Every Christmas, a dear family friend showers my three kids with a bounty of gifts. The presents arrive in bulging black bags, usually filled with designer goods and the must-have, much-sought-after items of the season.
Last year, however, given the sorry state of the economy, our real-life Santa Claus reined in his lavish gifting and instead presented each of the children with a donation made in their name to a charity. They couldn't hide their disappointment ... and I couldn't hide my disappointment at their disappointment.
At the time I remember thinking to myself, "How could I have raised such an ungrateful threesome? Where did I go wrong?"
On this week's episode of "Moms Get Real" on ABC News Now, Juju Chang and I tackled this tricky subject of dealing with "holiday spoils" and how to keep an attitude of gratitude alive and well during the excesses of the season.
We were joined by the ever-wise "Good Morning America" family and life contributor Lee Woodruff, author of "Perfectly Imperfect," and Betsy Brown Braun, author of "Just Tell me What to Say," and started by 'fessing up to the types of parents we become during the holidays.
I copped to being an overgiver; Juju and Lee admitted to being grinches. We then launched into a lively conversation about how we could all give less, teach our kids to appreciate more, and stoke the spirit of the season at the same time.
As self-proclaimed "Grinches," Juju and Lee didn't need the tips and scripts that I did. I was the one with the kids saying, "That's all?" But thankfully, a course correction was possible.
Besty shared specific tips for moving from over-giver to a loving, but thrifty grinch. (I recommend that everyone print out this list along with your kids' Christmas lists!):
1. Give less, and expect and accept the disappointment. Your children will get over it quickly if they see that you're serious. (Read: Don't start waffling and look like you might cave and hit the mall because of their whining. Stand firm. It's best for everyone.)
2. Model gratitude as well as the pleasure you get in giving something to someone else. This happens not only at the holidays but all year long. Proclaim it for the world to see.
3. Model giving to others. Make it a regular part of your holiday. Help your kids to make lists of whom they will give to. Involve your kids in all the steps -- the choice of recipient, the gift, the wrapping, the delivery. They more they do, the more exciting it will be. (I also recommend finding a way to let your kids see their gift being opened. It's much easier for them to understand the adage "to give is to receive" if they see the excitement on the face of the recipient.)
4. Do family projects that involve doing things for others, and for which you can see the results. Do surprise things for others (bring in your neighbor's trash, rake her leaves, put flowers on the dining room table, etc.).
5. Have family experiences that will characterize the holiday. It's about what you do together. Do crazy, fun different stuff together, things you do only at the holidays. (Wear your pj's in the car as you comb the city for holiday decorations and lights, for example.)
6. Give the gift of coupons for things that kids get to do. An extra story at bedtime, movie watching in mom's bed. And encourage your children to give you coupons for things they will do for you, such as a day without fighting, taking a bath without nagging -- anything that will make you happy.