My literary mothering role model: Marmee

When I first had the idea for this post, I imagined choosing a list of ladies from classic literature who remind me of the kind of mother I’d like to be. When I began writing, it soon became clear that I couldn’t do the women justice with just a few spare lines. Therefore, this will be one in a series of posts, each dedicated to one mother figure whose example I look up to.

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Marmee from Little Women

As a true Southerner, I can’t help but wrinkle my nose at some of the political commentary in Little Women. Still, despite being a Yank who read one too many propaganda leaflets, Louisa May Alcott gets more than a few things right when it comes to family values. Marmee embodies so many wonderful qualities, it’s hard to list them all without gushing. Let’s gush, shall we? She openly admits that she struggles with the same fiery temper that plagues Jo. It is through her husband’s fine and steady character (and lots of prayer) that she overcomes this character flaw. She protects her children, but she also allows them the freedom to make their own mistakes. She educates her children herself. She is a no-nonsense woman, but she also knows how to have fun. She is unselfish and gentle. And there is a stateliness about her that endures even after the bloom of her youth has faded.

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Bitch, please.

There are two scenes that stand out in my mind about this mother figure (neither of which are in the movie). The first event occurs when the girls declare that, in addition to taking a break from their studies, they have decided to have a completely lazy day. Marmee could have given them a moralizing lecture or ordered them to do their regular chores, but instead, she jumps right in. She tells them that it’s a wonderful idea, and in fact, she’ll do the same herself. Not only does Marmee drop all of her daily duties, but she also instructs their maid to take the day off. Marmee retreats to her room to read, leaving the girls to find out what happens in a household where everyone doesn’t pull their own weight. The girls learn to appreciate how hard their maid and their mother work, and by the end of the day, they announce that being lazy is boring. I’m not sure the lesson would have been internalized so seamlessly in real life, but I admire the way in which Marmee handled it.

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Much later in the book, Marmee sets a truly heroic example of how mothers (and mothers-in-law) should conduct themselves once their children are grown and running their own households. Her eldest daughter, Meg, is the new mother to a set of twins. Marmee offers to babysit whenever they might need her, and she also tells her that should Meg ever want for any advice, she will always be ready to share what little wisdom she has gained over the years. Then she steps back and lets Meg handle it in the way she sees fit. Even when Meg is struggling with babies who became “two little tyrants,” Marmee doesn’t breathe a critical word. She never says, “When you were a child, I…” or “If only you would…” or “Don’t you think they should…?” Meg is the children’s mother, not Marmee, and Marmee’s job is to support Meg in whatever way she can. It is only when Meg turns to Marmee and asks for advice on a situation she feels she isn’t handling well that Marmees ventures any opinion at all. She gently imparts her advice without sounding condescending or attempting to seize control. Meg is a little skeptical, but decides to try Marmee’s advice, and it works beautifully. If only every family’s dynamic was as open and supportive.

Marmee is more of a secondary character in the book, and yet, her steady guidance in the girls’ lives is so strong that she leaves an enduring impression on readers. What I remember most about her is that she inspired her children to be better people simply because they recognized that she held herself to that same standard, and they didn’t want to let her down. It goes back to the simple truth that our children are influenced the most by the way we live, not by the words we say.

Book Review: All Joy and No Fun

813FeTvBKuLBefore I jump into the review, I want to begin by saying that the reason I came across this book is that I heard the author give an interesting TED talk. If you have 20 minutes to spare, you should stop now and watch it before reading on.

You can see why I felt moved to read All Joy and No Fun. Unfortunately, this may be another case of the TED talk being better than the book (someone needs to come up with a catchy name for that phenomenon).

Sociologists have long asked, “How do parents affect their children?” This book flips it to, “How do children affect their parents?” I was hoping this book would use science to answer this central question, but while the author does mention several studies measuring other phenomena surrounding parenting, she largely skirted statistics and focused on “case studies,” which is a fancy-pants way of saying anecdotes. And when it comes to weighing the value of anecdotes, the saying springs to mind, the plural of anecdote is not data. The stories she featured of real parents in the trenches were interesting, but they were not indicative of anything other than an individual’s experience. Certainly, no sweeping conclusions can be drawn from these interviews. I might be more forgiving of the startling lack of statistics had the book been marketed differently.

