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I find the holidays to be a tough time to be a good parent. Mostly because I try to walk this fine line between awing my kids with the magic of the season (Hanukkah presents, Christmas lights, chocolate gelt, gingerbread houses, etc.) while also making them appreciate how lucky they are for getting all that they do.

Being grateful as opposed to greedy appears to be tricky for my children to understand, and I admit, I have a hard time explaining it. Particularly since people throw presents at them left and right.

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Mazzy got a ton of gifts both for Hanukkah and her birthday, which happened to be during Hanukkah this year. Let me tell you— having a kid on a major gift-giving holiday is not ideal. The amount of gifts she received bordered on obscene, making it impossible to stick to the “one present a night” Hanukkah rule. And the fact that my mother-in-law always buys Mazzy and Harlow eight gifts each (one for each night of Hanukah), which I forget every year until she hands them over. If my memory were in tact, I wouldn’t buy Mazzy and Harlow any Hanukkah gifts and just use the gifts from Grandma Toby, but I had already put time and thought into their gifts and it was too late.

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Harlow got upset when she didn’t have as many gifts as Mazzy, which is annoying but understandable behavior from a three-year-old. What made me really lose it was when Mazzy got upset because she already owned one of her gifts.

“Mazzy, you have SO MUCH. You don’t need to love every gift. Just move on to the next one!”

After what I deemed an “unacceptable exchange,” I ended up taking away all her presents that night and said we would open them another night when her behavior improved.

You can imagine the meltdown that happened after that. She told me I ruined Hanukkah and her birthday which I guess I did. I think I would have taken away her presents entirely except I needed to open them to send out Thank You cards (which I still have not done).

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When we had the family over on Mazzy’s actual birthday, Mike came down on the grandmas for giving our kids too many presents. He brought out the garbage bags full of still unopened gifts and said, “Everyone has to stop with the presents. They don’t appreciate any of it.” This made him sound like The Grinch, as opposed to what he is— a good dad trying really hard to instill some positive values in his kids.

This year, I planned to dedicate time to shopping with the girls for presents for the family so I could demonstrate the spirit of giving (as opposed to just getting), but life is busy and buying online after the kids went to bed or stopping somewhere on the way home from work was really the only way to fit in holiday shopping. So, unfortunately, the message got a little lost.

A few days into Hanukkah, I had this big talk with Mazzy about how she should appreciate her gifts and say “thank you” regardless of whether she liked them or not. Instead of being upset when she doesn’t like a present, I told her to be happy that we can add that to the pile of presents we’ll donate to kids who don’t get as many toys.

She understood and was on board.

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Cut to later that evening, when we are opening gifts at our family Hanukkah party at my sister’s place (with more presents, mind you). Mazzy opened a gift from her great aunt and turned to me with this huge smile on her face. She then screamed proudly in front of everyone (including her aunt), “MOM! THIS WILL BE ONE OF THE GIFTS THAT WE DONATE!”

Well… it seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s a good thing her aunt has a good sense of humor.

We ended up donating a lot of gifts to Toys for Tots this year, including a bunch of gifts I had bought that just seemed like overkill. Whether my kids understood the meaning of dropping off wrapped toys in boxes at the front of their school (something that required very little effort on their part) I have no idea.

On top of the gift windfall, this year we decided to go on a family trip to Jamaica over Christmas break. We’re here now actually.

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On the plane ride there, Mazzy started talking about what she what she would be getting for Christmas this year. We don’t usually celebrate Christmas but we did last year because we spent it with my dad and my stepmom (who is Catholic) at their house in Rhode Island.

It hadn’t occurred to me that Mazzy would expect to celebrate it again, because to me, that was an anomaly last year. But of course, to a six-year-old with a short term memory, this was just what people do on Christmas.

Why wouldn’t Santa visit when he visited last year?

So on my way to Jamaica (the biggest gift Mike and I could possibly give the kids), I found myself breaking the news to a distraught Mazzy that she would not be getting additional presents on Christmas. I felt both foolish that I didn’t think to explain this earlier and annoyed that Mazzy was now ungrateful for the trip.

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I don’t have the answers, but I do know from talking to friends that I am not the only one struggling to teach my kids gratitude.

I will say that once we arrived, all thoughts of Santa and presents dissipated and everyone seems thrilled to be here.

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Is it magical? Not entirely. We are staying in a house with friends (Little Miss Party’s family) and something was wrong with the place we booked so they gave us an upgrade to a pretty sizable villa.


It’s AMAZING, but it’s far from child proofed and the kids are slipping on tile and getting their fingers stuck in doors every time we turn our heads. Every kid has bloody burning feet from the bottom of the pool. There are stairs to worry about (Luke fell down twice) and an indoor/outdoor layout that makes vigilance a much larger theme to our trip than relaxation. We were in the ocean for two seconds before Gavin got bit by a jellyfish. Harlow is eating next to nothing and screaming her head off at night when it’s time to go to bed which is making it hard for the other kids to fall asleep. After Harlow finally passed out the first night, Mazzy came downstairs to complain about all the noise and it took me a few minutes to figure out that my city kid was referring to the crickets.

Meanwhile, the adults are all laughing about how in the world we ever imagined the trip might be anything resembling “vacation”.

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We’re on day three and things have gotten a lot more under control as everyone gets acclimated to the space (and wears their pool shoes at all times).

I’m happy to say, we’re now having a great time (especially after ditching the kids at the Kid’s Club yesterday afternoon) and appreciating how lucky we are to be here.

More importantly, we’re hoping the kids take home fond memories. That they are grateful. That we’re not screwing them up by giving them things we didn’t have ourselves growing up. We’re trying to feel grateful ourselves.

Parenting is hard. Bringing up good people is even harder. Living up to the expectations of the holidays is impossible.

I hope we are doing an okay job.

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I’m writing this post as part of the #doingood campaign sponsored by Minute Maid, which acknowledges the self doubt many parents experience and lets us all know we are probably doing better than we think. As some one who experiences a healthy amount of self-doubt, I hope that’s true!

Giveaway: $250 Visa Gift Card from Minute Maid

Share a story of parental self-doubt in the comments below for a chance to win a $250 Visa gift card from Minute Maid. I’d love to hear how you struggle or manage the balance between giving and getting over the holidays.

You must be a Mommy Shorts subscriber to enter. I’ll pick one winner at random on January 4th!

Winner Update:

Congrats to Rachell Smith Bridwell!

And please check out this video from Minute Maid’s #DoinGood campaign: