This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood. I'm Emily, here with my sister-in-law, Laura.
Laura: Hello! Hello!
Emily: We’re excited to talk gift-giving, a little bit about gratefulness, and definitely a lot about the gospel.
Laura: [laughter] Hopefully.
Emily: Before we jump into that just a reminder that Advent season is here.
Laura: It’s upon us.
Emily: Definitely check out our website risenmotherhood.com for ideas of what to do during Advent. We have some round ups on our social media, articles, podcasts, and a lot of ideas for ways to make this season not more rushed or stressful but hopefully peaceful, intentional, and a good reminder of Christ. Check that out.
Laura: It's a good time to implement it. You still got like a week or so. But in light of that, all our kids are busy working on their Christmas lists, which they've been adding to all year.
Emily: I think my kids started their Christmas list in July.
Laura: Or January? [laughter]
Emily: They started right after Christmas. And I've been using that excuse with my kids since the summer: We're not getting something because Christmas is coming.
Laura: That’s exactly right. The other day, my son said, “Christmas takes forever!” We all love Christmas, but as moms, there's definitely a sort of an angst that can come out, especially when you become a mom and realize the selfish spirit that can come out of your child (Which you know is in you too, but they're not as good at hiding it). I know Emily and I have both experienced things like this. When there’s a child crying at a family Christmas in front of all sorts of people when the present opening is over and they're bawling, “No more presents?
Emily: “Nothing I got is good enough. I’ve played with that toy for 35 seconds and now I'm over it!” and you feel so frustrated. I don't know what age this stops a little. It is really hard. There have been years too—I don't know about you Laura—where we've really tried to prep our kids like, “Here's what's going to happen. It’s going to stop, say thank you, and we’re going to give everyone hugs, we're going to be very grateful.” Even with all the training, it's just a part of our hearts that takes a long time to uproot.
Laura: It's really humbling as a mom, let's be real. A question we often get asked along the same vein is, “How do I instill gratefulness in my kids?” We get asked this question in all sorts of ways. I mean, birthday parties, or service projects, or summer vacations, and it always pops up around Christmas time because of all the gifts and indulgences that our kids get. As we shared, we don't really have the answer for how to instill the gratefulness in our kids, because we’re still working on that. We don't have proof quite yet, but one angle we want to look at today is something we hear a lot of people ask in preparation for the Ask Us Anything show.
We’ll get random emails about it quite a bit: How do you deal with the grandparents, aunt or uncle, or another family member, or friend that wants to love on your kids by giving them tons of gifts or deviating from your carefully curated list. Maybe they get the light up toy that blares music at 5 million decibels for 20 minutes straight, maybe they're just giving your kids something you deem a little bit too extravagant and you don't really know what to do with that, or maybe it's something that you've actually expressly forbidden and it might be potentially harmful to your child, or something that falls on similar lines.
There are a lot of different ways that this gift giver can manifest in your life. We want to set up the show today so that you understand the show. This isn’t necessarily about how you or your husband give gifts to instill gratitude because it's fairly easy to control your own purchasing decisions, but we want to talk a little bit about how the gospel applies and meets us when we have someone else in our lives that can be a frustrating gift giver. Is that an okay way to put it? [laughter]
Emily: That's definitely where we start with our thinking. It’s frustrating—
Laura: You might not be so frustrated after the show.
Emily: Hopefully not. Before we jump in any further, we want to recognize that not everyone has this ‘problem,’ and that this really wouldn't be a problem to a lot of you. You think this would be a great issue to have if relatives and people in your kid’s life were showering them with gifts. It could be that Christmas is a really hard time of year because you feel like you're trying to make ends meet, and you would love to be able to gift a little bit more extravagant things to your kids or give them any gifts at all.
I think that's a good perspective for all of us to bear in mind, no matter where you're at, is that this is something to be grateful for, and we shouldn't take for granted the fact that we can give our children things and good gifts just like God gives us good gifts. We hope that no matter where you're at that you can get some gospel encouragement from the show today, and know that there is there's broad application to a variety of different scenarios.
