How to Keep Christmas Magical for Older Kids


If your teen's Christmas list consists of nothing but gift cards, don't despair. You can still help them share in the magic of Christmas as they transition to becoming gift-givers, and not just receivers.

I’ll admit that I took a pause as I looked at the checkout conveyer belt at Target and saw a stack of gift cards. I’m pretty sure I audibly sighed.

Over the years, I’ve prided myself as a good giver of thoughtful gifts. I listened over the year, months ahead of the Christmas rush, to what my kids showed an interest in—whether it’s a toy, a new hobby, or a book. Yeah, even books. But as my kids have gotten older, particularly the sophomore and the senior in high school, gift-giving has become more difficult for me. And giving in to gift cards feels like giving up.

The truth is that I look forward to the magical Christmas morning. I know Christmas isn’t about commercialism and gifts and stuff, but I like the looks on their faces when they open the perfect gift—the one they don’t think I knew they wanted, or the one they didn’t think they’d get. I think I’m addicted to that feeling. I might like it too much. It’s a huge mom pay-off for me, so it’s hard for me to admit that they want more grown up gifts in order to elicit that response because they are growing up. I can’t surprise them with a new car or a brand new computer because I can’t afford those kinds of things I don’t want to rob them of the experience of earning those big ticket items for themselves after a lot of hard work and saving.  So what else do they want besides trips to Hawaii and a hoverboard? Gift cards for fast food and online shopping.

But instead of taking buying gift cards as a sign of defeat, I’m trying to look at it as a way to include these older kids in making Christmas magical for the other kids. I want to get them hooked on the perfect gift rush, too. And so the kids exchange sibling gifts and cousin gifts and anonymous gifts to worthy causes. They use their own money from their part-time jobs, so it’s a bit of a sacrifice, but it doesn’t feel like it because it’s fun. That’s what I want to teach them about Christmas gift-giving anyway: you know what it feels like to feel happy and surprised with something you really wanted, so give someone else that feeling. I feel better about buying those gift cards knowing they’re transitioning to the gift-givers, not just receivers.

I have a friend who, over the past couple of years, has turned Christmas into a service project, like taking gifts to orphanages instead of giving her kids gifts. We were talking about their experience last year and I sheepishly joked, “Well, we still do presents and all of that…” and she stopped me and explained that she wouldn’t say “no presents” if her kids were younger, like mine, but that all of her kids were older and they were able to all agree to forgoing presents because they had experienced the magic of a good Christmas morning, so they knew what it meant to give that to someone else.

I like that idea. It’s all a process and an acknowledgment that there are different stages of parenting. I still have younger kids who will give me that magical look on Christmas morning that will give me my high delight me. My days are numbered. I get it. But as that feeling passes on and fades away, I’ll have other things to look forward to, like sleeping in and going to movies on Christmas Day instead of putting together doll furniture and reading operation instruction procedures for robotic dogs.

This year, I am giving in and getting my older kids hooked on the magic of gift-giving. I’ll tuck away a gift card or two, but we’ll make some Christmas magic together. It’s not “giving up,” it’s just a different kind of giving.


For more family tips and a healthy dose of parenting humor, check out Lisa Valentine Clark's book,Real Moms: Making it Up As We Goavailable now at Deseret Book.

As moms, we improvise. We get along. We make things work. And we make a lot of things up as we go along because, let’s face it, no manual is ever going to cover all the bases a real mom needs to touch. But if laughter and perspective and a renewed energy to face the day are what you’re after—if you too are a “real mom”—this is the book for you!

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