The act of parenting often requires accepting the absurd.
For instance, my son Luke hates lying on his back. He squirms and rotates and flops around like a fish on dry land whenever he’s forced into prostration. All of which puts me in the ridiculous position of begging/bribing my child to remain still while I clean his rear-end.
Mrs. Tepper and I have found ourselves willing to sacrifice anything to make our guy happy. Sometimes that sacrifice is our integrity: To mollify instances of restlessness or crankiness when we’re out, for example, we find ourselves surprisingly okay with giving him whatever he wants (including—gasp!—our smartphones) so long as the show of good faith shuts him up.
Sometimes the sacrifice is also financial—like ordering no less than three outfits and one homeopathic amber bead anklet from Amazon in hopes of improving his sleep. For the record, nothing will make you feel sillier faster than lassoing your child’s leg with a homeopathic anklet.
The end of December presents my wife and I with another seemingly absurd proposition: Should we buy our 10-and-a-half-month old son a Christmas present?
I Say: Call Off Santa
When you reflect on the question, you soon realize that your answer reveals quite a bit about your sense of value and, perhaps, your morality. This is a deep philosophical, maybe ontological, quandary that new parents who give presents on Christmas cannot avoid.
Knowing that parenting dilemmas are often most easily solved by asking those more veteran than ourselves, I tapped blogger Elissha Park, founder of the blog The Broke Mom’s Guide to Everything, for her thoughts.
“I didn’t get anything for my son his first Christmas,” she told me. “We had tons of stuff for him from the grandparents, and we were as usual, financially strapped.”
She added that she wouldn’t recommend we get Luke anything major.
Music to my ears! We too are financially strapped, and meanwhile our son has grandparents who have already told us they plan to buy shelves and shelves worth of new clothes and toys for the little guy.
Parks made another point that rang true. Her son wouldn’t have known who the presents were from anyway, and he certainly “had no idea about Santa.”
He’d probably enjoy simply opening the boxes more anyway.
Also, it occurred to me that any funds we save from not buying presents could go toward paying our nanny’s Christmas bonus—or even, gasp, to us having a rare date night. Happy parents equal a happy kid, and it wasn’t like ours would be deprived with the grandparents were already in spoiling mode.
My Wife Says: Cue the Elves!
Going giftless sounds great to me, except the part where I’d have to convince my wife.
Mrs. Tepper derives great joy from buying Luke things—whether that’s a toggled sweater vest she knows he can’t yet say no to or a big loud plastic red firetruck.
It doesn’t matter to her that Luke won’t know who these are from. She’ll know.
And to be fair to Mrs. Tepper, there’s ample research to support the belief that spending money improves the spenders happiness, even more so than if that same person spent the money on him or herself.
Take this one experiment by Harvard researchers from 2008: They went up to random people in the morning in public places and gave them either $5 or $20 and told them they could either spend the money on themselves or on others by day’s end. The researchers took the participants’ baseline happiness levels, and then in the evening registered the change in happiness for each of the four groups.
Their findings reinforced the spirit of Christmas: Those asked to spend their windfall on others were happier at the end of the day than those who bought for themselves.
And I do so like when Mrs. Tepper is happy…
We Say: Open the Flue Partway
So, what does this mean for Luke?
I think my wife and I will strike something of a happy medium.
To satisfy Mrs. Tepper’s gift-giving instinct, we’ve decided to start saving up for him to get a Kindle Fire Kids Edition ($149).
Still, even I would be really forlorn if Luke didn’t have anything to open from us on Christmas. We’re a family now, and families give each other gifts.
But I’m thinking the boxes we’ll give him will be filled with…tissue paper. The crinkling noise when he pulls it out of the box will give Luke undeniable pleasure.
And isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Taylor Tepper is a reporter at Money. His column on being a new dad, a millennial, and (pretty) broke appears weekly. More First-Time Dad: