” And really, who can fault her? Books are a wonderful gift idea for children regardless of their age.

Bianca, a mom of three, isn’t skipping Christmas for her kids. Instead, she is choosing to be find balance with the gifts she and her husband give. “Grandparents will most likely fill any void of toys during Christmas,” she says, “My focus has been on starting traditions and heirloom presents, such as a wooden Christmas ornament and making their stocking.”

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Like Bianca, I’ve seen that to be very true. Grandparents and aunts and uncles (especially the single ones who don’t have children of their own) tend to shower my children with gifts. Thankfully, they’ve honored my request to tame a bit of the gift-giving and opt for educational, imaginary, and experience-based gifts. Those are the ones that bring joy and thankfulness all year long.

Not for the Not-Naughty Tots

On the flip side of filling the Christmas tree boughs with wrapped gifts is Sophia, a mom of five. She’s been practicing minimalism alongside her husband and children for the last three years.

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“In life, I think we can all agree that we never know what the next season will bring,” she shares. “Our income can change without a moment’s notice, and expenses come and go. Not having the burden of a few thousand dollars ‘needed’ at Christmas each year brings such peace to the parent.”

“Knowing that with a simple $20 gift, our kids can have an opportunity to feel gratitude and joy is such a restful thing to carry in the mind and takes off so much pressure that society tells us to carry.”

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Sophia is far from a Scrooge. She’s not depriving her children or making her baby miss out on something essential. Over the years, she has mothered measuredly, and her perspective has positively impacted her family.

“We know that our joy and value doesn’t come from what we own. Our children don’t feel most loved when we hand them a toy, we believe they feel most loved and seen when we get on the floor with them and join them … by playing or reading or even just sitting together in close contact,” she shares. It’s a decision to gift time and relationship—things that are truly cherished—over material possessions that only bring short-lived smiles.

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Kaywanda Lamb, a single parenting educator and blogger at KaywandaLamb.com, cuts right to the chase: “No, you should not buy infants gifts,” she states. “They are not aware nor are they amused … It is a waste, and that money can go toward their college fund, expenses, etcetera. Be wise instead of showing off. Invest in their future and your own peace of mind.”

Keeping Christmas Jolly

So, why do parents sway one way or the other? Is there a happy medium? Elena Mikalsen, PhD, a pediatric psychologist, says, “Parents either struggle with nostalgia and want to give the children the same exact Christmas they had as kids, or [they] have bad memories of their childhood Christmas and want to give their children the absolute opposite of the Christmas they had.”

But don’t let these traditions hold you back from making new traditions with your spouse and your children.

Knowing that can give us all pause for reflection. Rather than asking if we should buy our babies Christmas presents, perhaps we should ask why we buy our babies presents. Mikalsen encourages parents to “create Christmas for their own current family and not to let it be influenced as much by their childhood Christmases.”

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“By all means, keep your family traditions. Those may be wonderful and special. But don’t let these traditions hold you back from making new traditions with your spouse and your children.”

So much of Christmas is focused on the here and now. What does my baby need? What do the big siblings want? How can I make this season extra magical? Mikalsen, through her expertise in understanding children, wants parents to evaluate what the cost is when Christmas becomes extravagant.

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According to Psychology Today,” she says, “studies have shown that children who have fewer material possessions, but positive relationships with parents and peers, demonstrate higher self-esteem, less behavioral problems and can cope with problems better.”

Teach your children that giving meaningful gifts is more important than expensive gifts

“A good way to reinforce this concept is to shop for presents for others and to donate clothes and toys to Goodwill, Salvation Army and any other charity in your local area which is collecting new or used toys or items,” she says. “Studies have found that people value gifts they buy for others more than gifts they receive and feel happier giving than receiving gifts.”

So, if you feel compelled to buy during the holidays, follow Mikalsen’s advice, and Kunis and Kutcher’s lead, and find a charity you connect with. Support it with your dollars rather than needlessly filling your baby’s nursery.

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Looking beyond infancy, Mikalsen believes parents should “teach kids gratitude by expressing appreciation for the things you have as a family rather than talking about things you don’t have. Teach your children that giving meaningful gifts is more important than expensive gifts.”

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Sophia, the minimalist mom, puts this in action during the Christmas season. “Since [my children] have never been given a large number of gifts,” she says, “they don’t expect to receive them. They are overjoyed with their gift each time and immediately throw their arms around our necks and thank us for the gift. We don’t have to remind them to be thankful for it, because we spend all year long fostering a heart of gratitude.”

We are grateful for what we have. And that’s enough.

No matter the gifting tradition you have established in the past or the changes you hope to make this year, clearly communicate your plan with your children, family, and friends. And more than anything, find ways to embrace the non-material parts of the holidays. Those are the lasting memories I think we all want our children to grow up cherishing.

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If you’re nervous about making a change, take Sophia’s advice. After all, she is practicing this philosophy successfully with five kids!

“It’s really never too late to implement [this] kind of mindset for … children. Kids are so adaptable and resilient,” she says.

“They’ll see the change of our hearts, and they’ll be impacted by it throughout the year as they grow in their gratitude. Most times, the adults are the ones putting expectations on how much our children ‘need’ at Christmas. I think we would be pleasantly surprised if we changed our focus at Christmas time from inward to outward. We are grateful for what we have. And that’s enough.”

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