What To Give Your Child When You Can’t Afford Christmas

“We didn’t have any money, and I barely had any gifts for you.” My mother’s voice shook as she recounted a Christmas Eve night many years ago.

I was just a child at the time, tucked snuggly in my bed, but unable to sleep. The giddy anticipation of Christmas morning was more than enough to keep me awake much later than usual. Eventually my mind would settle, and heavy eyelids would carry me to dreamland.

As visions of sugarplums danced in my head, my mother sat at her sewing machine just a few rooms away. 

While my family wasn’t “dirt poor”, certain gifts were out of our reach—most of the gifts I had asked for, in fact. I’d spent hours reviewing the pages of the Sear’s Wish Book—large, awkward circles looped around toys on nearly every page.

My mother had seen the circles, and despite her inability to afford the items on my wish list, she was determined to make Christmas special nonetheless.

Two days before Christmas she found a small wooden doll bed at a local thrift shop. It wasn’t anything special, but she saw its potential. Into the early hours of Christmas morning, my mother was awake gathering fabric and stitching seams.

She made tiny custom sheets, a lace trimmed pillow, and a matching blanket. The fabric was pale blue with fluffy white clouds and brightly colored Care Bears—a childhood favorite.

The small doll bed was absolutely perfect, but she didn’t stop there. In true Santa fashion, she snuck into my room as I slept, gathering up the few baby dolls I had. With various fabric remnants, she made each doll a beautiful new dress, then carefully placed it all beneath the tree.

I will never forget the way it looked under the tree that Christmas morning. There was no sadness, no disappointment—I was elated—Santa had made each gift, just for me. 

I wouldn’t know about my mother’s worry until many years later. “The thought of that Christmas always makes me sad” she said. “ All that I wanted was to see your face light up, and I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen.”

Motherhood isn’t easy; we worry about our kids. We worry about what they have, what they need, and what they want. We worry about the people they will become, and how our actions will shape them.

My mother worried that she couldn’t give me the Christmas I deserved. She worried that what she could give me wouldn’t be enough. But what she didn’t realize that night is, sometimes the greatest gifts aren’t gifts at all. Sometimes the things we don’t give our children teach them the greatest lessons.

This has been a particularly tough part of parenting for me. I often find myself going overboard, trying to give my kids everything I didn’t have. I forget that much of my own gratitude and appreciation in life comes from a humble beginning. I’m so very grateful for everything I have, because I know what it’s like to not have.

My mother couldn’t give me the toys on my wish list that Christmas, but in the long run she gave me something much more important.

As a child, that Christmas was my favorite, because I knew the gifts were made especially for me. Now, as an adult, that Christmas is my favorite because I see it through the eyes of a mother. I see how much love and thought went into that bed and those dresses, and I understand how hard it must have been for my mother to feel as though she might let me down.

Material things will come and go. The coveted gifts your children desire this Christmas will one day be cast aside and forgotten. It’s not about toys or massive piles of presents, it’s much greater than that.

On that Christmas Day, nearly thirty years ago, my mother gave me the gifts of love and gratitude, and I carry them with me everyday.

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