It’s much easier to make sense of the book if we take it for what it really is: an exercise in journalism, not science. This isn’t a thesis on how parenting has changed in the past hundred years or why parents love their children even if their children decrease their quality of life or how parenting attitudes change as children grow from newborn to toddler to teenager (all very good questions in their own right). In truth, it doesn’t provide any answers at all, only vignettes into the daily lives of six or seven parents across America. But even so, the book redeems itself because it gives validation to parents who are suffering in silence. These small glimpses into the lives of other families send the message that parenting is much harder than it looks, and you are not alone in your struggle. Parenting has become a competition to project Pinterest-worthy perfection at all times, but the truth is that we are a generation more lost than any that came before us, muddling through uncharted territory as best we can. That unifying message is a single ray of hope in a book so dour that it might cause childless couples to get sterilized, should they venture to read it.

Luckily, I know children don’t always have to be the wrecking ball they are portrayed as here. Of course, there is a certain amount of sturm und drang that accompanies parenting, but All Joy and No Fun gives the impression that a mother must choose between her husband and her children, or even her own identity and her children, and the anecdotes do nothing but reinforce that unspoken sacrifice. I think the danger with padding a book like this with anecdotes is selection bias, conscious or unconscious. The author probably thought she did an excellent job interviewing a wide array of parents, but I’m not so convinced. The reader is supposed to see a reflection of themselves in one of her examples, but I found there to be a startling lack of diversity. Sure, one parent was obsessed with academic performance, while another chauffeured her kids to countless sports games. But they all seemed to generally agree on a certain set of opinions, including but not limited to: public school is best, a lack of government-funded daycare is preventing us from finding real happiness, attachment parenting is the only enlightened way to parent, children must be cocooned vis-à-vis helicopter parenting, etc. The author seems determined to look only at households where children are “economically worthless and emotionally priceless.”

We don’t treat our child as if she is emotionally priceless to us. She is not the center of our family, but a member of it. I’m not going to hothouse her in academics and we certainly are not going to immerse her in youth sports. We aren’t going to attend Mommy & Me swim lessons or dance classes. We consciously give her independent play time where we don’t interact with her at all, so that she learns how to entertain herself (in addition to the usual parent-child interaction for which she doesn’t lack). When she touches something she isn’t supposed to, I don’t hesitate to use that as a teachable moment. In a hundred different ways, our daily message to her is that we are the authority figures, and while it’s our job to meet her needs, we do not conflate her needs with wants. My first priority in our household is not my child, but my husband. To some, these sentiments may seem cold and unfeeling, but for us at least, this is the balance that is required to avoid smothering our child with a blind devotion that would ultimately harm both her and us.

It’s telling that not a single family interviewed voiced any of the sentiments I just expressed here. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying we have everything figured out and parenting is a picnic for us. But the quiet desperation so starkly illustrated in the lives of these parents should not be heralded as an inevitable fate to all. Many parents who had it much harder than we do in modern America did not resign themselves to that. This book clearly showed that there is a movement among parents today see their children as emotionally priceless, but it should have also critiqued that mentality instead of accepting it as a matter of course.

Whatever guiding principles you choose as a parent, as long as you and your partner keep each other honest and constantly reassess what you’re doing and why, that introspection is going to see you through the hard times. This book makes an important first step in acknowledging how overwhelmed and conflicted many parents feel today, but its worth is diminished because the author has set her jaw on the conclusion that this is just the reality of all parenting, rather than the natural conclusion of a certain modern trend. You don’t have to send children back to the workhouses to make them feel they are making a valuable contribution to the family unit–there is plenty of middle ground to be had. The real paradox of this book is that the author showcases parents whose lives have clearly taken a wrong turn, and then tries her darndest convincing readers to normalize these outcomes instead of urging them to find something that works better for their family.

Five Parenting Resolutions for 2015

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Inspiration from YHL.

1. Take more pictures and create family yearbooks. I’m working on finishing 2014’s album, and I am determined to print one each year. It is incredibly time consuming and expensive, but I remember how much I loved pouring over our family albums as a kid. I don’t have access to any of those albums and hardly have any pictures from my childhood, so it’s important to me to pass this on to my children. Since the albums are created digitally, I’ll be able to print copies of each album for my kids to take with them when they have homes of their own.

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2. Potty Train by Age 2. Go ahead, have a good laugh at this one. I can wait. Are you done? Okay, I know this goal just screams first-time-parent naivete, but hear me out. Until the 1960’s, 90% of children were daytime potty trained by the age of 2 (source). Many modern Americans seem to harbor this mistaken idea that early potty training must be psychologically harmful, but that has no basis in fact. I think there’s something to be said for potty training when a toddler is still eager to please, and there is even a study that suggests that potty training at an early age might be better for helping maintain bladder control during early childhood. Adam Savage’s motto, “Failure is always an option,” will probably never ring more true, but we are still resolved to introduce the potty early and see if this kid will cooperate.

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3. Read longer, more complex books aloud. We’re firmly in the board book stage right now, and the repetition is slowly driving me insane. I’m really looking forward to regular hardcover books that are a little more sophisticated. Yes, I just described toddler books as sophisticated. Welcome to my world.

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4. Stay strong in our commitment to no screen time. So far, we’ve been successful in our goal of not sitting the baby down in front of the television or letting her have the iPad. It is a constant test of our willpower to not give in, but after reading a thorough summary of the research concerning screen time’s effects on young children, this is an ideal we feel compelled to uphold for as long as we can.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 4.01.05 PMThe view from a local hike.

5. Plan more family adventures. We live in such a beautiful area that it should be a crime that we don’t take more family excursions. I am definitely feeling some cabin fever and can’t wait for the weather to warm up. Last summer, the baby was so young and suffered from such severe reflux that we only took her on short walks. This summer, we’re definitely going to do some real hiking using the Ergo.

I think that sums up the major parenting goals I want to accomplish this year. Is there anything you’re putting at the top of your resolution list this year?

Screen Free Fridays

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To commemorate Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, we decided to turn all the electric lights and ban electronic devices at sunset.

Because we already spend a lot of time in each other company and we have a longstanding rule about no screens during mealtimes, I didn’t expect our candlelight Solstice celebration to have that much of an effect. We aren’t one of those couples who spends more time looking at their phones than looking into each other eyes (in a completely non-creepy way). We probably only watch three hours of television/movies per week, and I’m sure I’m overestimating that figure (it’s not unusual for us to go a whole week without turning on the television at all). With that said, we spend a ton of time online. There are several YouTube channels we subscribe to, plus all the extra random videos we watch, time spent on forums and reading blogs and checking FaceBook and playing games and reading news articles and getting lost on reddit and… The crux of it is, these are all different things, so it feels like I’m not just doing one thing for several hours, in contrast to binging on Netflix.

That electronics-free evening we had in the dead of winter was definitely a wake-up call for us. It was as though there had been this third person in the room who we could turn to during lulls in conversation, who could entertain us and draw our attention away from ourselves and our immediate surroundings at a moment’s notice. With all our devices shut off, we became suddenly aware of how alone we were in the flickering shadows of candlelight. Suddenly, we were no longer connected to the 2 billion people who use the Internet everyday. As a result, we became more connected to each other.

I think it would be hopelessly ineffectual for us to say to each other, “Well, let’s just try to spend a little less time online.” On the other hand, it seems iron-fisted to proclaim, “We will only allow ourselves X time in front of screens per day.” We’d probably end up watching the clock manically (until our resolve petered out) and it would sort of defeat the purpose of replicating that feeling of stillness and tranquility we had on Winter Solstice.

Our solution is to set aside one day per week without electronic distractions. We’ll also be using candles instead of electric lights simply because candles are romantic and call to mind an era when the difference between night and day was still keenly felt. Who knows, maybe insomnia wouldn’t be such a widespread problem in our society if we were forced to start winding down at sunset. All our devices have enabled us to multitask 24 hours a day, but we want to slow things down and be more deliberate in how our time is spent.

Anyway, here are the items that will be banned in our household on Fridays:

  • Phones (no calls, no texts, and most significantly to me, no Words with Friends)
  • Television / Movies
  • Radio / Pandora
  • Computers / iPads
  • Video Games

What electric devices can we use? The heating system and kitchen appliances (and of course our car, in case there was any doubt). We are also making exceptions for audiobooks and the Kindle (it’s an old classic version). I foresee our Fridays being spent reading books, going for walks, working on hobbies, and playing games together.

I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be a challenge. The reason this has become so important is that it really shouldn’t be a challenge. It shouldn’t be hard to turn your focus inward to your own family. That’s how I know something is wrong with this new normal. My hope is that Screen Free Fridays will bring us that much closer to a life filled with clarity and intention, with less distractions and stronger bonds between the people who matter most to us. Sometimes, we need to disconnect to reconnect in today’s digital world.

The best books I read in 2014

51Qfd-dh5gL._SL300_ Flowers From the Storm is legendary in the romance novel genre, and rightly so. It really does prove that a romance novel can also be superb literary fiction. There is nothing cliche or predictable about this book. I decided to listen to it in audio form, and I think that medium is especially suited to Flowers From the Storm, due to the leading man’s broken speech and the leading lady’s antiquated thee-thou Quaker diction.

Kudos to Laura Kinsale for creating a rake whose libertine behavior was not glamorized, as well as a protagonist whose simple goodness is never diminished by making her seem cloying or two-dimensional. This book was skillfully written, carefully plotted, and an overall joy to read.

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The Princess and the Goblin has been on my to-read list for a long time. It’s one of the first examples of children’s fantasy literature (if you don’t count fairy tales), and both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were hugely influenced by George MacDonald’s work.

What prompted me to bump it up to the top of my book pile was that our local book club was reading The Great Divorce, and in it, the narrator (who it is easy to assume is Lewis himself) reaches heaven and finds that his long-admired literary mentor, George MacDonald, has traveled far to teach him about the wonders of the afterlife. Lewis’ rapturous admiration for MacDonald’s skill with a pen far exceeds my own impressions, but I enjoyed this book well enough. The author really seemed to capture the tone needed to speak to readers on a child’s level, while at the same time making the story enjoyable for adults.

I did feel that the characters in this book were kind of flat, but perhaps drawing children heroes with shades of gray would be too far ahead of the author’s time.

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The above work made me wonder what was the first book written for children, outside of those shocking morality tales that taught children not to stand too close to the fire. It’s generally agreed on in English literature that the honor goes to Alice in Wonderland. When I saw a good friend of mine praise it as one of the most influential books he’s read, I knew it was high time I read it.

I appreciated that the author not only abandoned the morality tale trope so common to his era, but actually lampooned it in the book. It seems as if we have come full circle, as children’s literature today is rarely without a morality tale (even if that morality tale is to insist there there is no such thing as morality).

The effortless whimsy of this book is a credit to the author, and I really wanted to love it. But I guess I’m just too grown up, because I really felt frustrated with the book. In Alice’s words, it was all “stuff and nonsense,” and I couldn’t help feeling anxious to return to the real world. However, I’ve been informed by my friend that I made a grievous error in not reading the annotated version, as what made the book so significant for him is that when he read it, he understood for the first time how authors used literary symbols in their work to represent political and philosophical themes. Oops!

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The Bees was an impulse read, which is actually quite rare for me. For some reason, it’s being compared to The Hunger Games, which is nice publicity and all, but I don’t think the books have that much in common. It would be more apt to compare it to Watership Down, and higher praise too, if more people were familiar with that classic.

The world is richly drawn and the plot is suspenseful. I felt compelled to share it with friends, so that speaks to how highly I esteem it. However, things kind of unraveled there at the end. What exactly was the author trying to say about religion (or at the least, religion in this bee world)? It’s as though the author wasn’t sure what to say about it, beyond making it an important plot device. Orwell created a similar anthropomorphic world in Animal Farm to make some strong indictments of government, with the major difference that when you reach the end of his book, you feel pretty well satisfied with what he was trying to do (even if disagree with his agenda).

The Bees flew to great heights for me, but it didn’t quite reach its full potential. Still, if you love novels with lots of world-building and high stakes tension, this is worth a read.

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I was obsessed with unicorns when I was a little girl. How it is possible that I never stumbled across The Little White Horse before now, I’ll never know.

I stand in awe of the author, who weaves a truly magical story rich with imagery, humor and unforgettable characters. Elizabeth Goudge manages to take what is so wonderful about the idea of unicorns–their magic, wildness, purity, and elusive beauty–and infuses the entire novel with those themes in so many subtle ways.

This book is almost perfect for our family…except for the strong religious overtones. In particular, a major character is described as a vocal atheist until he falls off his horse one day and hits his head, “knocking some sense into him.” He not only converts but becomes a preacher to boot. Religious themes are intertwined into the story in such a way that I don’t think it’s something I could easily skip over in a family read-aloud, so this may be a book my kids will have to wait to read when they are teenagers.

If you have no problem with strong Christian themes (and I’m sure most of you don’t), The Little White Horse is timeless classic fantasy that kids of all ages will love. (Just don’t watch the movie. It’s awful.)

