I'm a wife to my "Mr. Right". A momma of five. A maker of slow food and simple living. A collector of memories, a keeper of books, and a champion for books that make memories. An addict who likes my half-and-half with a splash of coffee. A fractured pot transformed by the One Who makes broken things beautiful. I heart homeschooling, brake for libraries, and am glad you're here with me on the journey! Be sure to subscribe to my monthly newsletter. Or, follow along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google +, Youtube, or Pinterest.

Curbing Entitlement During a Season of Excess

The "entitlement epidemic" isn't just another trite expression flung around on morning talk shows. It's not just sarcastic Baby Boomer banter. It is the sad reality of our current culture. From lack of responsibility, to lack of empathy, to overabundance of stuff, 21st-century kids are proving to be s.p.o.i.l.e.d. like no other generation of American kids before them. 
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Don't believe me? Just walk into any Barnes and Noble and you'll find entire self-help shelves filled with titles like Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World or The Entitlement Trap or even Cleaning House: A Mom's 12-month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement all dedicated to the notion that our kids are spoiled and we have to finally do something about it. Curbing entitlement appears to be a billion-dollar boon!

While seeds of overindulgence and excess can be sown all year long, I don't think there's a season more prone to childhood gluttony and greed quite like Christmas. What was meant to be a time of quiet reflection and worship has become an avalanche of self-indulgence. A date intentionally marked by the lowly, humble birth of the Savior has been bedazzled and shellacked until it's hardly even recognizable.

We shower our kids with presents and slowly but surely teach them how to become cogs in the American consumerism machine. (As if Christmas was about them in the first place.)

In the wake of the $830 billion spent on gifts each year, Christmas has become yet another high flying banner for the tyranny of excess and one more unappealing rash in the infectious entitlement epidemic. 

But it doesn't have to be this way.

I want something different for my home. For my kids. I want our days to be marked by generosity. Defined by selfLESSness. I want to raise children who see their lives and their time here on earth as an opportunity to serve God and serve others. I want the opposite of entitlement; on Christmas day and every day.

I'll not let the surplus of Christmas distract my family from the simplicity of Christ's coming. Since becoming a parent nearly thirteen years ago, I've been waging a quiet war on entitlement especially during the season of excess.

Here's what that looks like in my home...

We keep advertising invasion to a bare minimum

We don't have television access and haven't had for several years. No television means no invasive commercials which obviously helps to curb the Green-eyed Gimmes during the holidays. But, those wretched advertisements also come in print form. Target ads, Walmart ads, toy store "Gift Catalogues," and the like spill out from our mailbox daily. With glossy pages in hand and images of all the MUST HAVES of the year, any child is going to suddenly neeeeeeeeeeed toys that he/she didn't even know existed five minutes beforehand. Why wave the carrot of excess in front of their eyes?

We don't. 

Those 11 x 17 gleaming pages quickly find their way to our trash bin. A few times they have snuck home with my children after visiting grandparents. It's understandable Grandma and Grandpa want shopping ideas for the upcoming holiday. So, they ask our kids to circle and dog-ear pages to make a lengthy buy-me-this-please list. But, more often than not, those "harmless" toy catalogs end up sewing seeds of discontent.

And besides, if and when I buy my child a wish list item, I do so with them and their interests in mind. I don't need the "experts" to tell me what my child might like.

We Pattern Our Gifts After Those of the Wisemen

The Wisemen were quite selective in their gifts to the Christ Child. They gave items that would potentially be used to support him financially, physically, and spiritually. While we're not exactly sure how Christ used the gold, frankincense, and myrrh, we know that they were gifted with purpose. And so, when determining how we give gifts, my husband and I look to the wisemen. We, too, give gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh...or at least our modern-day spin of them. The very first Christmas was marked by Gifts of Three. Doesn't it make sense that our anniversary celebration of that day would include the same? 

We focus on experiences NOT presents

It might seem like my husband and I have tapped into our inner-Scrooge by pitching our Christmas tent so far away from the mall, but rest assured, our children are still getting an entire month filled with all the enchantment deserved in the celebration of a King. We don't crowbar the entire toy section of Target under our tree because we want to emphasize TOGETHERNESS not toys.

During the full length of December, we count down our Savior's birth through daily Advent activities that have us all gathered to play, bake, craft, or serve. In other words, TIME is sprinkled all throughout our month...time to focus on Christ, time to focus on our community, time to focus on each other. 

While there are a few packages tucked under our tree, they too contain TIME and TOGETHERNESS. Most of our gifts of Frankincense end up being tickets, coupons, passes, or small trinkets that represent an experience we hope to share together as a family. In the past, we've purchased an annual membership to the 300 national reciprocating museums around the nation, board games for family night, or the gas money to take a much-anticipated vacation. We gift moments of life to our kids. Because, at the end of their childhood, they will not remember the plastic IT toy that quickly broke and was tossed aside by New Year's. They will, however, remember the moments of life well-lived. 

