Balancing the Extravagance of the Season


I grew up a very lucky child. My parents worked hard to provide for us everything we needed and even much of what we wanted. But, like many American kids, I found myself sometimes battling that sense of wanting more–including on Christmas morning. It’s a common human experience to be dissatisfied with what you have and it’s even more of a problem in a society steeped in indulgence.

Christmas present

When my husband and I became parents, we were determined to raise thankful children and not entitled children. But, how do you walk that line during the holiday season when all you want to do is make their wildest dreams come true? Is it unhealthy for our kids to get all they want on that one special day or is it ok to do it just once a year? Is there a way to balance the extravagance of the season? I believe there is. No solution is fool-proof, but these things may help: 

  • Make it about others whenever you can: It’s ok to ask your kiddo what they’d like for the holidays, but also ask them to make a list for what they can get for others. Maybe it means making a homemade gift for their best friend or baking goodies for Grandma. Maybe it’s surprising their favorite cashier at HyVee with flowers or making Christmas cards for a retirement home. Those conversations should take place more frequently than conversations about what they want to find under the tree. 
  • Limit material gifts and instead gift them experiences: One thing we love to do at holidays and birthdays is to buy gift certificates to take the kids to plays or outings. This means we have a planned/set aside “Family Date Day” we can all look forward to and a local business gets some extra love in the form of more business! If your kids are like mine, they will break or lose half of their gifts anyhow. But their memories of Mom and Dad laughing with them while watching a play at Circa 21 or the Quad City Music Guild will stay with them for years. They will look forward to using their Niabi Zoo summer pass or Family Museum membership. Really looking to expand their horizons? Gift them a future family vacation to see another part of the globe and you’ve given them the gift of perspective and education as well!

Girl and boy decorating cookies

  • Schedule in community service to balance out the season: It is so easy for the calender to fill up with kitchy seasonal activities that make great Instagram pictures, but still revolve around the happiness of the child. As countercultural as this is, December can be a time to help our kiddos focus on the happiness and wellbeing of others. So in October when your December schedule is not crazy yet, call and schedule yourself to serve a meal as a family at Christian Care Center or Kings Harvest. You will be glad you set aside that time in advance. Maybe serving in person is hard, but you could “Adopt a Family” with Family Resources or be a part of Operation Christmas Child. The needs and opportunities in our community are almost endless and we can use the holiday season to make an impact!

Modeling service towards and for others is so powerful!

  • Incorporate the “reason for the season” whenever possible: If you come from a faith background, it is so important to not lose focus on that reason for the celebration. This is a great way to keep balance! To make the holiday about everything except for your faith is like going to a birthday party and barely acknowledging the birthday boy or girl. Wouldn’t that be odd? If the real reason {within your home} for the holiday season is your faith, then a good portion of time should be focused on that reason. Perhaps this means attending services, doing readings or other such traditions—whatever will center our focus around something bigger than our kids and our family.
  • Keep yourself accountable to how much is spent & wrapped: When our oldest was nearly three, we made the decision for me to leave my career and become a Stay at Home Mom. With our family income cut in half and my husband as the only breadwinner, we needed to be good stewards of our resources at Christmas time. So, years ago we adopted the gift practice of limiting what we get for the kids to “Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read.” They each have a stocking filled with smaller things and then four items under the tree, which follow the saying above. This helps us as parents from getting too carried away, which means we spend a reasonable amount of money and they get a reasonable amount of gifts. It also means that there isn’t that “well, isn’t there MORE?” attitude, because they know there will be four things and that is the standard set. They are excited for what they will find in those four packages!

Girl by Christmas tree

  • Build in traditions that have nothing to do with presents, but instead with being present: When I was a kid on Christmas Eve, my Mom would make a whole meal out of appetizers and together with my parents and siblings, we would watch some beloved Christmas movies together as a family. Christmas day was gift opening, lounging, a yummy meal and usually music, but ultimately it was a slow day of just being together. If at all possible, we didn’t travel on Christmas Day, but just spent it at home with no real schedule, snuggled in our pj’s and putting together a puzzle as a family. The only “to-do” that day was just being together. Now that I am in my late 30’s and have a husband and two kids of my own, I cherish those slow Christmas days of my childhood. My husband and I have created many holiday traditions within our home that our kids look forward to and they become touch points for them. What they will tell us they loved the best was an activity we did together more than a material gift they received.

Any pro tips on how to raise grateful children during the holiday season as well as the rest of the year? Drop your comments below!balancing the extravagance fo the season pinterest graphic

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Becky Clark is a local Rock Island mama to 2 kids--ages 10 and 6. Becky has been married to her high school best friend, Derek, since 2005. Becky and Derek have been Quad Citians for 10 years, although they originally hail from the northern Chicago suburbs. Becky is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and provides therapy services part time at South Park Psychology in Moline as a contracted private practice clinician. She also teaches Social Worker courses online for Ashford University. Becky is very active as a volunteer at the kid's school as well as at their home church, Bethany Baptist in Moline. Becky loves spending time with her family, friends and her church family. She also enjoys being a tourist in her own town, reading, crafting and volunteering for ALL the things--much to her husband's dismay. The Clarks hope to add a furry {baby} family member to their brood this summer, ensuring that no one will ever sleep again. To follow Becky's clinical therapy business on Instagram, visit her at: To schedule a psychotherapy session with Becky for you or your family member, call South Park Psychology in Moline at 309-797-2900 and ask to be scheduled with Rebekah Clark



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