I think that does it for my top five books of 2014. Even with the reservations I had with some of them, I am glad I read them and would recommend them to others. Do you have any books you read that you’d like to suggest I read in 2015?

My Favorite Cookbooks

Before we dive into the meat of this post (harhar), it must be acknowledged that many people visiting this site will assume that this is a blog about food. Like the word stoic, epicurean has been twisted in English usage. It was first wrongly associated with blind hedonism, and then the pure enjoyment of food and drink (do a Google search of epicurean, and far more food sites than philosophy sites show up).

It’s true that epicureanism is a hedonistic school of philosophy, but only inasmuch that it states that pleasure (or, to translate the ancient Greek more accurately, happiness) is the greatest aim in life. However, epicureans believed that the carnal pleasures provide a very temporary happiness and could dangerously lead one down a path where one’s threshold for carnal pleasure had to be continually raised in order to receive any enjoyment from it at all, until one becomes totally overcome with dissipation. Only virtue can provide the means of “the good life” with real happiness and tranquility. But that’s another post. Webster’s Dictionary will give you two different definitions of epicurean: 1. a student of the Greek philosopher Epicurus; 2. a person devoted to sensual enjoyment, especially that derived from fine food and drink. I do enjoy food and drink, but this blog is devoted to the older meaning of the word.

Now that I’ve clarified that this isn’t a blog about food, let’s have a post about food!

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Just as the title suggests, these recipes are unadorned, simple and delicious. Several of these dishes have become regulars in our house. The food photography is beautiful and the dishes aren’t fussy.

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I’m Just Here for the Food

Oh, Alton, how do I love thee? Let me cook the ways. Alton Brown’s ability to combine something as seemingly mundane as cooking with the wonders of history and science is what gave me the confidence to tackle more complex recipes. And I’m forever indebted to him for teaching me that a brine is essential to cooking a good bird.

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The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Good ole PW. You either love her or you hate her. Considering that she’s a homeschooler with an unapologetic love for bacon, it should come as no surprise that I’m firmly in the Team PW camp. As far as I’m concerned, too many celebrity chefs these days are about style over substance and fad over flavor. Give me food in all its glory, without a side of pretentiousness, please. (P.S. Did you know the Pioneer Woman is now on Netflix Instant?)

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The Smitten Kitchen

This is as fancy as I get, people. I actually liked the recipes in the book more than from the website of the same title.

What are your go-to cookbooks when you’re feeling adventurous in the kitchen? I’d love to hear recommendations!

Cancelling Christmas

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I try to look forward to Christmas as a time of family, charity, tradition, peace, and renewal. But it seems almost impossible to do that when our society is obsessed with the gift-giving aspect of the holiday. All of the more somber, wholesome aspects of the season are totally eclipsed by presents, presents, presents. And as my husband and I discovered this year, it gets even worse when you add a kid into the equation.

It’s a shame really, because I love Christmas. “How can you love Christmas without Jesus?” I dunno, maybe you should ask the vast majority of Americans who check “Christian” on the census forms but pretty much celebrate it as a secular holiday anyway. It may be that I take Christmas more seriously than a lot of Christians do, when you consider that in practice, Christmas is often just an exercise in keeping up with the Joneses, watching football, overeating, and family fights. Of course, there are plenty of devout families that celebrate Christmas with quiet and reverent hearts, but Christmas a holy day has become something quite different from Christmas as a secular celebration.

Perhaps I shouldn’t say I love Christmas, since it’s technically cultural appropriation. I could call it Solstice or Life Day or The Holiday That Must Not Be Named. Then again, the entire idea of Christmas has been appropriated from other cultures, so it’s a little late to cry foul. But you may be wondering, without the religious aspect, what exactly is it that I love about Christmas? I think Charles Dickens sums up my feelings perfectly in The Christmas Carol.

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‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’


This is the sentiment I want to pass on to my children. If I really believed I could keep my children’s focus on that and still have lots of gifts, I would do it. I know they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. But I’m not confident that I really could succeed in juggling those competing ideas, knowing my own limitations.

Yes, I said competing ideas. Materialism is truly at odds with the virtues of Christmas. Whatever people may claim, the obsession with “What is Santa bringing you for Christmas?” is not an expression of the virtue of giving. To pretend that avarice reflects the spirit of charity and self-sacrifice is not only deceitful, it is downright corrupt. If you love presents and you want gift-giving to be a staple of Christmas in your home, that’s fine. But don’t try to couch it as if it has anything to do with teaching your children generosity or selflessness.