We keep our gift list short

Christmas frenzy is multiplied by the number of people on your gift-giving list...grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, co-workers, neighbors, mailmen, third cousins twice removed. The more people on your list, the more gifts you have to buy. The more gifts you have to buy, the more stress you build up agonizing over what to buy...the more time spent racing from mall to mall searching for just the right item...the more debt you wrack up purchasing those "right" items. It's a never-ending, relentless wheel o' crazy that ends up robbing you of peace. 

The Hubs and I determined early on that our gift-giving list would be intentionally short. We're not cheap. We're just minimalists who don't buy into this need to NEED. We don't see the point in declaring our love and appreciation with a trite gift bag of this-or-that which will more than likely end up at next year's rummage sale OR be tossed onto the ever-growing pile of "stuff I don't need." 

Americans have been shoveling out their coins to Hallmark for years. And in exchange, we've received small little boxes of burden that we cheerfully pass on to our loved ones.

"Here. I hope you appreciate this plastic thing-y. Enjoy finding a spot for it on your already crowded shelf. Have fun dusting it every few weeks and paying a high price to maintain it every month. Be sure to water it, and wind it, and re-program it occasionally. You're welcome!"
That is the harsh reality of most holiday gift exchanges.

So, we just don't.

Our gift list consists of our kids, both sets of grandparents, and our children's Sunday School and piano teachers. That's it. Grandparent gifts usually have a TOGETHER theme, as lasting connections with them reap eternal dividends. Sunday School gifts tend to be homemade by the children and are a simple way to thank those who volunteer week-in and week-out.

In pairing down our gift list to just these three people groups, we are hopefully setting a precedence to our children and future grandchildren. Stuff does not equal love. Stuff does not equal happiness.

We give a gift to Jesus

The best way to love Christ on HIS day is to love others. To serve Him by serving them. At Christmas, we look for opportunities to give, to love, and to serve others in order to turn our gaze from the unholy trinity of Me, Myself, and I. 

We hand Christmas back to Christ by giving to the least of these. In determining a charity or organization to partner with, we try to choose ones that are for kids by kids. We want our children to be able to see the very real needs of other children just like them. We want them to glimpse how their little selves can serve in big ways.

Organizations like Kids Against Hunger, Operation Christmas Child, and these others encourage kids to help kids just like them all around the world. 

We stick to a strict budget

Fifty bucks. That's all. We spend $50 on each child which includes all of their Gifts of Three and their stocking stuffers. When I shared this BOLD number a few years ago in an effort to encourage debt-free Christmases, several readers balked and wagged their online fingers. 

"While that conservative plan might work while your kids are little, it won't work when they grow to be teens," they smirked.

But why not, I ask. Why wouldn't a simple Christmas work for any age? If my kids have grown up to view Christmas as a time of togetherness....a time for purposeful worship...a time marked by a posture of peace, why would that view spontaneously mutate into something different? Just because the average teenager demands pricey iPads, and iPhones, and iEverything OR ELSE, doesn't mean that it has to be that way. A gift-giver should never feel held-hostage to someone's out-of-budget expectations. Our Christmases started simple. Simple is all my kids have ever known. I can't imagine that the magic suffix -teen will change any of that. But, I suppose we shall see...

We recognize the "theory"

In full disclosure, the verdict is still out on our parenting. All our plans are just well-thought-out theories. But so far, we've seen gratitude, humility, service, and love from our kids during the holiday season. They're still human. They're still sinners with selfish motives...just like you and me. But, I think that they are learning to point their focus outward, to consider the interest of others (as Philippians reminds us). And that is the very character I want to foster on Christmas day and every day. That is the very opposite of entitled. 

More on Parenting at Christmas


  1. I have read your Christmas posts about your 3 gifts and making Christmas more about our celebration of Christ's birth and I love it--we are trying to do the same in our house! One question I do have for you: if Grandparents aren't fully on board (or other relatives) with this idea of less how do you work through that?--if you have to address these issues that is. I would really love if some of our family could see how the "stuff" is such a momentary, short lived excitement, usually 2-3 weeks to be exact! Thank you for your inspiration!

    1. We actually had that struggle within our extended family who wanted to do gift exchanges each year. We continued to make our feelings known with grace and just stopped buying gifts. Eventually they did the same. Regarding grandparents, I always find it helpful to provide a list of group gifts that they can give to each individual child but that can be enjoyed by the whole family...like board games, DVDs, summer yard toys. After a few years, begin to transition to more group experience suggestions.

  2. I appreciate this post, and especially how you answered the previous commenter. These things have been on the minds of my husband and I, and somewhat troubling us. We did plan when we first started having children, that our gift-giving tradition would be homemade gifts each year. Several of your ideas were new to me, and several were ones that we are already on a similar trend. Thank you!

  3. Great article, Jamie! We don't buy really expensive gifts for our kids but we unfortunately do buy too much. The past year or so I feel like God is changing my mindset on a lot of things. Any advice on changing over to this type of Christmas when kids are used to the other way? Don't get me wrong, I think I have grateful, unneedy kids but I'm sure that transition could be a little tough. Appreciate your thoughts if you have time! 💜

    1. Maybe begin by combining items into boxes so that your kids have fewer packages to unwrap. Then the next year, just have few packages under the tree. Aim for quality and experience, not stuff.