One child wants a whole bunch of gifts. The other doesn’t want much. Are you obligated to spend equally?
Gift-giving, ideally, tells kids we love them and want to bring joy to their lives by bestowing upon them the items their little hearts so desperately desire. Even if those items are plastic and obnoxious and prone to break in less than a week.
But gift-giving tells kids a lot of other things too: namely, how we think about fairness, value and gratitude. Two kids wanting dramatically different piles of loot provide a perfect opportunity to explore some of these notions and how they play out in your particular family.
“We often spend our kids’ whole lives teaching them that fair means equal,” says Betsy Brown Braun, author of “You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your Four- to Twelve-Year-Old Child” (HarperCollins). “Fair means giving your child what he needs at the time he needs it. When his foot is too big, he gets new tennis shoes. If we automatically buy new shoes for the other child, we set them up to think everything is always going to be equal.”
Which it’s not, of course. In your home or the outside world.
“We also set our kids up to measure things based on value and we don’t do a very good job teaching them what value is,” says Brown Braun. “Maybe I’ve crocheted one child a blanket that took me nine months and I bought the other child a pair of new shoes that he wanted. I may have put 7,000 hours into that blanket, but he thinks the shoes are a bigger gift because they cost more. We don’t often teach kids to value how much effort and thought goes into gifts.”
So here’s what you do: “For the child who doesn’t want a lot, I wouldn’t work so hard to make sure it’s all equal,” she says. “I’d make sure he gets something that brings a smile to his face. And get creative. Maybe it’s a weekend camp-out with Mom. Something that he didn’t necessarily ask for but you know he’ll really like.
“For the kid who asks for a lot, you say, ‘Let’s get that list out and prioritize the things you really want and which you don’t want so much. Because you’re going to get a few of these things, but you’re not going to get 20.’ ”
If the dollar amount spent on each child doesn’t add up exactly, she says, don’t sweat it.
“You’re just feeding the monster, and the monster is the person who goes through life always measuring and always looking for everything to be equal,” says Brown Braun. “Fair is giving where it’s needed. And you set your kids up to recognize that.”