Well, for all your high talk, you sound like a real Scrooge to me! If you think I’m just being a Bah Humbug, it’s probably because you’re relying on a movie production of the story. If you watch any of the movies, you probably think Scrooge is just money-grubbing and mean, and the evidence for his redemption lies with the extravagant gifts he buys for the Cratchett family at the end. However, if you read Dickens, you will understand that it is because Christmas has become so superficial and materialistic in society that Scrooge fails to see its redeeming qualities. Scrooge isn’t merely being tightfisted because gifts are sentimental. I’m sure that’s a part of it, as he was so tightfisted in general, but the primary reason he refused to have anything to do with it is because society had shifted it so far away from its virtues that there ceased to be anything genuine about the occasion. The typical Christmas that Scrooge witnessed was selfish and creaturely, and as removed from humanity as Scrooge had become over the years, even he felt repulsed by it. I actually don’t think it’s a coincidence that every film adaptation of the story leaves this theme out.

2014-12-18-gift-givingSo, I don’t want to do something simply because everyone else is doing it. And if something seems contrary to virtue, I definitely don’t want to indulge in it. That’s good enough reason all on its own, but on a more practical note, I just think gift-giving at Christmas isn’t much fun. The ideal of the carefully selected gift that is perfect for the one you love is usually overshadowed by the social pressure involved, not to mention the toxic nature of crowded department stores and the possibility that you might be wasting money on something your loved ones wouldn’t bother buying themselves. Can we honestly say we’re truly in the “giving spirit” when we feel obligated to check people off our gift list like it’s a grueling task? And if that isn’t what it’s like for you because you love shopping, then I can’t help but wonder if this practice is just exacerbating a character flaw.

There’s one more aspect of gift-giving at Christmas I’d like to briefly touch on. Children are naturally selfish, and from an early age, the propensity for greed springs up in human nature like a fountain. Whether you’re a Christian in America or a Hindu in India or a Shintoist in Japan, parents will universally tell you that kids have a greedy streak a mile wide. One of the most important jobs of parents is curbing that “Mine, mine, mine!” mentality. With that knowledge, it seems especially strange to shower kids with presents at Christmas. Wouldn’t it be a little like bringing your alcoholic wife to a wine tasting? “Oh, she just loves it SO MUCH! I can’t help but smile when I see how much she enjoys it.”

The title of this post is actually misleading because I’m not planning on cancelling Christmas at all. The tree, decorations, candles, carols, charity, and dinner are still going to be staples of the season for us. If anything, it would be more apt to say we are cancelling Giftmas. But the reason I titled it Cancelling Christmas is because those are the exact words of a set of parents who are receiving national attention for withholding presents from their kids this year. What does it say about our perception of Christmas that not giving gifts is automatically equated to cancelling the whole thing? Even these parents, who most people hail as heroes even though they would never do the same thing themselves, are kind of missing the point. They are withholding presents to punish their children for their bad behavior as if they have no idea where this entitlement came from. I guess it never occurred to them that their children’s focus on presents was fostered by a lifetime of decadent Christmases. Their parents taught them that certain things matter, that certain things should be expected, year after year. Why should they be surprised when their children take those lessons to heart?

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So I must ask myself two questions:

  1. Do we really have to give gifts?
  2. Does it reflect the values that are important to us as a family?

With this in mind, I think the extent of gift-giving in our household will be filling stockings with a few small, inexpensive gifts (and no, they won’t come from Santa). There will be plenty of gifts from grandparents as it is. In place of presents, I hope that our other holiday traditions will bring a joy all their own. Traditions like:

  • baking cookies for the neighbors
  • attending the local production of The Nutcracker
  • singing carols together
  • donating canned goods to the food pantry
  • listening to the local brass band’s holiday performances
  • donating old toys and clothes
  • making winter bird feeders
  • watching the Christmas Parade
  • reading winter books aloud
  • decorating with fir boughs and lights
  • creating Christmas shoeboxes

Our decision stems from one guiding principle: LIVE INTENTIONALLY. We don’t want to make the mistake of doing something just because it is expected of us. We love the Christmas virtues of gratitude, tradition, forgiveness, kindness, and peace. Especially that last one. Our culture’s focus on gifts has really upset the idea of peace in the home, so we will be breathing a big sigh of relief next Christmas that we’ve finally discarded this particular obligation.

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