Let's say you have a couple kids who have been acting way too ungrateful, seriously entitled, and majorly disrespectful this year. You want to teach them more gratitude but you don't know how to do it. Guess what? Christmas is just around the corner. Try canceling it. It's easy!
How to Cancel Christmas in Four Easy Steps:
- Step 1: Acknowledge kids are ungrateful because you were too lax
- Step 2: Demand kids become more grateful
- Step 3: Take away presents when kids can't magically transform
- Step 4: Bristle at accusations of hypocrisy
That is what happened in Utah this year when Lisa and John Henderson decided to cancel Christmas for their three sons. In a post called "Why My Husband and I Canceled Christmas," Lisa fires the opening salvo:
It's true. We have cancelled Christmas in our house this year. Well. at least the version of Christmas our boys have been focusing on.
I wonder why they focus on this problematic version? Anyway, the Hendersons still put up decorations. They still continued their "heartwarming traditions," and they still celebrate "the birth of our Savior." There just won't be any Santa, presents, or stockings. Well, OK, there will be Santa. The kids get to write letters to Santa! They just have to ask Santa to find kids who need presents more than they do, and since they are very spoiled, we can only assume that will be no trouble at all for actual-person Santa to outsource this good deed for them.
Here is why – John and I feel like we are fighting a very hard uphill battle with our kids when it comes to entitlement. It is one of the biggest struggles as a parent these days in middle class America. Our kids have been acting so ungrateful lately. They expect so much even when their behavior is disrespectful. We gave them good warning, either it was time for their behavior to change or there would be consequences. We patiently worked with them for several months and guess what, very little changed. One day after a particularly bad display of entitlement John said, "we should just cancel Christmas." And, so that's what we did.
Wait, middle class America? That still exists?
The rest of the post outlines the other activities the Hendersons had their kids do instead: They helped organize a clothing drive to send clothes and candy and Christmas letters to kids in a village in the Philippines hit by a typhoon. ("It was awesome! The kids loved it!")
That's not all they're doing for Canceled Christmas 2014. They are buying a bunch of nativity sets and giving out the pieces at night without getting caught, or something—I'm not religious and don't fully understand it. They are "looking into an Adopt a Grandparent" program and inviting some old people over. And they are so pleased with themselves for Canceling Christmas to Teach Those Entitled Kids a Lesson:
See what I mean? How cool will this Christmas be! Instead of focusing on what they will be getting, we will be keeping the focus on what they can give!
Those dang-blasted kids will still get presents from their grandparents. They will appreciate them more, too. Santa might send them some positive reinforcement, since he loves it when kids ask him to do more work. Maybe Jesus should write this letter? Just a thought.
There is a good possibility that Santa will be writing them a letter of how proud of them he is and perhaps put a few pieces of hard candy and an orange in their stockings. We have Santa Stationary that is free for download.
Hope Santa has time to write those letters! Hope you guys know the Dolly Parton Song "Hard Candy Christmas." (PS: Hard candy Christmases are SAD.)
So basically, to recap, this is Canceling Christmas: We should have taught you gratitude from a young age, but we didn't, yet we still hold you responsible for not exhibiting values we failed to teach you. As a result of our frustration and humiliation we will take away something from you as punishment to correct our mistake.
Great lesson, parents! Nail that one to the wall please. Will come in handy the rest of your life, kids. Future parents, take note!
Here's the thing: They know it's on them, somewhere down in there:
I have had so many people say to me, "This is such a good idea, but I don't think I could do it." Which was so true with my husband and I! I think we were more disappointed than our kids when we cancelled Christmas. How often are kids threaten that Santa won't come if kids are naughty…. yet have you ever heard of anyone that really followed through on that threat? That is where the entitlement comes from. We continue to give our children things even when their behavior doesn't warrant it, simply because we as parents don't want to live with the consequences.
That is why we have taken a stand this year.
Yes, take a stand! I hope you're not taking your own presents away, too? Because that would be too fair.
Look, I'm not a parenting expert, but I do have a kid, and I think it's safe to assume that for the most part, kids are a product of their upbringing. Don't form a torch mob just yet: Obviously there are exceptions and doesn't extend to every single solitary choice. I'm not saying this means parents can control everything their child does—have you ever tried to make a hungry or tired child stop flopping around to put on their coat or shoes? It's easier to open a new pack of batteries on 'shrooms. And yes, I'm sure you can do all the right things and still raise a serial killer.
But generally speaking, if we are talking about three elementary school-aged boys and assuming we aren't dealing with a Bad Seed Theory, I am just not seeing why these parents can clearly outline why their kids are entitled—i.e., because of their own lax parenting—but then demand that the kids reverse YEARS of likely unenforced threats, suddenly become grateful in a matter of months, and then punish them for it when they fail.
Wait, what am I talking about? This is most people's idea of parenting. I want my kid to eat better, but it's me who is serving up a bowl of Goldfish crackers because it gets the job done now. Later on, do I have the right to "complain" that my child doesn't eat vegetables? Or "punish" her out of "love" for not doing it? I'm not saying it's not right to want to reverse the habit. I can and should start now, every single day shifting this bad habit toward a healthier one. But I could also just take away a cake on her birthday! After all, she didn't immediately love vegetables now that I've decided she really super should this time.
Parenting missteps are easy to call from the cheap seats, no doubt. I don't know their whole lives, and I think the Hendersons have some great ideas for making their kids more grateful and making Christmas way less generically consumerist and more about being a good person. That's how it should be. And I also think incorporating those ideas from an earlier age might've mitigated some of this entitlement they are so unhappy with and that they are doing their version of getting it right.
But Christ on the stocking, why call that "Canceling Christmas"? Why not call it "Doing Things Differently This Year?" You can't call it something shitty and ominous from the perspective of a kid and not expect it to come off as ego-tripping and authoritarian.
In a response to the nutty backlash the family got for the post, Lisa wrote:
I just wanted to clarify a couple of things. First, my kids are in no way hurting for things. It's not like I took Christmas away from Tiny Tim here folks. They have good clothes, shoes, and so many toys they can't keep their playroom clean. They are not sad about what we have done! They have reacted by making gifts for each other and sneaking them into each others stockings. They are learning exactly what we wanted them to learn, because they are not moping around feeling sorry for themselves. They are thinking of others.
In another more soul-searching update, she added:
I think the reason my post irked so many people was because we did this as a consequence to our kids behavior. Somehow the word consequence has become synonymous with punishment. I never used the word punishment. What we are doing is done out of love, not anger and we are making sure that it is a positive experience. Every choice we make has a consequence. The definition of consequence is: an act or instance of following something as an effect, result, or outcome. Consequences by definition are neither good nor bad. I want my kids to understand that their behavior and choices matter, so we try (as much as possible) to have natural consequences rather than punishments. If our society teaches kids there are no consequences we do them a huge disservice for their future lives. My kids were expecting the world without giving much thought to others. The natural consequence is that we are giving them opportunities to give and not receive this Christmas season. We are making it fun and enjoyable. Usually we have our scripture advent inside our countdown box, but this year we did good deeds instead.
What are the natural consequences for lax parenting? It's probably entitled children, no? Quick, cancel Valentine's! You weren't thoughtful enough toward your husband. You had ONE JOB.
Anyway, Henderson acknowledges that some criticism—that they should've done this stuff sooner—is valid, but they simply couldn't because their kids were too young to understand and they didn't want their kids to "spill the beans" to anyone they were trying to help. "It is not just a fault of our parenting, it's largely a result of the comfortable circumstances our kids live in," she wrote.
Maybe Santa can help them undo those circumstances, too. Get a letter out. There's still time.
Photo via Getty.