Laura: There are a lot of mom philosophies on giving gifts. Emily, what are some of the ones that you can think of?
Emily: I know that one that became popular in the last few years—I think we tried it one year—was you get them something they want, something they need, something they wear, something they read. They're all categorized or there's only a three plus present rule because that’s how many presents Jesus got.
Laura: Jesus gotta model that.
Emily: Or maybe you feel like they need all the minimal, and organic, and wood toys from a Narnia tree.
Laura: Yes, Give me that! [laughter]
Emily: Sometimes it’s things like no electronics, nothing with small pieces, only learning toys. Brad’s probably going to laugh when he hears this, [laughter] because he fits into this category of getting them things they need. In the summer, he’ll say, “Why don't you start writing the list? Our kids need more black socks.” [laughter] And he’s specific.
Laura: When they open that, what are they going to think?
Emily: He’s very much like, “Christmas is the time to get those needs met and get all the things we're going to buy at the store for the next year.” Maybe it’s something you guys don't think too hard about it at all, but overall, maybe you have limitations to how many toys you want to see coming through your door or you're just still trying to figure out what to do with the ones that are spilling out of your bins, so the thought of giving more gifts around Christmas is pretty daunting.
Laura: We totally get all this is. As Emily shared, we have been these moms at a variety of points in our lives and we’ve tried the same things as probably many of you have—having restrictions or hinting to somebody these are the things that we prefer. When someone doesn't necessarily listen to that list, sometimes it can leave us feeling hurt by the fact they don't seem to care about what you're trying to teach your children or the gratitude that you're trying to instill in them.
Sometimes it leaves us really frustrated, because we weren’t respected or we felt not respected in our wishes. Sometimes we’re vindictive. We want to pay them back for not being as kind to us as we want, maybe we give them the silent treatment or we withdraw our kids from relationship, and sometimes this leads up to the great Christmas event. We’ll feel nervous or anxious. We’ll be worried about what each year will bring and feel, “Oh, will our kids ever be generous or grateful because they have that one person in their life that seems to spoil them?”
What do we do with those feelings? And that's what we want to talk through today. How do we handle gift giving that doesn't seem to align with our personal philosophies and should we be worried when someone comes into our child's life and seems to spoil them with Christmas presents?
Emily: I think the first thing we want to remember, when we're considering this lavish gift giver or somebody who's so excited to love on our kids with gifts that they don't even like adhere to our list because they saw this cool toy and they impulse buy—
Laura: Gotta get it.
Emily: —is to remember, the most lavish gift giver ever is God himself. He is constantly giving his children good gifts they don't deserve, especially to whiny, complaining, ungrateful children. In his common grace, people who reject him, and despise him, and are his enemies, are given good things in their life here on earth by God, even before people have come to Christ.
Like the beauty of creation and the joy of the relationships we have. Then to his redeemed children, he gives the most costly gift ever which is Christ himself. Whenever we're feeling frustrated about someone else's generous lavish giving to someone who's potentially ungrateful or not comprehending it, I do think there's a point where we need to stop and remember, that is how God is towards us.
He did it first so if anything, that can point us back to God and be really grateful for the ways. We don't deserve his amazing gifts, we’re not always grateful for his generosity or his lavish giving, but we are created like him in some respects and that comes out in people in all different ways because we were created to image him.
Laura: Preach it Emily. I like it.
Emily: That’s a hard one to swallow.
Laura: It is a hard one.
Emily: Because you think, it's this person who's being indulgent.
Laura: I love it when she gets on a soapbox like that. It's always good. Now we're going to walk through some of the fears from a mom's perspective, and how you can find hope in the gospel.
Emily: I think we’ve already alluded to this but we fear that our children are going to be spoiled, they're going to turn into ungrateful, materialistic little people because of this person.
Laura: We’ve all thought that even because of ourselves, right? I have had moments like the Christmas Gift Cry of 2017, or whatever year it was, when I've thought, “Oh my word, I'm not doing enough.”
Emily: I’ve ruined my children—
Laura: They're going to be ungrateful, materialistic people.
Emily: The gospel truth there is the reality that God is the only one who can turn a heart from death to life. The gospel knows no bounds; he can reach even the most selfish person and we all are, apart from Christ, selfish. There isn't like, “I'm going to spoil the heart into sin;” we already have that inside of us. God can transform us and continue to work on us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He works in our children too, so we want to trust God to be the author of our child's faith—not us—and to keep that in mind that we can’t twist the knob on some of these external circumstances and do the deep heart-transforming work. We might build a change in behavior but that deep heart work belongs to God.
Laura: On a practical note too, remember that you’re to disciple your child in the things of the Lord and you're going to be doing that around 365 days a year. So a lavish present once or twice a year from a person who is going off of your list, isn’t going to undo all the other time spent investing in them. That's one thing to keep in mind: they can't undo all of the efforts that you're doing over the work of a lifetime.
Emily: Another concern is we’re worried we’re going to be replaced by someone else who is more generous or fun towards our child. One gospel truth to remember is hopefully we want Christ to win our children's full affections, not ourselves. We're going to fall short and we are going to fail to meet our children's needs, and even their wants and their desires, and their relationship with us. That is going to happen. We're going to fall short, but Christ gives of himself and he is the greatest gift our children can ever receive. That should even make the most amazing gift giver kind of pale in comparison.
Laura. And when we feel insecure, just ask yourself, “Hey, where I’m I finding my identity? Is it in Christ and in his acceptance of me?” Because when we humbly observe his sacrifice, we don't live for a love of ourselves or love from others—a.k.a our children in this instance—but we live for him, knowing that our reward is ultimately in heaven. Whatever is happening in the moment is momentary and not eternal.
Emily: Something I do in this scenario is often remember back to my own childhood and think nobody was competing for those relationships with my parents. Even if my grandparents gave me really great presents, it wasn't like, “Oh I love them more,” and that replaced the role of parents. There’s a difference of relationship, a difference of influence. Parents are the ones giving kids stability and routine, who they trust to secure for their needs and everyone else holds a different spot. I think on a practical level, we can breathe.
Laura: When your kids’ skins their knee, where are they going to go? That's the question.
Emily: This holiday or something is probably not going to approve the whole relationship.
Laura: Another fear we can feel is insecure about our own abilities to give good gifts. We feel maybe a little competitive with another person or maybe competitive with the culture at large. What we mean by this is that sometimes our insecurities can come out, because maybe we want to give our kids the same gifts that this person is giving, but we can't afford to give our children the hottest toy of the season. Or maybe out of pride, we want to look more successful in front of other people, but we’re not able to at this point financially.
A gospel truth to remind ourselves of in these times is that we rise or fall before the throne of God alone, and when we're feeling that competitiveness with another person, what we're doing ultimately is saying, “Hey, this is my standard of goodness. In order to be a good mom, I have to give this certain gift or I have to out-give this other gift giver,” and we're not actually looking at the real standard of what a good mom is, which is actually the holiness of God.
We can recognize our good standing is actually only by the grace of God. We can even stand in his presence and see our differences with another person as a great opportunity to learn and to grow. And for your child to see that God works in unique ways in individuals. He's blessed them in different ways, so let's rejoice in other people's giftings and the way they want to love on our kids.
Emily: I think also remembering—like you were saying Laura with standards—that there isn't this hard rule from God with how to give good gifts to our children, so we can be generous. Giving can look like non-material things as well—giving experiences, or a nice letter to our children. or whatever. Jesus exemplified this here on earth by pouring out and giving of his very self, so whenever we think, “Oh, my gifting to my children is it going to look this certain way,” we can still go to the Lord and ask how we can express love and generosity towards those within our care, even if it's going to look different than what the culture says it should look like.
Laura: On a practical note, this one’s pretty hard, at least for me. Maybe to that overly generous gift giver, write a thank you note for all those extra things, even if you're kind of looking at them and feeling like, “Why are all those lined up toys in my toy bins right now?” Or maybe have your child write a thank you note; that's just good practice.
Also choose to engage them and display authentic joy as your child opens those gifts. That is a true show of a heart that is soft to the Lord and soft to understanding and knowing your identity rests in him, not in your ability to give good gifts.
Emily: Finally, I think one of the fears or things that we struggle with, is feeling out of control. The reality is, we have preferences. We want them to actually be donating towards our child's college fund, we actually want them to be giving money to an organization in lieu of this toy so your child can learn generosity.
I mean, we joke about it, but when it gets down to it, we feel unheard. It feels like this person isn't supporting in the way that I want to parent. In general, the gospel meets us when we are angry and feeling like our wishes are not being met, because we're really just angry that were not being treated like God himself. He is the one who is worthy of all worship and praise, and while we would like to be the king or queen of the universe and perfectly control everything in our child's environment, we can’t be.
God wants us to submit to him and learn to be grateful in all things and know that rules, and standards, and expectations, and meeting those things is not what's going to make us ultimately happy. Only God himself is going to do that, and he really has the best plan for our family, and all of the knowledge and the resources to make that possible.
Laura: A practical thing to ask yourself is, “Hey, is this a grey area? Is this really something that I should go to bat on?” Or “How can we best love both parties, both my child and the gift giver?” That’s just a quick one to evaluate where the status of your heart is and then on a practical front: toy rotation.
I mean, that's pretty awesome. If you're getting way too many gifts, rotate those toys. Another thing is to give toys away. I know a lot of moms implement the one-in, one-out rule. If you get eight gifts, you donate eight gifts.
Emily: We also want to recognize there really are situations where someone is giving your child a gift that is potentially dangerous, harmful, immoral, illegal, or something that requires your investment financially, over and over again. There are situations where conversations need to be had, maybe gifts need to not be received, things need to be put to a halt. Particularly, this may even be something like electronics where somebody's giving your child a full internet access gift and you're like, “Hey, we're not there yet as a family, and we don't think that's appropriate for a child to have.” It is okay to approach these conversations in love, because some people may have good intentions in giving those, some may not, and we know that there are definitely those times when you need to be firm and have healthy boundaries.
Laura: We know that not everyone has great relationships with this gift giver, and if you do plan on talking with them about it, here's a couple of quick guidelines (but we do talk about this more in the grandparents in the gospel show especially like how to navigate a harder discussions). The first thing is just talk with your husband and get his opinion.
Ask if this should this really be that important to you. I think that eliminates a lot of the issues and it will tell you very quickly, “Hey, we should talk about this.” Take time to pray about it, seek counsel from someone who is wiser, then consider what impact it's going to have on the relationship. Weighing those pros and cons is really important for any conversation. Have something to say. Write it down and have some alternatives for them in a game plan.
A lot of times, some people just need to be educated. They're not really getting the jokes, or the eye rolls, or the list. They don't really understand that you actually care about the list, so if you can have some alternatives, they may understand you're serious about this, and you want them to continue giving to your child, but needs to be within certain boundaries.
Another one is, don't do it in the heat of the moment. I know that that's probably a temptation for all of us. Don't do it at Christmas, don't do it at a birthday. Wait a little while and then bring it up with them and before you do, take time to affirm them. Everyone's more welcome or warm to taking criticism, if you affirm them prior and then recognize, “Hey, they're probably not going to be perfect after one conversation,” and this is where we remember to forgive as Christ has forgiven you.
As you have these conversations, we hope that these are some tools to equip you through them. But it's hard, and we understand that. We don't want to make light of this, like it's so easy. But I think there are times, more often than not, where we can let things go and trust that God's going to continue working on our child's heart, even if they get all these gifts. But yes, proper boundaries are really important.
Emily: Me and Christmas brings out all of this sin issues. [laughter] If you want to find out more on this topic, we’ll be talking about it on social media this week @risenmotherhood on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Also check out our show notes at risenmotherhood.com, you'll find all of those resources there. Thanks for joining us and we hope you have a great Advent season!
Laura: Oh, yes.
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